By now, fans will know what to expect from a Suda 51 experience. This self proclaimed “punk rock” developer has become famous for abstract games that buck trends, break all the rules, and lay on heavy helpings of satire and adolescent humor. With Shadows of the Damned Grasshopper Manufacture takes that excellent existing culture and mixes things up considerably by combining forces with industry giant Electronic Arts, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.
Shadows of the Damned follows leather-clad, Latino demon hunter, Garcia Hotspur, in his journey into the depths of Hell to rescue girlfriend Paula from the clutches of Fleming, Lord of the Demons. Good, now that you know the basics on this bizarre tale, join me after the break for the full review.
One could easily argue that Grasshopper Manufacture’s titles are far better experiences than they are games. Purely as a game Shadows of the Damned is Grasshopper’s most conventional title yet. As a third-person shooter, it is difficult not to draw comparisons between this title and Mikami’s previous work – Resident Evil 4. The gameplay of Shadows of the Damned has the creative producer’s fingerprints all over it, melding action packed third-person shooting with old school survival horror game design, featuring as much combat as it does exploration and puzzles.
While the gameplay will seem like a much more straightforward affair than that of No More Heroes or Killer 7, don’t worry – Shadows of the Damned has more than enough of that bizarre, demented Grasshopper style we’ve come to know so well to make up for more traditional gameplay. Something of note is the weapon you do all the killing with. His name is Johnson, and he’s a demonic skull that has the ability to shape shift into a variety of forms – including a pistol called the Boner.
Such is but the beginning of the almost endless supply of sexual innuendo that Suda 51 thrusts in the player’s face. While the humor is definitely juvenile, the plot, dialogue, and acting that ties all of the inappropriate language together is all incredibly impressive. Unfortunately, the penis jokes eventually wear thin and the creativity in which they are presented only does so much by the time the credits roll.
The conflict between light and dark is a central theme in Garcia Hotspur’s descent into Hell. Garcia not only must fight the denizens of the underworld, but also must battle against its environments. If he remains in the Pure Darkness for too long, Hotspur’s life will be drained away. Unfortunately, he must suffer the shadows to obtain items and traverse paths. Additionally, what’s referred to as “demon pubes” block doorways preventing you from continuing on your journey. To trim these hedges, Garcia must enter the darkness to see and cut off the supplies of blood that powers them.
Luckily, Garcia has tools at his disposal to help ward off the darkness. Garcia’s weapons have an alternate fire capability that shoots concentrated beams of light. This comes in handy to shoot wall-mounted goat heads and “Light Sushi” (monkfish-slug-things) which will illuminate areas to protect you. Alternatively, the light shot can be used to stun enemies, and wash the shroud of darkness off enemies that emerge from the darkness into the light.
The light shot can definitely come in handy, because combat can be pretty awkward. While Shadows of the Damned bears resemblance to Resident Evil 4, it’s far from as elegant in practice. Oftentimes, the varieties of demons Garcia must slay will get the best of him, at no fault of your own, which brings us to bugs.
There are some minor camera issues, clunky controls, and while I managed to avoid it, I’ve heard accounts of screen-tearing. However, the most blatant flaw in my eyes lies in collision detection. Everything from walking around, to close-combat and shooting is affected by it. I frequently found myself bumping into nearby scenery, unable to hit multiple enemies simultaneously with a shotgun, or even run past enemies in tighter corridors.
Despite existing space between objects, it seems as though there are invisible barriers extending out from everything, not enough to be game breaking but enough to be noticeable, and frequently irritating. This lead to many deaths during one chase sequence where one slip up meant instead death. And on one occasion I was pinned against a wall by a rather large demon, leaving me to dodge for what seemed like an eternity before the AI gave me enough space to get around him. Despite all that, Shadows of the Damned rises above the technical issues to provide a stellar overall experience.
As always with a Grasshopper title, narrative is a selling point. Unfortunately, there aren’t anywhere near as many cinematics as I’ve come to expect from the No More Heroes games. Luckily, the dialogue between Garcia and Johnston is a particularly noteworthy asset. The banter between the two is hilarious, and really helps keep things interesting while you’re exploring Hell — which happens to look a lot like Victorian England by the way.
Another particularly fantastic facet of the game is the soundtrack, courtesy of Akira Yamaoka. He may be well known for his work with the Silent Hill series, but I believe he’s outdone himself. Moving on to the visuals, Shadows of the Damned might not be the prettiest thing you’ve seen on a high-definition console, but it’s far from ugly and what it lacks in graphical prowess it certainly makes up in style.
It’s true, Shadows of the Damned does have some glaring faults. It also would have been nice to see Grasshoppper Manufacture add something in the way of replay value once the ten or so hours are up. But even if God gave us some lemons with this one, there are plenty of reasons to look past the problems and enjoy the one way ticket to Hell. Shadows of the Damned is an entertaining, bizarre, and absolutely hilarious experience. Don’t miss out on this trip.