Shadows of the Damned Hands-On Preview - Three Acts of Hell
Written Friday, June 03, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
When Shadows of the Damned’s soundtrack composer, Akira Yamaoka, told us at the backend of April that they were looking to create a game with Western gamers in mind, I admit I was rather apprehensive. With two completely differing styles of games development, surely it’s a recipe for disaster... like serving sushi on the back of a juicy T-bone steak. That said, with Suda 51 (Killer 7 and No More Heroes) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil and Vanquish) on board, we had a certain level of faith - based on past triumphs - that they can get Shadows of the Damned to work. We delved into the first 3 acts recently – of which there are 4 – to put the game to the test. Have Mikami and Suda 51 created an Eastern masterpiece with Western appeal? Unfortunately... it’s not quite as clear cut as that.
Shadows of the Damned tells the story of ultimate badass, Garcia Hotspur, and his journey into hell to save his love, Paula, from a life of torment at the hands of the ‘Lord of Demons,’ Fleming. With only his trusty sidekick Johnson at his side – a metamorphosing demon who turns into a whole array of guns and neat weapons – and plenty of wit, Garcia must wander into hell and get his love back. In fact, the story and the whole vision of hell is something that Grasshopper should be commended for, giving gamers a severely twisted and sadistic representation of Garcia’s journey into the unknown. Not only that, but the characters they’ve created and the banter between them combine with the story to make the game’s most tangible selling point. Actually... throw in Yamaoka’s fantastically unique soundtrack and there’s a few things to be shouting about there. The Spanish guitar riffs, reggae-esque ska-like beats and the huge diversity of the soundtrack are right on the money. Tarantino would be proud.
Although Shadows of the Damned is billed as a fast-paced third-person shooter, the whole light versus dark mechanic runs deep to the core and often challenges you to think on your feet. This mechanic is often represented by the world filling up with a blue goo of sorts and unless Garcia can rid the world of it, he’ll ultimately die from prolonged exposure or he’ll get his ass kicked by the undead who are made stronger by it as a result. This will often involve shooting a ‘Light Shot’ at a ‘Goat Lamp’ to rid the world of this harmful substance or solving a series of puzzles that involve blocking a darkness leak from a ‘Darkness Hand.’ There are many other little puzzles to wrap your pretty sweet head around as well, including shooting ‘Dark Cores’ to remove ‘Darkness Vine’ barriers that are covering gates, collecting Strawberries to feed to doors with a baby head embedded in them or lighting up a ‘Sushi Lamp’ – essentially a friendly demonic creature with a lamp on its head – and following them to safety. You can tell it’s developed by a Japanese studio, right?
The Light Shot not only acts as a puzzle solving tool, but can also be used to light streetlights and can weaken demons who get charged with a blue translucent glow from the darkness. It’s a neat little go-to shot and can make a change from the array of crazy weapons that Shadows of the Damned brings. I say crazy though, but in truth, you are kitted out with nothing more than a glorified shotgun (the Skullcushioner), assault rifle (the Teether) and a pistol (the Hotboner). Johnson, who morphs into said weapons, can also be upgraded using red gems – either bought at a vendor for white gems, which every enemy drops – meaning you can improve a gun’s damage, reload rate, capacity – and even Garcia’s maximum health – or you can go one step further and transform them into entirely new upgraded weapons like the Skullfest 9000 and the Teethgrinder – both of which take the standard weapon and make them a more powerful beast. The alternative fire on the Hotboner for instance though, which shoots a little explosive bomb, can be used to unlock areas of the level to pick up various goodies hidden away from prying eyes.
The action on offer follows a predictable nature from the off though which is part and parcel of the overall problem. After easing you into things and showing you the ropes, you’ll notice a familiar pattern emerge: kill waves of demons, solve simplistic light puzzle, rinse and repeat and then fight large insane boss who has comically obvious weak points as signified by big red pouches of blood. To start with it’s pretty entertaining, but by the time you’ve done this a handful of times you’ll be yawning more than a cat overdosing on co-codamol.
The bosses themselves may come thick and fast... and may be a tad on the easy and predictable side, but at least they’re varied. We’ll give them that one. Whether you’re racing through a market stall looking to stun George in his human form, taking potshots at George in his huge Minotaur-esque beast form, taking down both of the Grim Reaper twin sisters or shooting the winged beast known as Elliot out of the sky on a walkway towards Fleming’s castle, the first 3 Acts do like to mix things up on this front. The standard demons don’t tend to get the same treatment though, with Grasshopper thinking slapping different masks and armour on them is an interesting way to mix things up. Sure you get to see a few demons who crawl later on and attempt to put out the Goat Lamps, but that’s really about it.
The game is also chock full of annoying pieces of game design that range from invisible walls and some annoying set-piece sequences – like being chased by a demon that can kill you instantly if you get too close – all the way to the camera being too close and some clunky movement when Garcia sprints. There’s also a distinct inability to backtrack, and when you can’t go down a ladder you just climbed up you contemplate burying your head in the dry wall.
In attempting to combine the zaniness of East with the fast paced action of the West, it appears as though Grasshopper isn't displaying enough of either to make Shadows of the Damned stand out from the pack. While the story might be compelling and the characters rather likeable, the gameplay feels a tad repetitive, predictable and a little laborious for what it is. We’ll obviously reserve our final judgement till we’ve experienced the final chapter and such, but as it stands, our 6 hours with Shadows of the Damned started to feel like that ice cream sundae you had last week. You know, rather tasty and enjoyable to start with, sickly towards the end and a decision you’ll regret after you’ve finished with it. Here’s hoping that all-impotant last chapter rounds off the narrative to an extent that it’s a story you can’t live without, because at the moment, when Mikami and Suda 51’s latest piece rears its heads from the shadows, it might not be very fulfilling.
Shadows of the Damned is scheduled for a June 21st in North America and a June 24th release in Europe.