You know those awesome games that slip under the radar when they’re first released but become popular after they’ve been discontinued and get no credit for their creators because the title’s been out of print for so long? Games like “Beyond Good and Evil”, “Psychonauts” and “Castlevania Lords of Shadow” all seemed to miss making their deserved mark on the world of gaming while games like “Call of Duty”, “Brutal Legend” and “Halo” hog the lime-light with mediocrity. There’s another game to add to the list of ‘too beautiful for this world’ and it is “Shadows of the Damned”.
“Shadows of the Damned” is like one of those mash-ups where some kid in a playground comes up with the most awesome unbeatable combination of superhero powers for one guy. Three of the greatest minds in gaming have been thrown together to collaborate on something that really captures the essence from each of their best offerings and manages to not confuse itself into thinking it’s something it’s not. The three crazed minds behind this are Akira Yamaoka (sound director for the “Silent Hill” series), Shinji Mikami (gameplay director for “Resident Evil 4”) and Suda 51 (creative director for “No More Heroes” and “Killer7”) and you can almost see each of their signatures on the screen as you play.
So to start off, the game is an over-the shoulder, 3rd person shooter with a strong horror element where the controls and overall gameplay basically copy “Resident Evil 4” (thank you Shinji) except where the game suddenly decides to turn into a 2D side scrolling shooter. The movement is solid and easy to keep your enemies in your sights to blow them to pieces with your crazy upgradable guns which is good because your enemies are generally quite tough and varied. The character design is twisted and interesting and the boss fights are tense and well realized. But this is only one third of the game pie.
Sound can be so easily overlooked in games today. Usually because it hasn’t been properly utilized to keep the mood of what’s going on in your characters head but Akira knows just the right noises to keep your attention sharp when it needs to be and because he likes to fill the world with sounds so much, when he does cut everything and it’s just your footsteps you hear, it just makes you paranoid that something’s around the next corner. And there usually is. The voice acting is marvelous and so vivid if somewhat racially stereotypical with your main character, Garcia Hotspur (yep, read it again. Ain’t that a dang cool name?!) and his trusty English ex-demon disembodied head sidekick, Johnson, delivering some very funny dialogue that progresses the slender thread plot. Really it comes down to this: a bunch of demons kill your girlfriend and take her soul to hell and you go after her. That’s it. You may notice that the all star team that made the game have never had much to do with story direction, and it kinda shows but they do have an equalizer for their lack of narrative.
In charge of the overall art and character direction is Mr Suda 51 and his influence is strong throughout the whole game. Suda 51 is renown for his “outside the box” thinking, like shooting living mounted goat heads to turn on the lights, for example. The other thing he is known and celebrated for is his crude humour and this game will make you laugh time and time again. It’s a strange marriage this humour with the tense unease that follows you throughout the game but it does work in the same way it works in the “Devil May Cry” series. It acts as a contrast to bring the characters out more from the insane situation they are in. I mean, they are in hell fighting crazy demons and keeping out of the shadows to save a girl.
“Shadows of the Damned” is a dark and funny, almost grindhouse 3rd person shooter that rips off elements from some of the best cult favourite titles out there. If you loved “Resident Evil 4” and wish there was another game like it… BINGO. The characters are all very vivid and well realized and spout some very funny dialogue and the gameplay is so solid you could build a house on it. The simplicity of its approach makes it easy for anyone to get into and it clocks in at around 5 hours of crude demon blasting fun. It won’t win any awards, in fact, next to no one will probably play it but it is worth the time and effort and shows that EA are now taking risks with their releases and actually bringing genuinely interesting titles out and not just more “Sims” packs for a change. The times, they are a-changing.