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.
Gameplay is relatively smooth and intuitive. Hotspur moves rather clunkily, but that doesn’t impede control. During attacks by multiple demons, expect to get blindsided frequently. As the challenges get tougher, so does your ability to fight them effectively. The increased functionality of Hotspur’s weaponry progresses logically, as once-difficult enemies become easier to defeat. Bosses are difficult, sometimes frustratingly so. Be sure to take advantage of every weapon upgrade available along the way, as you will not want to face some of the later bosses ill-equipped. The worst part of Shadows of the Damned is that once you’ve finished the game, you can’t carry your weapons upgrades into a new game. You start from the beginning, as a beginner.
The music and voice acting are top notch. From blaring rock to cool jazz to creepy ambience, the score serves each stage of the game exceptionally well. Veteran voice actor Steven Blum brings a sense of toughness to Garcia Hotspur that he balances with humor and vulnerability. Greg Ellis, as the voice of Johnson, makes even the most obvious innuendo (and there is a TON of obvious innuendo throughout the game) laugh-out-loud funny. There are a lot of phallic jokes but they are usually silly, sometimes witty, and will only be offensive to the most sensitive of players. No, Shadows of the Damned is not for young kids. But honestly, the game is steeped in fantasy and never aims to be truly scary or disturbing.
Shadows of the Damned is rated M (Mature 17+) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. This game can also be found on Xbox 360.