If it weren’t for Portal 2, I’d have Shadows of the Damned flagged as the funniest game I’ve played all year. The script and delivery are just that good. The key relationship, between hero Diego Hotspur and his floating skull/talking gun/motorcycle/shape-shifting demon buddy, Johnson, could have been an irritatingly generic straight-man/comedy side-kick set-up. In fact in most games it would have been. In Shadows though, every exchange between protagonist and side-kick, no matter how innocuous, is laugh-out-loud funny.
Above: The perineum-shot. It's the new head-shot
It helps that the straight-man/joke-man roles are muddied, even reversed at times, with Garcia being as brash and sweary as you like and Johnson being every bit the upper-crust English gent. Albeit one who is also a disembodied cranium from hell. Regardless, his playfully deadpan explanations of hell’s inner workings (A small demon acts as your checkpoint marker. He poops and disappears when activated. He’s a relative of Johnson’s by marriage, and if you think his actions are weird, you should see it when he pisses, apparently) are written and delivered with a subtle charm far too often lacking in current AAA games.
Grey, brown and red? Pah! Shadows spits in the eye of other shooters, but before it does it chews up a case of Skittles and gargles it with a large blue Slush Puppy. It’s the most lurid game I’ve seen in a while, and I mean that in a really good way.
The usual colours of splatter and gore mingle with electric blues and neon purples every other minute. Gunshots come in a rainbow of fruit flavours. And when Johnson switches weapon types, he even morphs via a geometric orange flash of light that would be just as fitting in Tron or Rez. It might not currently always be the most polished-looking of games, but in terms of sheer sensory overload in its production design, Shadows of the Damned is one spicy meatball.
Shadows of the Damned’s vision of hell and its denizens is no generic fiery pit of slavering beasties. Oh no, it’s much better than that. Much like Sam Raimi’s Deadites, these are intelligent, if twisted, creatures with a sense of humour and even a fully-functioning society. Which is actually more threatening than a bunch of feral flesh-munchers, and importantly, far more entertaining.
Head boss guy Fleming is a towering six-eyed hulk of a thing, not averse to crawling out of the blood-gushing body of a recently-dead woman. But he’s similarly not averse to throwing out none-more-black GLaDOS-style one-liners as he makes his escape after kidnapping Garcia’s girlfriend.
Above: This guy is funnier than he looks
Hell itself is also a very funny place. Fashioned after an olde worlde European town, only with more rivers of blood and disembodied baby-faces, it has a lived-in feel and its own social hierarchy (the more esteemed damned are honoured by being allowed to keep their genitals attached). So yes, you’ll be slaughtering hellspawn wretches by the dozens, but you’ll be doing it on quaint cobbled streets, before fighting a boss in a fruit market (demons are particularly obsessed with strawberries) and checking out a pleasant, traditional-style pub where you can spend your cash at an Absinthe vending machine.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable blend of wanton eldritch carnage and pleasant country village politeness, and the juxtaposing social mash-up works marvellously.