Shadows of the Damned

Shadows of the Damned

To say that things until now have been normal would be gross exaggeration stumbling into an outright lie.

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However, events have turned properly weird. As in we're holding conversation with a girl's severed head which is clutched in our hands as behind us the rest of her body frantically crawls around seeking its missing top-half. Well, when we say conversation, we mean more having our ear chewed off by a grief-filled litany over her macabre death. Things are a little strange down in Grasshopper Manufacture's interpretation of Hell.

Welcome to a journey down underground (and we're not talking subways and overpriced rail cards) to a world of darkness and evil with your hosts, No More Heroes director Suda51 and Resident Evil's Shinji Mikami. It's a meeting of minds as potent as the Tarantino/Rodriguez joint-venture with their Grindhouse double-bill, yet with one key difference: it delivers.

Despite the locale and situation, you should be more worried about your funny bone than your heart rate. Much like Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, there's plenty of laughs amidst the bloodshed here. Sure, its laddish humour. Sure, it isn't highbrow entertainment. But dam it is funny.

The backstory for your situation can be outlined fairly quickly. You assume the role of Garcia Hotspur, a leather-clad macho man of Latin American origin. Your girlfriend has kidnapped by Fleming - less Bond villain, more Prince of Darkness, and subsequently the creature drags your girl into a Underworld inhabited by monsters and strange creatures, living in what looks to be a city channelling European dramas rather than 80s Metal videos.

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Shadows of the Damned

We've tread, ran and at times bottom-bounced through the Save the Princess situation many times before. but Shadows is still something quite special. Third person action-adventure that goes far beyond the one-note cock jokes. Though those are an integral part of its D.N.A.

You'll soon see why that particular line of humour is so rife. For example, your constant companion through your journey; a flaming skull named Johnson, who's rocking a classic butler accent. He's both weapon and a crucial piece to the game's story (as well as butt to many crude jokes and visual imagery). Johnson's your demonic swiss army knife, transforming into a wider array of weapons to fit your purpose, from pistol, to shotgun, to automatics, and collectable blue crystals only further increase his firepower.

Shadows of the Damned
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The chat between Hotspur and Johnson are the backbone of the game's humour. Comedy's a tough gig on the gaming circuit, and a lot can go wrong. Dipping a survival horror shooter in double-entrendres sultry anecdotes and endless references to areas south of the navel shouldn't work, but it does. Really well. There's a great chemistry between these two, and pun-filled banter is great, though hardly a master's course of subtlety.

Example: early on in the game Johnson states that Fleming is a "Dick-tator", and this is actually one of the classier comments yanked out of the script. But despite the childish humour its not a game for kids, coated and soaked through as it is with blood, sexual references and imagery. It earns that 18 Rating with pride.

The game's equally as bold in its boss fights. Big and sometimes unforgiving, the creature designs nothing less than amazing throughout. Get to love them, as there's parts in which you're almost pinballing from one boss battle to the next, though this rotation doesn't reach the painful heights of Devil May Cry 4's board-game level. The fights themselves though are tough, and require a little ingenuity and tenacity to win through.

Shadows of the Damned

This is due not only to their attack patterns, but also to one of the game's central play mechanics: the 'Dark'. Several areas of Hell are covered in this blue-hued dark matter, and these zones gradually diminish Garcia's health when entered, while enemies within the field are far stronger.

For bosses you may need to plunge in, attack, and escape to recover, before heading back in. During normal levels, as you explore the towns and their denizens, progress requires their destruction. The task of which form light puzzle elements in-between the usual gunfights, as you seek out a deactivation switch in the form of a glowing goat's head. It's far from the headache-inducing puzzles of Portal, but its adds a little extra spice to an already superbly cooked game.

Shadows of the Damned

The quality in the overall production has resulted in one of the finest third-person action-adventures we've played in recent memory. From the cocky character design of Hotspur, through bizarre enemies to the engaging flights of fancy (the game throws you a curveball by suddenly transforming at one point into a 2D side-scroller), its an brainstorm of ideas that delivers on all fronts.

We need to touch upon the soundtrack, an eclectic mix of rock, punk, classical and other styles tossed together in such a vibrant way that you wonder why composer Akira Yamaoka didn't throw off the shackles of the Silent Hill series ages ago. Such inventiveness is a joy on the ears and each piece manages to retain the overall vibe of the game despite their apparent diversity from each other.

Shadows of the Damned

The game does have its faults. We breezed through the story in under fifteen hours, and while that's a hefty amount of gameplay on the clock, the structure was linear enough to have us question whether it'd be worth another run-through any time soon.

A small quibble though; the enjoyment from that first time is such that we'd recommend it's a journey through Hell worth taking. It's a strange and memorable title, and everything you expect from the minds behind Resident Evil and No More Heroes. While the structure is familiar, there's a creative zest here that clearly indicates these creators have much more to say. It's a strong title from the studio and further cements the reputation of those behind it. We can't wait to see what they come up with next.

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08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
Good humour, finely-crafted gameplay, great soundtrack, that "just see what's round the corner before bed" feeling.
Not huge on replay value.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Shadows of the Damned

REVIEW. Written by Sebastian R. Sørensen

"It's a meeting of minds every bit as intriguing as the Tarantino and Rodriguez Grindhouse double-bill, yet with one key difference: it delivers."

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