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Shadows of the Damned review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Shooting hell beasts is always fun
  • Unique sensibility draws you in
  • Lowbrow humor eventually wins you over
  • Probably too many dick jokes for some
  • A little too linear
  • Virtually no replay value

Gaming is filled with craftsmen and creators, but few dream as big as Suda51. Head of Grasshopper Manufacture, the team responsible for such strange titles as No More Heroes and Killer7, Goichi Suda has often made impressive artistic work, even if the games weren’t always the most fun to play. In fact, some titles were downright broken, though we’d rather play a creative flop by Suda51 than a boring-yet-technically proficient game from some mercenary studio. But what if Suda could actually release something with consistently good gameplay to back up his wondrous insanity?

Thanks to the formation of a game development supergroup, Shadows of the Damned is the closest a Grasshopper game has gotten to making those big dreams a reality. With help from Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami and Silent Hill creator/composer Akira Yamaoka, Grasshopper has made its most approachable game yet without having to sacrifice Suda’s effed up sensibilities by cutting back on juvenile humor or the horrifying gore.


He’s Garcia Fucking Hotspur

In a callback to most games of the 80s and 90s, all the trouble begins when the hero’s girlfriend is kidnapped. In this case she’s not tied to a chair, she’s dragged through Hell to suffer a thousand deaths, but the journey to reclaim her at the boss’ tower remains Damned’s overriding goal. You play as Garcia Hotspur, a rare Hispanic protagonist and hunter of demons, who lost his beloved Paula to Fleming aka the King of the Hell. Hotspur is out for blood and goes on what some ads would refer to as a “roaring rampage of revenge.”


 

Garcia’s already a badass when you meet him, offing demons left and right with his all-purpose Johnson, a floating skull that transforms into whatever the situation demands. Most often he needs it to be a gun that makes heads explode, switching between the Boner (standard handgun), Teether (machine gun), and Skullcussioner (shotgun), changing on the fly between the three. Unlike stingier third-person-shooters, you’re rarely lacking in ammo for at least one of these weapons, leaving the variety of ways you kill hideous hell beasts entirely up to you. As you upgrade the weapons the variety deepens and that’s not even taking into account the savage melee kills that include crotch punches and decapitations.

Shadows’ gameplay foundation is built upon the type of controls and presentation that Mikami redefined in Resident Evil 4, and unlike RE5, the style has been updated to fit with the times. You run and gun with ease, switch between aiming and melee at a moment’s notice, deftly dodging an attack, then pulling out your Boner just as fast to take down the offending enemy. Who cares if it doesn’t transform the genre? It improves enough on a familiar set-up, supplying thrilling gaming along the way.

Those controls stand up nearly as well in the boss fights, some of which will really challenge players. Most are fun, but a few get repetitive or have solutions and tricks that aren’t very clearly explained. Despite those complaints, the level-closing battles are the source of some of Shadows most ludicrously entertaining moments, such as when an already-menacing bad guy eats his own heart, then explodes into a bloody mess only to turn into a horse-riding goat-man that eventually grows 900 feet tall after eating that same horse, and then he pisses darkness. How many other games have that?


Those titular Shadows

As in previous Suda games, you should toss aside your preconceived notions of what you thought this game would be, especially with Shadows’ very odd version of Hell. Instead of flaming lakes, Hell more often looks like eerily unpopulated cobble-stone streets, or the creaky old cabin lifted almost directly from the Evil Dead films. The spirit of SotD is a fun mix of horror tropes and giddy gore, with the most interesting wrinkle to the combat reflecting that.

There’s the constant threat of intruding darkness at any time, as the screen blackens with a miasma that will slowly kill Garcia if he’s exposed to it for too long. It feels mildly frustrating at first and then grows into a dynamic that helps ratchet up the intensity. Navigating worlds both light and dark takes speed in movement and accuracy in attacks, while concurrently directing the player where to go. Occasionally the solutions to bringing restorative light to an area are unhelpfully vague, but we came to appreciate the mechanic.

Speaking of the mood, the soundtrack deserves special attention. Akira Yamaoka does some of his best work to date here, with music that adds so much to every moment of the game. The eclectic set of tracks in Shadows set the mood perfectly in so many different scenes that you wonder how one man could work in such a myriad of different styles. Yamaoka’s was tied to Silient Hill for years, and now that he’s free to work on whatever he chooses, we hope this is just the beginning of him sharing his composing skills with a wide range of titles.


Ever heard the joke about the penis?

Even if the gameplay colors inside the lines by being dependably awesome shooter, the game’s personality is all over the place. Were we a therapist, we might say the title suffers from mood swings, but the most fun type of mood swings around. Shadows of the Damned has more than a few unsettling moments of gore and builds a nice horrific atmosphere, but it also has one of the most juvenile senses of humor in gaming history. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.


 

Though the game’s immature humor covers basically every bodily fluid and sex act, in addition to some cute references to cult films and other games, what really sticks with you is the mountain of dick jokes. It begins when Fleming kidnaps Paula at the very start and tells Garcia that he can have her back if he admits Fleming has a bigger symbolic dick than Hotspur, which of course Garcia refuses. It only increases from there: most items or characters reference a penis in some form, with a few bearing a strong physical resemblance of the male member. Saying 80 percent of the dialogue mentions a penis in some fashion feels like too modest an estimate.

If you’re offended by that kind of humor or feel it’s beneath you, you may want to skip the game, though you’d be missing out. Though initially we weren’t the biggest fans of the jokes either, as they felt too easy, they won us over. Maybe it was because there were just so many dick jokes that we were overwhelmed and gave in, or perhaps the offensiveness had an almost childlike naivete, reminding us of a cleverer version of schoolyard talk that we miss. The jokes lack cruel intentions, wanting only to innocently giggle at the existence of sexual organs. Shadows of the Damned is richer for its sense of humor, enhancing an already well-realized world, instead of being held back by its immaturity. Other games (like Duke Nukem Forever) could learn much from how Damned delivers its X-rated punchlines.

The humor is indicative of SotD’s entire being: it isn’t afraid to throw a bunch of shit at the wall and see what sticks. Not everything does, and that creates obstacles like random pacing issues, painfully tough bosses, and lack of any real replayability. Yet we were having too much fun to care. People are bemoaning the state of Japanese gaming, saying it’s dying from old ideas and backwards thinking. Shadows of the Damned proves that titles developed in Japan can easily keep up with the rest of the world from a design/fun standpoint, while still being lovably weird and distinct.


Is it better than…

Dead Space 2? No, but they have different goals. Dead Space 2 wants to be an R-rated action blockbuster, while Shadows is proud to be in the B-movie world, even if the over-the-shoulder shooting in DS2 is deeper and title more significant.

 

 


Resident Evil 5? Yes. RE5 lacked any real heart, and it rarely felt like it was having any fun with the situation, and certainly not as much fun as Shadows is having. Plus you can walk at the same you’re aiming your gun in Damned. What a concept!

 



Vaniquish? Maybe. Vanquish is also quite insane, and had Shinji Mikami involved in development, but each has its own qualities. Vanquish has more exciting gunplay and better pacing, but Damned’s world is much richer and has more compelling characters. Ultimately it depends on how much you love dick jokes.




 

Just for you Metacritic!

Combining childish humor with bloody demon murder, Shadows of the Damned pays off on the promise of the creative team of developers involved. It may momentarily waver, but SotD has some of the finest grindhouse fun of the summer.

Jun 24, 2011

More Info

Release date: Jun 21 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Jun 24 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Grasshopper Manufacture
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
PEGI Rating:
18+

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37 comments

  • Warfox9 - August 27, 2011 11:07 a.m.

    It's an awful game and it got 9!!!? Gamesradar gave it 9 just because of its penis jokes? I just don't get Gamesradar ratings at times. First 20 mins and I stowed the game away... to be forgotten as a nightmare!
  • inconceivable - June 30, 2011 5 p.m.

    Muy Muy Muy Muy Bueno! I'll definitely be picking this up when I have money again.
  • reson8er - June 27, 2011 7:52 p.m.

    Finished this on hard (heh heh) this weekend. Absolutely loved this game, looking forward to when I get some time to go through it a couple more times and get the Platinum. Fantastic Game.
  • eliguy83 - June 27, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    @jackthemenace Then you'll appreciate one of the homages partway through. I know I did ;) I finished this game last week and it was serious fun. I miss that there's no New Game+ too as that would have added so much to the replayability. And omg, I MUST HAVE THIS SOUNDTRACK. Seriously, this game has spectacular music.
  • FelNaRj - June 26, 2011 9:41 p.m.

    ma be this is a gamer to love or to hate , GT gave a 6.2 i think i was pretty dissapointed but this review give me the points i need it to decide on buying this game :D THANKS GR LIKE ALWAYS :D
  • jackthemenace - June 26, 2011 3:41 p.m.

    I MUST HAVE THIS GAME. Ever since the 'Enlarge your Johnson' trailer, and then the fact someone reffered to it as the "'Evil dead' of Video Games", I've been waiting for the review, because I was convinced something that awesome looking couldn't BE that awesome. And it is.
  • cguti91 - June 26, 2011 4:04 a.m.

    It's a great review for this game, I just got it and i can definitely recommend it it's kinda resident evil meets Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror it gory, violent and a bit twisted, but in the best way possible, it even funny because it feels like it doesn't take itself too seriously but it still has what it takes to be enjoyable
  • DeathbyFira - June 25, 2011 9:58 p.m.

    So going to buy this :D
  • MysterEnygma - June 25, 2011 8:38 p.m.

    am I like, the only one that didn't care for this? sucks being the odd man out
  • warsaz - June 25, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    I want this bad!
  • FalconMbuster - June 25, 2011 5:57 p.m.

    Bought it, and I'm halfway through and LOVE IT. Garcia and Johnson have a hilarious comedic relationship. They act as if their on a road trip half the time, casually passing dick jokes back and forth. I will admit some bosses are confusing, but I personally enjoy puzzle-type boss fights.
  • Jaces - June 25, 2011 5:51 p.m.

    I'd love to pick this up but with the no replay value point I think I'll wait till it drops to half the price or might even just rent it.
  • Aletheon - June 25, 2011 3:34 p.m.

    This game is amazing. My only disappointment is lack of any sort of new game plus mode....but that's okay, I'll play through again on hard mode
  • TriforcePlayer - June 25, 2011 2:50 p.m.

    Won't be getting this.
  • philipshaw - June 25, 2011 2:36 p.m.

    Great review, want this game now but I will wait until I have the cash
  • hester2 - June 25, 2011 1:39 p.m.

    I think the difference is context. It's Hell, so you expect some messed up stuff to go down. The dark moments aren't used for comedy, either.
  • quincytheodore - June 25, 2011 7:26 a.m.

    Really? Nine and almost the same as Vanquish? Will check it out, thanks for the review.
  • StoneDreadnaught - June 25, 2011 4:40 a.m.

    I'm just happy that Grasshopper can proudly display a title that not only fits with their crazy pedigree, but also has highly functional game mechanics. And Suda 51 is getting close to Platinum Games in my book, in that I'll by pretty much everything they make, like No More Heroes and Killer 7. I just hope now that they use this dream team very gingerly, like have them make a game every 3-5 years so as not to water down the magic these guys can create.
  • hester2 - June 25, 2011 4:38 a.m.

    Yeah, I know the environment and humor was great, I just couldn't get past the awful, AWFUL RTS gameplay. I guess I was too spoiled by the PC going into it. It probably didn't help that I was expecting a challenger to Psychonauts (and if you say Brutal Legend, or any other game ever, was better than Psychonauts, I will challenge you to a real-life stick-sword duel). Completely off topic, ReCaptcha's are hard as hell to read when you're drunk.
  • Genericpenisjoketista - June 25, 2011 4:31 a.m.

    @Hester2 BRUTAL LEGEND WAS THE MOST CHARMING GAME THAT WAS EVERY EXISTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No, but for real, that game rocked my socks back and forth.

Showing 1-20 of 37 comments

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