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Anyone that has a significant interest in video games has no doubt heard of the minds behind Shadows of the Damned. Shinji Mikami, Suda 51 and Akira Yamaoka have been involved in some of the most influential games of all time throughout their careers so it’s surprising that this game has just snuck up on everyone the way it has. The reasons for that become clear upon jumping in, however. This just isn’t a game that you can sell in the traditional manner; you simply have to experience the utter craziness of Shadows of the Damned to really appreciate it. That craziness is found in every aspect of the game – the characters, weapons, enemies, art style – and feel like they’ve been ripped out of an "Evil Dead" era horror movie that never got made.
You take control of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter, whose best friend is a demon resembling a human skull named Johnson that transforms into his signature weapon: “The Boner.” No, I am not making any of that up. The story consists of Garcia’s girlfriend being captured by the king of hell and his quest to rescue her. The story feels like it’s serving as the glue that fits all the ideas together that the developers had for the game before a story was even considered. You will be far more concerned either laughing or cringing at the game's dialogue and character interaction as well as enjoying some great looking environments along the way.
The gameplay in Shadows of the Damned feels like your average third-person shooter, which is the first aspect of the game that seems surprisingly subpar. After the lightspeed pacing of Mikami’s last title, Vanquish, it’s unfortunate that amount of polish isn’t found here. The gameplay is perfectly functional, but everything just feels a little stiff and actions seem to take a second longer than they should to pull off. The weapons are great, but surprisingly limited and I still can’t decide on whether or not every weapon is over-powered or the game is just extremely easy. Due to Mikami’s involvement, I was very disappointed by the boss battles. Some demons have the ability to summon darkness which will damage you if you stand in it for too long and a lot of the bosses' weak points only become visible in this state. As a result, every boss feels scripted and you spend more time waiting to damage the weak point than you do actually thinking about a strategy.
Despite all of the shortcomings Shadows of the Damned has in its gameplay, there is nothing fundamentally flawed about it, just that it could have been much better. Where it makes up for that missed opportunity is in the absurdity of everything else about the game. The dialogue from Garcia and Johnson is simply great, it’s completely unabashed about its crudeness and manages to be just self-aware enough that it’s always entertaining. It just fits so perfectly with the nature of everything else that surrounds these two characters and the environments and situations that they find themselves in. The game’s soundtrack is a perfect mix of creepy, almost suspense-building tones with the odd bit of thrash style metal thrown in for good measure, and the environments, while not the most technically impressive, certainly are from an artistic standpoint. The only real technical glare is the usual texture pop in which can be pretty severe at times, especially in larger areas.
The darkness mechanic is cool at first, but you become sick of it by the end
Simply talking about a game like Shadows of the Damned almost feels futile to a certain extent. The content of the game certainly warrants discussion, but it’s something that you just need to experience for yourself to truly understand it and appreciate its goals. There is definitely room for improvement in the mechanics department but the game is more preoccupied showing off its crazy dialogue and unique characters. You won’t find much of a middle ground with Shadows of the Damned – you’re either going to love it or hate it. The lack of any additional content on top of the very short single-player as well as the absence of successive play makes it very difficult to justify a full price tag. That being said, it’s still a game that you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to play should you get one.