Survival horror will never be the same again. Sure, Shadows Of The Damned features Shinji “Resident Evil 4” Mikami on production duties, but he’s joined by No More Heroes writer Goichi Suda, and whilst his more obvious influences might be saved for a few ‘out there’ moments, Shadows is absolutely peppered with the kind of quirky, off the wall goodness that Grasshopper Manufacturer are well known for. In short – this is brilliant fun, the pairing up of two Japanese videogaming giants a marked success.
So, forget tank-like turning and meandering, plodding characters – this isn’t anything like Capcom’s tired zombie shooter. For all the right reasons, Garcia Hotspur, the lead in this pulpy, grindhouse road movie, is a man on a mission – and he’s quite prepared to go to the depths of hell to rescue his girlfriend. Hotspur’s middle name – F*cking – is suitably descriptive: he doesn’t take any prisoners and, accompanied by a gritty backdrop and some Spanish guitar, he’s straight out of a Robert Rodriguez movie.[drop]Indeed, the game plays on this notion repeatedly – even the save select screen says ‘Start Movie’ – and the cutscenes, interludes and close-ups reflect the developer’s source materials on an all-too frequent basis. Snappy cutaways and slow motion headshots aren’t exactly original, but they’re done with the same confidence that the rest of the game exudes, a ballsy, couldn’t give a shit attitude that peppers everything on the disk. Characters, enemies, the language, the locations – it’s all about as far from any other ‘survival horror’ as we’ve seen.
The action’s quick – and a welcome move to now traditional third person controls (left stick to move, right to aim) means that you’ll fit right in from the start. Aiming and shooting is on the triggers, and dodging, quick turn and reloaded are mapped to the face buttons as you’d expect. It’s incredibly fluid – again, something of a departure for the genre – and it’s also alarmingly quick: even the basic demons are nimble on their feet and aren’t afraid to invade in packs. Hotspur is easily overwhelmed if you’re not suitably prepared.
It’s not all bullets and gore though – there’s a smart, albeit oft-repeated light/dark mechanic that peppers the story and a number of simple cerebral challenges. Don’t worry, as Garcia puts it, he “f*cking hates puzzles”, and the biggest chunk of the game is being funneled down relatively linear corridors in a very earthly view of the underworld. Cobbled streets, pubs and strip clubs are commonplace, you won’t be bumping into Dante and friends. Backtracking, therefore, is limited, the relentless pacing pushing you forwards almost perpetually.
With you all the way is Johnson, the very embodiment of Garcia’s manhood and the source of much of the game’s purile comedy. Taking the form of a skull, Johnson is also the game’s weaponry (transforming into guns or being swung like a club isn’t an issue for the undead), transport and guide, his humourous script playing out along the same lines as Portal 2’s Wheatley keeping the challenges simple and ensuring the player is never stuck. He is, like most of the game, laugh out loud funny and a brilliant sidekick.[videoyoutube]The other two main characters – your partner Paula and nemesis Fleming – provide focus and goals, but never really get in the way of the action. The latter clearly has a grudge to bear with Hotspur, and the slightly uncomfortably sexual punishment of Paula sits slightly at odds with the childish, playful giggles found endless. It’s as if there was a deliberate attempt to get away from cheesy one liners at times and it only half works – regardless, this is absolutely a ‘mature’ rated game even if the script doesn’t really warrant that adjective. It’s not for kids.
Visually it’s a bit of a mess – there’s screen tearing, the usual Unreal Engine texture pop-ins and some ugly textures, but the style and art design just about wins out – it’s clearly meant to be gritty and the character work is mostly superb. Garcia’s your typical skinny tattooed hero and, given decent voicework and a solid script, works well enough, and some of the demons are packed with attitude and personality. You’ll tired of the basic drone baddies quickly enough, but Shadows isn’t shy about throwing in bosses left, right and centre. And besides, the music’s fantastic.
What it all boils down to is that the game is a great ride – a mostly non-stop affair that only takes an hour or so to really get going and then grabs you right until the end. Shadows of the Damned has shaken up the genre, turning it upside down and thrown away the fluff, leaving a lean, enjoyable blast through blood, gore and a knowing wink or two. I’m a big fan of games that try to do something a little different, and Grasshopper have got the tone and pitching just right here – great stuff.
- Brilliant atmosphere
- Characterisation is solid, Hotspur is great
- A fantastic soundtrack
- Some brilliant humour
- It’s quite linear
- The graphics aren’t quite up to scratch
Shadows Of The Damned provides eight hours or so of some of the best third person shooting we’ve seen for ages – it’s well produced, expertly paced and deliciously funny. It’s not scary, by any stretch, but it doesn’t need or want to be – this isn’t played for scares, more for cheap shock and fun, and it manages that perfectly. Sure, it’s not for everyone and once it’s done it’s done (there’s no New Game +) but if you’re looking for something to blast through this weekend this might just be your tonic.