Shadows of the Damned Review (PS3)

Played on: PS3
Played for: Around 9 hours for the campaign and an hour or so replaying for a few trophies.

If anyone is notorious for creating over the top games that really push the envelope in every which way possible, it’s Suda 51. His games aren’t exactly the most polished things in the world, but you can always bet that they’ll be a lot different than anything else on the market. Sometimes, in the case of No More Heroes, that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s.. well.. Killer 7.

With Shadows of the Damned, Suda 51 enlisted the help of Resident Evil 4 veteran Shinji Mikami and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka. Bringing in the big guns definitely helped, but the end result is about what you’d expect from the team – A weird, trippy shooter that plays like Resident Evil 4 and sounds like Silent Hill. Add in an English-accented skull head that morphs in to various weapons named after an erection, a checkpoint that drops a deuce to save your progress, an assless chaps wearing monster that sells you upgrades, 10 hours worth of dick jokes and a half naked girlfriend running around in hell.. and you pretty much have Shadows of the Damned pegged pretty well. Interested yet? Good!

Standard gameplay in the “dark” world.

Shadows puts you in control of Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter who is madly in love with his girlfriend Paula. Did I mention Paula is the mistress of the ruler of hell? No? Well damn.. sorry. Anyway, the poo hits the fan when Fleming, said ruler of hell, comes back to earth to bring Paula back to his sexual den of sin. Of course Garcia isn’t about to back down from a six-eyed demon in a trench coat, so he enters hell to.. make a bunch of dick jokes and do what he does best – Kill demons. There is also lots of cursing, so heads up!

To give you an idea, a typical chapter in Shadows of the Damned would have you start off by dropping a sexual innuendo with your skull-headed buddy Johnson, then jump in to a portal that happens to be inside of a strippers anus, shooting a mounted goat head to turn the dark world back to the light world and then slaying 500 foot tall demons with a giant cannon called the Big Boner. Yep. That.

Suda 51’s latest effort isn’t the most graphically appealing game in the world but that’s not to say the graphics are terrible at all.

Shadows takes yet another odd turn with it’s 2D shooter levels.

Some of the character models are interesting and very well done, while some, like Paula, are bland and unremarkable. I don’t care how much clothing Paula isn’t wearing, because that isn’t an excuse to be lazy with the character design. I was also a little disappointed that Garcia had a pretty good texture map of tattoos all over him yet you only see them at the very beginning of the game during the tutorial level. Changing weapons changes the color of Garcia’s biker jacket, but it just seems like a waste to cover up something that could have defined him a little more as a character. Most people get tattoos to tell a story about a chapter in their lives and Suda 51 could have used that aspect to give Garcia a bit more depth. It might have taken away from the “grindhouse” feel of the entire game (as plot was usually the least of their worries) but after finishing Shadows of the Damned I definitely wanted to know more about the characters themselves. Why is Garcia a demon hunter? What do his tattoos represent? How did he even meet Johnson? It’s really just a cut and dry storyline that doesn’t explain much beyond the “save Paula” ordeal and that’s a shame.

Lets back up and talk textures a little more. Shadows suffers from texture pop-in and unfortunately this happens quite often during the cinematics where what little of the story is revealed. It’s not bad enough to be a deal breaker and isn’t really an issue during the actual gameplay portion, but it’s there. It’s also not nearly as bad as you might see in games like Rage, Mass Effect 2 or anything Bethesda releases.

Justine, one of the many bosses in Shadows of the Damned.

Like I mentioned earlier, Shadows plays almost identical to Resident Evil 4. Killing demons rewards Garcia with white gems which he can spend on red gems that are used to upgrade your weapons and health pool. When Garcia takes damage, you can heal him by chugging tequila, hot sake or absinthe that, unlike in the real world, are actually good for you during your stay in hell. As the story moves on and bosses are killed, Johnson will morph in to improved versions of your current weapons that all carve their niche in one way or another. Unlike other shooters, you’ll actually find yourself using all of your weapons depending on which enemies you’re fighting at that given time. Fast moving enemies might require you to swap to a gun that can lock on to targets while breakable walls require you to use your faithful Hot Boner to shoot a “sticky payload” (their words, not mine!) that explodes when you shoot it.

90% of Shadows of the Damned is a straight shooter experience with horror elements that often nod to various classics in the horror movie world, namely Evil Dead. The other 10% are side-scrolling shooter levels or linear puzzles that do little to hinder your progress but do a decent job breaking the monotony of shooting demons.

The instant you pop in Shadows of the Damned your trained ears will tell you that it sounds a lot like Silent Hill. Gold star for you! Akira Yamaoaka didn’t stray far from the familiar when creating the soundtrack to Shadows, but that’s like slamming Uematsu for every Final Fantasy. Where Shadows excels in the soundtrack department, it equally fails in the voice acting. Outside of Garcia and Johnson, the voice acting is quite terrible, again with Paula winning top honors. Fleming, the main antagonist, sounds ridiculous and at no point did I find him menacing at all. Okay, maybe when he ate Paula’s leg.

I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say that the way Garcia was portrayed was a little on the racist side. He’s Mexican and fits every stereotype in the book.. and he’s voiced by a white guy. He likes to drink, he can barely read (which the game plays off of twice) and speaks in broken English. I know it’s all in good fun and I’m an ignorant white boy, but my girlfriend on the other hand is Mexican and I didn’t even consider the slight racism until she brought it up. After thinking about it and really seeing how it runs through the game, I felt a little uneasy laughing at certain parts. As a white American, I think I’m just desensitized to racism (whether it be TV, music, movies or video games) because white people are rarely portrayed negatively as a race. I might be looking a bit too deep in to this, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Garcia wrecking demons with his Big Boner.

Trophies in Shadows of the Damned were actually quite easy to earn as I unlocked 80% of them during my first playthrough. The only time consuming trophies are the difficulty trophies as they aren’t stackable. The trophies are your basic run of the mill story progression, kill X amount of demons with Y weapon, get X amount of headshots in a row, etc., but some of the weapon kill achievements are tricky as once you upgrade a weapon you can no longer can kills for its previous form. If you plan on hunting for trophies, definitely have a look at a trophy list to see which levels you need to have which kill trophies by so you don’t miss anything.

Overall, I wasn’t really impressed by Shadows of the Damned when I first started playing it. I can be juvenile at times, but there were moments in-game where I just facepalmed at the lack of creative writing. As the game went on, I started falling more and more in love with the gameplay and the environments and even started to like Garcia as a sort of anti-hero. Reviewing Shadows, to me, is a lot like trying to review Dante’s Inferno. I had a lot of fun with it but I can’t stop thinking about the potential of what could have been an amazing game. It plays like a charm and is pretty much what Duke Nukem Forever *should* have been, but all of the dick jokes and bare breasts in the world can’t save subpar voice acting and an overall lack of storyline. Seriously. Garcia goes to hell to save Paula. That’s it.

The Verdict – B-

It’s interestingly told through some really amazing environments, a fun combat system and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor, but there isn’t much to it in the end. I’d be really excited about a sequel as the ending definitely left me wanting more, but due to extremely poor sales I honestly wouldn’t expect anything more from Garcia Hotspur and his Hot Boner.

*all images found online through various image searches. I do not own the rights to any of these images.

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