SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED

Shadows Of The Damned
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SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED



Written by Chris Price
27 Monday 27th June 2011

With such seasoned talent on board, the newly formed Grasshopper Studios is essentially a super-group outfit akin to being the Probot of video-gaming. As a result Mikami et al seem to have been offered a whole snot-load of artistic freedom by publishers Electronic Arts. As a result SOTD does threaten to hang itself with its own grandiose ego on several occasions (such as near-impossible quick time events and brutally staccato 2D shmup sections). But in a game that’s all about attitude, that could well be considered an occupational hazard.

Let’s start with the lead - Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur. In a game full of film references, the biggest is the demon-hunter extraordinaire “Mexi-can” who comesf-bombing his way out of Robert Rodriguez’s most high calibre wet fantasies. He’s so overly-macho, he’s almost certainly got a rolled-up copy of Attitude wedged in his leathery strides. Luckily he seems quite aware of this twist of aesthetic fate, full of self-deprecation as he potters about hell (an Absinthe-induced nineteenth century Venetian nightmare stylised by Dante Alighieri and Jake & Dinos Chapman) trying to save his rather ungrateful lingerie-sporting squeeze from an eternity of deaths at the extremities of opera-loving demon Lord Fleming.

Suda 51’s unique brand of characterisation has never been much above ‘toilet humour’, but SOTD is ferociously callow.  We’re given a redneck shop-owner who vomits up purchases, a sidearm called a ‘The Boner’ (upgradable from ‘Big Boner’ to ‘Red Hot Boner’), defecating/squawking 'save points' and a minotaur who pauses from his attempt at squashing you to take a slash in a fountain. SOTD is relentlessly crude and often unflinching in its nastiness.

Demons feast on faces, unpeel hosts and organs pour from windows. Then there’s your guide and companion in knob gags – Johnson - a disembodied demon skull who provides (aside from sexual innuendo) the British vocal sparring partner to Garcia’s tequila-fuelled bile. Whimsical, effeminate and profanity free, he lightens the mood between the two main characters allowing a strong narrative element to emerge.

Direct comparisons can be made with Mikami’s Resident Evil 4 throughout, from the misty European setting to the over-the-shoulder third person laser-sight aiming mechanism to the single button about-turns. The ‘game’ of SOTD is built steadily, brick by brick. It’ll introduce a weapon upgrade, monster or puzzle element and then set about training you in how to deal with it. Then it’ll throw it in the mix with all the previous bits you’ve learnt. With the original producer of the game on board, you can be forgiven for resurrecting such seminal games mechanics but only to a certain extent.

But when SOTD isn’t recycling six year-old ideas there are flashes of originality. Twilight ‘darkness’ mists around Garcia throughout the game rendering demons invincible to him. Utilised as an atmospheric egg timer, it regularly forces you to search for light switches (goats’ heads, naturally) before Garcia kicks the bucket. Add to this a lo-fi Yuriy Norshteyn-esque paper-jointed, side-scrolling shoot ‘em up; Kung-Fu kicking demons in defensive gas-masks; explosive pachinko arcade games and Operation Wolf-style shoot-outs in a neon red-light district.

Additionally, Akira Yamakoka’s sound direction is superb, heightening the otherworldly atmosphere of the game, from the purgatorial white-noise roar of darkness to the small details – the tiny secondary sonic triggers of every action performed, like the ghoulish groan of the Skull-blaster or the worryingly realistic sounds of vomit, tearing sinews and cascading blood.

SOTD is a bratty, anarchistic ‘spit-polish’ job on the classic Resident Evil 4. Whilst the maturity of the design might not match the maturity of the content, regular flashes of originality weighted further by a polished 'core' game make it endearing. It might make for a Marmite experience initially, but I actually ended up liking it by the end. It's not without fault - awkward graphical clipping issues and intriguing storyline tangents which remain unresolved - but it’s a thoroughly entertaining single-player narrative game. If you can subscribe to this world it will consistently surprise and intrigue, especially as it is world that only some of the most important individuals in gaming today could be trusted to pull-off.

Shadows of The Damned is out now on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

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