Review: Shadows of the Damned

Garcia Hotspur, demon hunter extraordinaire, is in a tight spot! He may not be dressed as a gimp, but his girlfriend has been stolen away to Hell, care of one Fleming, lord of the demons. In Hell, infant doorkeeps snack on brains and strawberries, while shooting a goat’s head creates a brilliant burst of light. Malevolent demons snack on the bloody limbs of beautiful women. Hotspur’s gotta stock up on the tequila and sake in order to keep his strength up. Can you tell this is a Suda51 adventure yet?

Shadows of the Damned, some familiar mechanics meld together for a Latin-flavored rock-and-roll “road movie” that, despite its shortcomings, is a refreshing exercise in the grotesque. From a motorcycle ride into the pits of hell to Fleming bursting out of the back of Garcia’s girlfriend Paula, Shadows is a trip. Garcia’s trusty old pal (former demon) Johnson is along for the ride, able to transform at will into a source of light, machine gun, and even a motorcycle. This game oozes style at every turn. And it should, springing forth from the minds responsible for games such as Resident Evil, No More Heroes, and Killer 7. It’s a third-person shooter/adventure ditty with some admittedly dated aspects, but snappy firefights and deliciously bizarre elements keep you glued to your seat.

Hotspur’s journey through Hell is presented via over-the-shoulder perspective, complete with later Resident Evil-styled aiming and the bloody deaths Suda51 has become famous for. You can shoot and reload while on the run, and there are plenty of tools with which to dispose of the baddies in your way. Shadows is tried-and-true run-and-gun action for a glut of its compact campaign, but implements a few interesting tricks to ensure things don’t get too repetitive.

Like the title implies, shadows play an integral part in this quaint little trip through the underworld – specifically, darkness. As the demons thrive on this precious commodity, entering an area devoid of all-healing light will sap Garcia’s health after his brief period of protection has ended. Collecting human hearts scattered throughout each area will extend the amount of time he can stay in the darkness, but stay too long and eventually it starts to eat away at your health gauge, which is (laughably) refilled by booze – in the demon world, being a lush is actually healthy! Who knew? Staying in these areas is detrimental to Garcia’s health, but a quick shot to a goat’s head via Johnson’s Light Shot, hitting an explosive barrel, or setting off fireworks can return things to normal, ensuring the hunt for Paula continues.

But there’s more to the darkness than simple navigation technicalities. Certain switches and gates must be activated (as well as weak spots upon the bodies of boss demons) through stepping into the shade and taking aim. The few puzzles scattered throughout the narrative can be solved in a similar fashion, which felt a bit too gimmicky for my tastes, but worked well enough that my progress wasn’t hindered every few areas or so. Demons covered in darkness must also be hit with Johnson’s Light Shot, and from there Garcia can put one, or twelve, depending on your weapon of choice, between their rotting eye sockets. While these elements, admittedly, certainly do not make the game great, they do add to the tense atmosphere of the already dank and disgusting vision of Hell you’re tasked with traversing. That’s precisely what makes Shadows such an intriguing play: the mood, humor, and attitude.

The lighthearted demon Christopher, who serves as a traveling vendor of sorts, the numerous low-brow yet hilarious one-liners continually rolling off Hotspur and Johnson, and off-the-wall scenarios presented turn what could have otherwise been a forgettable experience into a shoot-’em-up worth taking a look at. Ever wanted to pelt a horse who farts darkness with bullets? I thought so.

Coupled with some beautifully bizarre and disconcerting tracks brought to you by aural genius Akira Yamaoka, as well as some truly gut-wrenching character design, Shadows of the Damned is one hot adventure you won’t want to pass up. Unfortunately, as soon as the journey begins, it seems as though it ends just as quickly. Don’t pass this one up, but you may want to pick it up as a rental first.

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