With the lack of any kind of marketing you may be excused for not really knowing an awful lot about Shadows of the Damned, or SotD as all the ‘cool kids’ are calling it. Well I’m here to change all that, be that to your detriment or not, dammit, I’m going to change it. Shadows of the Damned, published by EA, is the brainchild of the frankly twisted and sometimes disturbing mind of Suda 51′s Grasshopper Manufacture. If you remember Suda 51’s previous titles of Killer 7 or more recently No More Heroes you’ll be in good company with SotD. This time Grasshopper Manufacture isn’t alone in breathing life into this twisted tale of romance (I use this term loosely), demons and a gun called the Big Boner, oh no he has some pretty established company helping him out. Shinji Mikami, most notable for his work on the Resident Evil series, stamps his mark on this project by means of the control scheme and it’s very evident he played a large part in this.
Having been a fan of their previous work I was looking forward to getting my proverbial teeth into this one.
The game starts with you jumping headfirst out of a high rise apartment window, hot on the trail of your kidnapped girlfriend, Paula, right into the depths of the underworld. This was preceded by an interesting exchange between our leading man Garcia Hotspur and Flemming, Lord of the Demons. All seems standard enough and despite the odd innuendo plays out very well in line with the grind house style the game portrays. It is following this brief encounter that things start to get interesting and you begin to realise that maybe this isn’t going to be your average over the shoulder 3rd person shooter.
Let’s put that phrase into context, as mentioned before you play as Garcia Hotspur. A no-nonsense, purple leather jacket wearing, demon hunting Mexican, with about as much testosterone and machismo as the entire roster of your average UFC pay per view. Alongside Garcia, you have his trusty sidekick Johnson, Johnson might I add is a flaming floating skull with the ability to morph into various weapons. Interestingly Johnson, as it would appear at first glance is the polar opposite to Hotspur, with a well spoken English accent and a penchant for not using the cruder side of the English vocabulary makes for a nice double act. An example of Johnson’s desire to use the finer terms is where he refers to the residents of hell as butt holes. Given the mature content of this game that line is practically pre-school. All that said you really have to play this game for yourself to truly appreciate the partnership that Grasshopper has crafted with Hotspur and Johnson and it does make for some fantastic, albeit very low brow dialogue.
What you will find when playing this game, is that even though it doesn’t appear to bring anything new to the 3rd person shooter genre, it’s the delivery and visual style that gives it the edge. If you’ve played any of the recent Resident Evil titles you will feel instantly at home with the controls. They do feel clunky at times and I have to admit become a massive hindrance if you’re backed into a corner but, with practice and a keener grasp you can’t help but give it a free pass for all the other stuff it does so well.
The scripting in this games does flow nicely and on occasions feels very well thought out. However, reader beware, strewn throughout the entire game are the numerous phallic related jokes. I’m a low brow kinda guy so I was rolling with it and enjoying the ride but I do appreciate this might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Contributing to the phallicness (yeah I’m making words up now, live with it) are the weapons. For example, your main weapon is called The Boner, this is your standard pistol. You might be excused for not thinking anything of its name when you learn that it shoots demon bones, hence the name The Boner. Later into the game however you begin to receive upgrades to your weapons and the link to it firing bones isn’t so rationale any more as you start to ‘use’ the Hot Boner’s payload which is an upgrade to the Boner, to fire explosive globules of sorts that can stick to surfaces and be detonated by shooting them, breaking surfaces or just generally making the enemies explode in pile of slop. What about the Big Boner? Another upgrade of the standard Boner, which is only created when Johnson dials into an underworld sex line causing the barrel of the gun to increase in size and shoot highly explosive tank like rounds. I can see your getting the idea now.
The other weapons are equally as extravagant, take the Teether which acts as your machine gun, firing teeth at the enemy or the Concussioner which is your shotgun, firing demon skulls and turning normal demons into a fine mist of blood and bits of flesh. All the weapons are upgraded after each boss fight and range from having an autolock feature to having the ability fire an explosive giant skull. Each weapon has its strengths and weakness’ but sadly as the control system isn’t the easiest to get on with you will find yourself picking a weapon that works for you and sticking with it. I would strongly recommend mixing them up if you can, as each weapon is a thing of ludicrous beauty.
The enemies on the other hand don’t really offer you much of a challenge and the A.I is just dumb at times. The only challenge comes when trying to score your next headshot and the would be recipient is lumbering all over the shop making this task increasingly difficult. Fortunately this lack of any kind of intelligence is counterbalanced by the numerous boss battles you encounter. These encounters range from a goat headed demon who rides a human faced horse who defecates darkness to a giant crow who only communicates by using the words “F*******K YOOOOOOOU!”. The boss battles are slightly akin to the bygone age where simply putting bullets into them isn’t enough and you have to learn how to defeat them which makes for a nice change of pace.
Shadows of the damned, with all its flaws and numerous penis jokes is a great romp through a twisted envisioning of the underworld. You will find tasty morsels of storytelling which are delivered by means of story books narrated by our intrepid heroes. These give backgrounds to each boss demon adding more personality and this review would not be complete if I failed to mention theres a great chapter giving homage to Evil Dead. With the distinct lack of a new game +, it does suffer the ‘trying to be a movie’ syndrome that many games have fallen foul of but it does fair a lot better than most. If you’re a fan of gratuitous penis jokes and like your gameplay gory and over the top, then I think this is exactly what the doctor ordered. But if you’re looking for a more mature meaningful shooting experience you may come away feeling a little flaccid.
That being said, it is a solid game for what it does, any Resident Evil (the newer generation at least) fans or Suda 51 follower will have plenty to take away. Having a campaign that only lasts between 8-10 hours isn’t going into the realms of Fallout or Oblivion but it isn’t always about length but what you do with it and SotD feels about the right in this department. Once you’ve got a taste of Hotspur you might find yourself wanting to break out the Boner just one more time.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3 Release Date: 24/06/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer community manager Discobeaver bought a physical copy of Shadow of the Damned. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.