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.
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.
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.
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