What I love about Shadows of the Damned, a collaboration between developers Suda51 and Shinji Mikami, is that it’s so bonkers visually and conceptually that it’s easy to forgive its flaws. I experienced this journey through hell on PlayStation 3, thoroughly engrossed in a trippy, graphic, and ultimately very funny ride.
A third-person shooter, you play the game as Garcia Hotspur, a badass demon hunter who voyages into the Underworld in search of his captive girlfriend Paula. Hotspur’s constant companion is a wise-cracking floating skull named Johnson, a rather versatile former demon who serves a variety of purposes during Hotspur’s quest.
The best thing about Shadows of the Damned, hands down, is the overall look of its spooky, incredibly detailed vision of Hell. Make no mistake, this is a graphic game full of cannibalistic demons (as Johnson puts it, “Themselves – it’s what’s for dinner.”), rotten flesh, explosive blood-splatterings, and a host of other sickly sights. But the surreal, nightmarish feel keeps things consistently interesting. It’s not all gore, as there are bizarre elements such as glowing, golden, mounted goats' heads (alive and bleating) that must be fired upon to illuminate dangerously dark areas. Similarly unusual are disembodied baby heads (as in human infants) that must be force-fed in order to gain passage through gates (and to shut them up).
As Hotspur tracks Paula, getting clues and brief appearances by her along the way, he is ultimately in pursuit of the biggest baddie of all, Fleming, Lord of the Underworld. That’s about as heavy as the plot gets, so don’t go into Shadows of the Damned expecting lots of complex twists in turns. But for me, blowing up demons never got old as I worked my way through the game. There is enough variety in the size, appearance, and endurance of Hotspur’s enemies that the “shoot ‘em up” aspect of gameplay is consistently fun. Upgrading Hotspur’s weaponry along the way provides new experiences. The desire to know just what freaky style of demon is waiting in the shadows ahead serves as motivation to press forward.