Shadows of the Damned Xbox 360
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture
The first-person and third-person shooter genres are full of clones and derivate titles to the extent that at times you get the feeling that if you've seen one you've seen them all. Thankfully, not all game designers and developers are so uninspired and some attempt to impart a sense of personality to their games. Suda 51 is one such game designer and with him at the helm a game is anything but what you'd expect and that's definitely the case with Shadows of the Damned.
Playing as the crazily named and tattoo-covered demon hunter, Garcia Hotspur, you're out to get revenge on Fleming, the Lord of the Underworld who has taken the life of your girlfriend, Paula. Fleming tells Garcia that he can have Paula back if he atones for his sins (the slaying of Flemings minions) and admit defeat to his superior power. Garcia refuses and decides to follow Fleming into the underworld to rescue Paula and exact revenge on the evil lord. Garcia does have a companion however in the form of a wisecracking, floating skull named Johnson. In addition to acting as a guide, Johnson also has the added bonus of converting himself into weapons and a motorcycle in order to aid Garcia.
Garcia doesn't just have to shoot down a variety of demons in the underworld; he also has to contend with the Darkness. Darkness has the power to make some of your enemies difficult to contend with. This is in part because the Darkness weakens you and prolonged exposure to it drains health and will ultimately kill you. The Darkness can even attempt to grab you and pull you in plus there are times when the Darkness is simply too thick and cannot be dispersed (sometimes you'll be able to collect human hearts which help you withstand the Darkness a little longer). It's not all bad news however. The Darkness can reveal objects that you otherwise would not be able to see so whilst in most circumstances you'll want to light a goat's head or sushi lamp as soon as possible to remove the Darkness, there are times when you'll need to make use of it (for getting rid of Darkness Vines, for instance) which adds a nice twist to the gameplay.
The gameplay in Shadows of the Damned is linear but it's no less enjoyable because of it. In any given area you'll usually have to light a lamp, deal with an assortment of enemies and solve a few puzzles to open up certain doors or gates (which usually involves finding specific items to persuade the door and gate guardians). There is some item collecting to be done too. Amongst other things you’ll collect white, red and blue gems as well as strawberries which the demons are rather partial to. The white gems are essentially the game's currency and with them you can buy new items (such as Hot Sake bottles that Garcia can drink to replenish his health) from vending machines and also from an odd creature called Christopher. Red Gems are used to enhance Garcia's health, torch charge speed, and weapons.
The game's combat is very enjoyable and sees you making good use of a variety of weapons and attacks. To keep things fresh the game keeps introducing new concepts well into the game that prevent the experience from ever feeling too repetitive. Of course the difficulty of the game will depend on which of the three difficulty levels you choose to play on but most should find a level they are happy with. You'll fight a host of memorable characters but it's the boss fights that really impress and provide the true challenge in the game. That said, you'll need to make use of various abilities such as Light Shot in order to defeat the more challenging enemies and even the normal demons can be a threat when attacking in number. The combat becomes even more satisfying when you upgrade your weapons. It's just a shame that there is no new game plus feature to enable you to tackle more challenging versions of the enemies with your fully upgraded weapons.
At its heart, Shadows of the Damned is an enjoyable third-person shooter but it's the original aspects of the game that help it to stand out. Whether it's the bizarre nature of your companion, Johnson, having to deal with the illusions that will make it seem as though Paula is constantly appearing to lure Garcia into another predicament, the need to bribe demons with strawberries and other items, One-eyed Willie (the bat-shaped demon) who on seeing you disappears and leaves a pile of excrement (to mark an area that you've visited before) or the nature of the enemies themselves and of course having to deal with the Darkness in addition to those enemies, it's fair to say that the game does plenty to help differentiate itself from the swathes of shooters that already adorn the Xbox 360's game catalogue.
Shadows of the Damned is by no means a graphical masterpiece but visually speaking, the game certainly has a lot going for it. The game has a rather grainy appearance, kind of what you'd expect to see in a Silent Hill game and this does serve to create a certain ambience. There are some clipping issues in the game, particularly noticeable during a death sequence for Garcia and there are some screen tearing problems that you'll see from time to time. It could even be argued that some of the animations are a little stiff but you honestly won't notice that much thanks to the impressive design of the characters, particularly the bosses. On the whole the complaints are minor and the game's overall style certainly helps you see past what issues there are.
Prior to beginning the game you'll get to set the brightness level, adjust the control mode, aiming and camera speed and enable the subtitles. The game's cut scenes are subtitled and you'll be able to follow the game's bizarre storyline. All of the tutorial messages are shown using text and icons. The Johnsonpedia that can be accessed from the game's pause menu gives you text information on the game's controls, weapons, and Demon's World characters. The game saves automatically at specific points and you're notified of this in text. There are no captions for the many eerie sounds in the game. This is a little unfortunate and it definitely robs deaf gamers of some of the game's rather impressive ambience. You'll be unaware of a singing demon, the ominous bell rings that often indicate the impending arrival of demons and other sound effects. There is also a sound that indicates that Garcia's torch has charged (useful for one of the attacks in the game) and there is no caption for this. The game is still fairly accessible for deaf gamers but it could have been better.
Those looking for a third-person shooter that dares to do something a little different will enjoy what Shadows of the Damned has to offer. Garcia's journey through the Underworld is certainly a memorable one and one that is enhanced by the game's personality and unique feel. The combat is enjoyable with the boss fights being the highlight of the game. If you enjoy your third-person shooters but feel they are in need of some originality, then Shadows of the Damned is well worth considering.