I don’t know much, but I do know that there are some crazy people out there – especially after 11PM. Dark alleys that your mother warns you to avoid, pubs that only bearded locals are allowed to drink in, and the subway – the home of the hobo. All these things are right from my nightmares, possibly even the same one. Where I go down a dark alley, fall down a hole, into a subway where tramps carry me off to their local and I’m forced to drink a pint of their wee.
Of course, I made that up – no dream is that twisted, but Shadows of the Damned is a little bit like my vivid imagination; which is perhaps the reason I get along with it so well. From the demented minds of some of the people who brought us Silent Hill, Killer 7 and Resident Evil, comes a lovechild that should never have been born – because, as a game, it breaks a lot of rules. It’s not too popular, it’s underexposed, over the top, damn right crazy, single player only and above all, rather unique – correct me if I’m wrong, but none of these traits are ones that you find in games that reign high in the chart week after week. Maybe Shadow of the Damned will break the mold, and turn mainstream gamers into over imaginative folk who have nightmares about the homeless.
Garcia Hotspur, the protagonist of this twisted tale, is a demon hunter. Unfortunately for him, he’s killed his last demon without consequence, and the demons retaliate by dragging his hot girlfriend to hell. It’s up to you to guide Garcia though a warped action packed adventure to hell and back, to save his girl and get revenge. When I found out about the premise of this game, I was probably thinking the same as you – that is sounds clichéd, and a little bit like Dante’s Inferno. It’s neither of those things, let me assure you.
I wouldn’t want to paint a bad picture of Shadows of the Damned though; yes, it’s weird, and it’s certainly over the top, but somehow, it’s endearing, and the story, while having the stink of a really bad B-movie, somehow grips you, and tempts you into exploring Grasshopper Manufacture’s abnormal perception of hell.
To banish cliché from the equation, there’s Garcia’s weapon – a talking demon skull called Johnson. He’s not your traditional demon though. He escaped hell and turned good, and now he’s there to serve you, as your weapon and your sidekick – full of pearls of wisdom and wise cracks to keep your trip to hell a little bit more comical and entertaining than it perhaps should be. Johnson can transform into multiple different weapons as you progress through the game, from the traditional pistol that is great for taking headshots and tripping switches, to a gun that rapid fires teeth in order to banish those creatures from hell once and for all. There’s a big focus on ‘upgrading your Johnson’ as well – sexual innuendo intended, though I cannot take credit for that one – it’s plastered throughout the game. Upgrading is an easy affair that rewards exploration. You need to find upgrade stones that in turn, let you distribute points on certain aspects of the Jonhson, like melee attacks, ranged weapon effectiveness and how long your light shots last.
Light shots play an important role in hell. When darkness creeps in, you need to make things light again before you perish – demons are more powerful in the dark, and you take damage for every second you endure in the darkness as well. To make things light, the light shot can be fired at a goat’s head – and then the goat, in turn, lights up the area. Some demons douse the goat’s head in darkness and put out the flames, so killing these demons and restoring light can be both tricky and rewarding balance. Not all areas are dotted with goats heads however, sometimes the only way of getting through the darkness is to endure it and make tracks quickly, either that or find fireworks to briefly light up the sky, which briefly takes the edge off the damage darkness can cause.
At its very core, the story follows Garcia’s girlfriend, who gets tossed from level to level by multiple demons – and your job as Garcia is to chase her through hell, usually resulting in epic boss battles at the end of each stage. Boss fights are always entertaining, and sometimes quite a test. They are reminiscent of boss battles you may have come across in your early years of gaming – half puzzle to find out how to depose of the boss demon, and half high octane button bashing, employing tactics while having a bloody good time doing it. Some of these monsters you go up against are genuinely quite scary as well, so packing a change of underwear is a must if you’re feint hearted.
Visceral graphics polish off the fine gameplay with a great visual demonstration of hell. They’re not ground breaking by any means (it looks like a slightly over the top Resident Evil 5) but then it plays like that too. Darkness creeps across the screen, and similarly evaporates once you light up a goat. Explosions of blood and guts spill from demons, and the detail to boss characters especially will leave you trembling in moderate fear. It’s the soundtrack that really needs the praise though; almost carnival style music with creepy stabs of hellish orchestra; ghouls playing with your mind, whispering and laughing; it’s a weird mix, but it works wonderfully well at bringing the underworld to life.
Shadows of the Damned is a strictly one-time single player adventure, there’s little reason to return unless you missed weapon upgrades on your first play through. Nevertheless, Shadows of the Damned is an enjoyable trip into the minds of some of the greatest, albeit weirdest, game designers and for those who can accept that there’s enjoyment to be had from a game with no solid genre, this twisted collaboration will leave you entertained and wanting more – so go on, grab your Johnson with both hands and go give those demons hell!
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