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'Shadows of the Damned' a twisted turn

July 18, 2011

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Shadows of  the DamnedFor some people, subtlety is simply not an option. Salvador Dali had his melting clocks and lobster telephones, Robert Plant has his obvious and endless sexual innuendo, and Michael Bay has his extreme close-ups and nonstop explosions.

In the video gaming world, there is Suda 51, a man behind some of the oddest games in recent memory, including Killer7, No More Heroes and its sequel, and now his latest masterpiece, Shadows of the Damned.

It's a game that's as in-your-face as it gets. Weapons have names like the Skullblaster, the Teethgrinder, and the, erm, Hot Boner (really). Health is recovered by downing entire bottles of tequila and absynthe. Stages have names like "Take Me To Hell" and "Cannibal Carnival".

And then there's the game's protagonist, Garcia Hotspur. This guy is all bulging biceps, body-shrouding tattoos, and more one-liners than Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the 80's and 90's combined.

The plot isn't all that complicated. Hotspur comes home one day to find the love of his life - his girlfriend Paula - being soul-napped by a demon named Fleming, who just happens to be in charge of the underworld. Not one to back down from anything on Earth or beyond, Hotspur charges through a portal into the City of the Damned in search of Paula.

Shadows of  the Damned It's here that we get to see the all-star combination of Suda 51, Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil series), and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill series) really become something special. By combining the strengths of these three extremely talented individuals, Shadows of the Damned becomes a game that's absolutely thrilling.

Hotspur is aided throughout the entire game by a talking skull called Johnson (did Robert Plant write this game or something?). When he's not wisecracking, Johnson also turns into a motorcycle, as well as every weapon Hotspur uses.

The core gameplay has "Mikami" written all over it. The guy who helped mold Resident Evil 4 has made another over-the-shoulder third person shooter, though SotD is even more action-oriented. Hotspur can move while shooting, pull off 180-degree turns with a single button tap, and dive in any direction.

Mixed in with all the shooting, though, is a neat light/dark gameplay device. As Hotspur traverses the City of the Damned, he'll often be enveloped in a darkness that spreads out all around him. The world is still visible, but takes on a blue, black and grey haze and Hotspur begins taking damage.

Shadows of  the Damned It's up to the player to figure out exactly how to light the area back up, because besides taking damage in the darkness, enemies are invincible. Hotspur can set fire to a nearby set of candles with his special Light Shot, activate a machine that sets off fireworks, or open a doorway that exits the area.

It adds a puzzle-like element to the game, without making it as in-your-face as some of the puzzles found in the Resident Evil series. It's rarely frustrating finding the solution and the whole premise adds that much more excitement.

With memorable boss battles sometimes lacking in games that cry out for them, SotD doesn't disappoint. Hotspur goes up against some of the craziest - and scariest - baddies in recent memory.

One fight sees Hotspur being chased by a maniacal beast through an area full of obstacles, and the entire experience is heartpounding in the truest sense of the word. Another fight sees Garcia trapped on a bridge that sits above a giant chasm, with a massive phoenix-like bird hunting him down. The white-knuckle battle that ensues, mixed with the horrifying music and sound effects, makes this one of the more memorable bosses so far in 2011.

Shadows of  the Damned Speaking of which, Suda 51 could not have found someone more perfect for the music and sound of SotD than Yamaoka. The attention to detail is simply phenomenal, and adds so much to the game as a whole. You may have just passed a particularly tense and difficult stage, and as you begin the next stage in an empty area, doing your best to calm yourself down, there are screams heard from afar, along with other noises that simply can't be defined.

This game is aggressive, and even the little things, right down to the sound of Hotspur reloading his guns, packs an audible punch that keeps the player invested in the game for every second.

There are a few annoyances in SotD though. As fantastic as some of the enemies are, the developers rely too much on recyling them later in the game, going the lazy route by taking previous enemies, and adding two or more of them into a room.

Suda 51 also clearly loves his old-school 8-bit games, and sure enough, a few side-scroller shooter levels appear in the game. It's a cool idea the first time, but becomes downright boring by the third time it happens.

Shadows of  the Damned Still, the game as a whole is something that simply needs to be experienced by action fans. There are so many interesting features crammed into SotD, it needs to be played to be understood. Whether you're reading very well-written and intriguing short stories in books that are strewn throughout the game, playing Plinko with grenades, using an illuminated angler fish to move through a pitch black room, or escaping a deadly area by running across a massive lingerie-clad version of your girlfriend, there's no lack of imagination here.

There are no extras to mention besides playing the game on a tougher difficulty level, but when a campaign is as engrossing as the one in SotD, that can be forgiven.

Few games manage to be as terrifying, hilarious and imaginative as this one. Suda 51 fans will already know what they're getting into, but if you've never tried one of his games, this is a great place begin.

 

Shadows of the Damned
Format: Playstation 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
Official Site: http://www.ea.com/shadows-of-the-damned

Rating: 8.5 / 10

 
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