Parent Talk: Shadows of the Damned is vulgar and crass, with immature humor that fits squarely in the realm of the insane. It has sexual references at almost every turn, extreme violence, and disturbing imagery. This game is not for children.
Plays Like: Dead Space and Dead Space 2, both of which have mechanics akin to Resident Evil 4.
Review Basis: Completed the PS3 version of the game on “Demon Hunter” difficulty mode.
Goichi Suda, otherwise affectionately known as “Suda 51,” is a creative but undeniably eccentric man. After delivering hyper-violent glee in the psychotic Killer 7 and frantic No More Heroes, Suda has carved a niche of dedicated followers. His games always lack polish, but succeed thanks to intriguing design. Shadows of the Damned, however, was poised to tackle that problem; Suda 51 partnered with fellow game design legend Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame. While Shadows is crass and offensive, it manages to be fun, and at times brilliant. Your tolerance may vary on the humor though.
A unique and fun, albeit crazy, action game. No one can claim that Grasshopper Manufacture phones it in to design a game. While SotD plays like Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space, the designers didn’t just copy and paste. The enemy and level designs are outlandish and bizarre, giving gamers a glimpse of Suda 51’s ‘hell’. The combat is third-person and emphasizes removing enemy limbs, but the added ‘darkness’ mechanics offer something different. There’s a variety of challenges thanks to the wide array of foes and traps.
+ Solid control. Garcia can move while shooting or reloading, and dodging helps in a pinch. Switching weapons is quick and comfortable. Anyone familiar with other third-person action games should feel right at home.
+ Self-aware humor. Shadows is crass, stupid, and immature…but kind of brilliant. While you hear jokes about the male genitalia at almost every turn, it’s still goofy and fun because of what the creative team embraces. The game not only parodies horror films and games, but frequently laughs at itself, which helps bring the player along for the ride. The dialog between the somewhat dim hero Garcia and his ever-faithful demon sidekick/weapon/motorcycle Johnson ranges from obscene to hilarious. Portal pushes intellectual, dark, biting humor, and Shadows of the Damned is the alternative: intentionally dumb, B-movie type humor. It pulls no punches with its weirdness.
+ An eclectic, strange soundtrack accompanied by goofy-but-awesome voice acting.
+ Excellent visuals. Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami paint a more colorful picture of hell than anyone could imagine.
+ Interesting puzzles. While blasting enemies with Johnson’s Big Boner is the first order of business, there are cool puzzles to solve too. Most are conquered with the light and dark feature. Rooms can be enveloped in darkness, which slowly drains Garcia’s health. Sometimes these rooms can be “dispelled” by shooting a goat’s head and restoring the source of light. Other times, dark areas cannot be lit, and instead must be traversed to reach new areas. To up the sense of urgency with enemy encounters, Grasshopper used darkness in a variety of ways. For example, most enemies can use darkness as a protective cover, which Garcia can dispel with a light source (Light Shot or Torch). However, there are instances when it’s beneficial to allow darkness to fill up a room, because the enemies summoned by the darkness can kill giant monsters.
+ Enemies galore. The enemies are exceptionally varied, both in design and A.I. Not all zombies just stumble toward you; they run around and attack in groups. Thankfully tackling bad guys isn’t always straightforward. Simply blasting through is a viable option, but intelligently exploiting the darkness mechanics or elements of the environment can drastically reduce the difficulty. For example, some large enemies who have large, glowing searchlights on their heads can be defeated right away by making the area dark. So rather than extinguishing the darkness immediately to pick off smaller enemies, it’s sometimes wise to let a lesser enemy escape to pursue a light source. Other times there are helpful contraptions hidden in the stages. That is what separates a good action game from a mediocre one.
– No New Game+. An attraction of this generation is to replay a game you completed with all the power-ups. “Breaking” a game after spending so much time struggling through is usually fun and makes successive playthroughs more appealing. It also makes discovering remaining secrets or scoring those missed Trophies/Achievements easier. Why isn’t that here? Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space benefitted from this feature.
-The chase scenes are just unfair. They get frustrating rather quickly.
Rendering issues. While loading areas, Shadows sometimes struggles to render everything quickly. After a loading screen disappears, the newly displayed area may appear flat and basic before additional details and layers are rendered. It’s not a significant problem, because it usually finishes in a few seconds, but noticeable. This is what I referred to before about Suda’s games typically not being completely polished.
Shadows of the Damned is the very definition of “weird”, yet the effective shooting mechanics make the experience fun and more approachable. If you can handle the vulgar absurdity, SotD is an intense ride through hell. Fans of Suda51 and dark action games like Dead Space should consider this a worthy purchase. Everyone else should stay far away.