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Shadows of the Damned first hands-on preview

Strawberries are made from ground up human tongues, goats heads eat Darkness (but only after getting shot in the face with Light), and alcohol is as good as health in the upcoming title from Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture. Things are rather strange in their version of Hell, to say the least. No More Heroes and cult classic Killer7 sprung from the minds of those weirdos, so what else would we expect? In the case of Shadows of the Damned, we should expect a bizarre, ridiculous, and awesome adventure into the very depths of Hell.

So why would anyone venture into these fiery depths? To rescue a kidnapped girlfriend, of course! After making their livings as freelance demon hunters on Earth, Garcia and demon buddy Johnson had made quite a name for themselves among demon kind. Fleming, leader of the demons, decided that he needed to do something about that and nabbed Garcia's beau Paula and dragged her deep into his lair, leaving Garcia no choice but to dive deep into the world of the damned and fight his way to her. Along the way, he'll need to take down an assortment of demons, each more powerful and weird than the last. Johnson helps out by transforming into various weapons and offering advice about how to get through Hell. He's also good for the occasional dick joke.

A quick glimpse at Shadows of the Damned may reveals a passing similarity to the more recent additions to the Resident Evil series. Garcia plays like Chris Redfield or Leon Kennedy, matching their over-the-shoulder aiming and slightly tank-like controls. Plus, they're essentially both killing zombies. But as soon as you get your hands on the game, you'll start noticing huge differences between Shadows and the famous survival horror series.

For starters, there's no real inventory management or scavenging to speak of, as players are given three weapons to start with and ammo is hardly scarce. Whether it be for the Teether machine gun (named after the teeth it shoots), the skull-firing shotgun Monocutioner, or the pistol Boner (get your mind out of the gutter, it shoots bones), ammo lays around in crates just about everywhere you look. And with plenty of rushing enemies to use that ammo on, players quickly realize that this is more like a quirky action game with the occasional scare tactic than a survival horror experience.

One of Garcia's main concerns in Hades is the ever-present fight with Darkness. Represented as a purple shroud that envelops the area, Darkness does not only does damage to Garcia the longer he stays in it, demons within it are invincible to Johnson's ammunition. Health is scarce, unless you stocked up on HP-giving alcohol at the nearest absinthe vending machine. Needless to say, spending a lot of time in there is trouble.

There are a couple of ways to get rid of the impending doom, and both of them are rather silly. For a temporary fix, shooting one of the goat heads strewn about the levels will open up an area of Light that Garcia can stand on. Why? Because goat heads eat Darkness, that's why. Why do they eat Darkness? Because that's how Hell works. Don't worry about it. To stop the Darkness from taking over, stopping it at its source is the only option. That means plugging up a gaping hole in the palm of a huge hand, usually hidden somewhere in the level. Finding it is a tense race against time, especially when the invulnerable enemies start piling up.

Leading the frightening charge is a group of what Johnson refers to as "VIP demons" that act as the bosses in each level of Hell. During our demo, only a couple made appearances, but that was more than enough to get us interested in what the rest could possibly have in store for us.

The first was a mysterious singing and dancing woman, who according to Johnson, was singing some sort of dirge of destruction. Her song promptly - and literally - brought down the house, after which she disappeared. We're told that we'll see her again, and that Shadows introduces bosses well before Garcia actually goes head to head with them in order to fill out their backstory and their particular demon presence.

Later, Garcia crossed paths with the almost comedically gory George, who had, under mysterious circumstances, somehow managed to get a harmonica jammed into his throat. Oh, and he's covered head-to-toe with blood of questionable origins. Apparently, the reason for his shocking appearance will be explained away (our guess? He died in a horrible bluegrass accident) but for now he's just a terrifying monster. The insane character design is definitely a highlight, and the more we see the more excited we get for later bosses.

Normally, Hell isn't a terribly fun place. We would be hard pressed to find someone who would describe it as "silly" or "wacky". But when Grasshopper Manufacture takes the setting on, silliness is what we get. And frankly, we love it.

Mar 8, 2011