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Shadows of the Damned can be possibly misleading. On the back of the box, it states that the game is a 'Psychological Action Thriller'. While the game can mess with your mind, and there's plenty of action to go around, perhaps the last word should be changed to 'Joker'. This game is extremely strange, from the minds of Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) and Suda 51 (No More Heroes). It will make you laugh, it will gross you out, and it will put you on edge at the best of times. But thanks to visceral combat and unique touches with its hellish world, Shadows of the Damned is pretty fun, if excruciatingly short.
You take the role of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who perhaps has killed one too many bad guys. Now, legions of hell storm his apartment, take his girlfriend, and leave. Of course, Hotspur follows them into the pits of death, along with his bodiless companion Jonson. They descend into darkness, and are immediately taken through the darkest of gaming worlds where Goat heads and Giant Sushi creatures are used to light the way and a variety of morbid creatures present themselves to try and stop them both. The story is pretty light, though fairly prevalent in the course of things. There are some serious moments, especially near the end, but a lot of Shadows of the Damned is gags and jokes, some of which are hilarious while others fall a little bit flat, but thankfully it tends to lean towards the former.
The structure of Shadows of the Damned follows something like other Unreal engine games like Gears of War. The game is split into 5 acts, though it's closer to 4 as the first act is pretty non-existent. The game is further split into chapters, and each act has a different amount of acts. It is pretty much above 5, but a couple of the game's acts contain more than 5 chapters. The game is paced so that levels can shift in length, depending mostly on what kind of level it is. Some acts last a good half hour, and these usually require a lot of movement and exploration as well as shooting. Some levels are over in 10 minutes however, and these are usually the game's boss fights. It's very linear stuff, with very little chances to go off a set path.
So what is Shadows of the Damned? I'd say it's a 3rd-person shooter cum action adventure. The game borrows Resident Evil's shooting mechanics, unsurprising considering Shinji is involved in the project, albeit more fluent thanks to movement while aiming. It will probably take a bit of getting used firing by laser-sight rather than an indicator, but those who invested a lot in recent Resident Evil's probably won't have too much trouble. There's also a roll mechanic, which is key to combating some of the game's more troublesome enemies. Aiming is generally smooth, and though it'll take some getting used to, once you're comfortable it becomes like a glove on your hand.
There are 3 primary weapons to Shadow of the Damned. You get a pistol, shotgun and assault rifle essentially. The game uses the weapons as a gag, naming your pistol the 'hot boner'. It did crack me up once I actually noticed the gun was called that. Anyways, though it may seem like the weapon selection is limited, it's more focused and each defeated boss nets an upgrade to each weapon, meaning the guns change as you go through. You can't pick up anymore weapons outside of the 3, but the game changes these weapons to keep them fresh throughout the campaign. The 'Teether' evolves from a simple assault rifle into a multi-firing beast which can target multiple enemies at once, and the games 'Monocussioner', or shotgun, is able to fire multiple rounds at once and even turn into a grenade launcher later in the game. It's actually exciting upgrading your weapons in Shadows of the Damned, because they almost become completely different weapons.
There's a large amount of different enemy types you face in the game. There's plenty of standard-grunt Demons, but you also get wild variations of these. Some of these include enemies which can turn invisible, conceal themselves with body armour which can only be hit if they are knocked on their backs, and larger foes which require precision shots on their masks. There's also boss fights throughout the course of the game. Your first impression of bosses will probably be 'meh', because the first boss you fight is a middle-sized enemy which requires simple repeating of shooting light barrels to kill. However, the next boss is a large-scale goat-man-thing which is so huge; he doesn't even fit on the screen. There are plentiful bosses throughout the campaign, and all of which are usually fun and require some strategy to figure out.
So far, nothing here is pretty standout, but it's all executed very well. What pushes Shadows of the Damned beyond most normal shooters is the game's use of its setting. Hell is a dark place to be, and when the darkness completely takes over, it becomes an entirely different game. If a level is consumed by darkness, you have a few seconds before it starts to chip into your health, and you have to find either a goats-head planted on the wall and shoot it with the flare equipped with all weapons, or find a fireworks machine to light up the place temporarily. Enemies cannot be damaged while the area is consumed by darkness, meaning that it's incredibly risky staying in darkness for long periods. There are also some areas which require you to run through areas too thick with darkness to purge, and finding the exit before you die.
The game also uses the darkness as a form of puzzles. Some areas are blocked by demon gates covered in, what Hotspur calls them, 'Demon Pubes', and the only way to rid them off the doors is to enter darkness and shoot dark cores which are powering the door. Some enemies are actually killed by darkness, meaning tactical use of darkness can quickly kill off enemy forces. Of course, most are immune, and impossible to kill, so you have to be careful how you use darkness. Some enemies, including bosses, can be flared while in darkness to open up obvious red weak spots. The game's use of 'dark' makes it stand out as more than just another 3rd-person shooter, adding a layer of intelligence to an already solid game.
Unfortunately, the game slips with value. The campaign will probably take you about seven hours to complete. The game has 3 difficulty levels, and achievement hunters will notice that achievements for difficult don't stack, meaning to get 1000G you have to play the game 3 times on each difficulty. Whether you will want to will depend on your hunger for achievements. The game also has a funky collectible system, where finding red gems can allow you to upgrade Hotspur. Even if you find the 40 located in levels, you still have to buy about 40 to fully upgrade Hotspur and unlock the 75G achievement. You will probably screw this up on your first playthrough, I did, and you can either farm areas with infa-spawn enemies or find exploits to give you those extra 40ish gems. Again, it comes down to your fetish for achievement hunting. There are no multiplayer or other modes, meaning the game relies on its campaign to entertain.
The game has a great production. Graphically, despite some stiff movement animation, the game looks great. Enemies are well crafted, with a grotesque feel to them which reminds you you're in hell. The same goes with the levels, with some mutated interiors and exteriors which border on disgusting at times. The game also has a cool sense of style. Guns quickly transform from a lantern into weaponry at the click of a button, and one of the enemies serenades you in the game with operatic aria continually, and even Garcia exclaims how it is beautiful on his ears. Speaking of which, the sound design is strong too. The bloody spurts of decapitations makes combat brutally exciting, while mixes of rock riffs and quiet medleys from instruments like piano fit each scene perfectly. There are also the game's many uses of gags. Most of them are funny, such as a serious moment where Garcia and another demon hunter meet. The other hunter states 'Hard men like us don't mix together', only for Johnson to exclaim 'Is that a come on?'. A possibly serious moment, lowered by a funny gag. It's got some low moments, but overall its great stuff.
So overall, Shadows of the Damned is fun, clever, funny and short. The game has a solid shooting system, which while unfamiliar to some will be easy to pick up, which is also improved by the concept of darkness changing the world around Garcia. The game also has a terrific production, with its visuals and sound enhancing the experience. It's a bit on the short side, so those who are value conscious will be sketchy on Shadows of the Damned, but overall it is a very fun game which any action fan is likely to get a kick out of.