Review: Shadows of the Damned
Shadows of the Damned is a pretty wacky survival horror TPS from developer Grasshopper Manufacture. It was produced by Grasshopper CEO Suda 51 and Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Obviously the game is stylistically and aurally pretty unique, but does it offer anything fantastic or unfounded from a game-play perspective? Is it or is it not worth buying? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.
Garcia Hotspur stars as our main character. He has a tough-as-nails attitude and a thick Spanish accent. His decidedly emo stylings and personality combine to make him a somewhat likeable protagonist, even if 95% of his tough talk and jokes come off as nacho cheesy. Garcia only cares about two things. The first is his girlfriend, Paula (he calls her Powla). The second is hunting demons, because that’s what Garcia’s occupation is. He’s a demon hunter.
Everything is going great until one day the king of hell for some reason or another, kidnaps Paula. This just won’t due, because as you’ll find out pretty soon into the game, Garcia is obsessed with Paula, and is willing to do anything to rescue her. Garcia and his mouthy sidekick/ gun Johnson run headfirst into the bowels of hell to rescue his girlfriend. Then, just like that, the game begins.
The storyline of the game is straightforward and unremarkable. At its very core, it’s hardly too different from Mario trying to fell Bowser in order to rescue princess Peach. The characters are notably colorful. Garcia himself is prone to drop stale one-liners that are funnier because of their shock value than their actual content. He uses quite a bit of Spanish, though it never veers too far away from what you learned in your elementary school Spanish class. His pal Johnson is a floating skull and has infinitely better jokes, while also doubling as Garcia’s weapon(s).
The dialogue that is exchanged over the course of the game is pretty hilarious. It’s filled with pop culture references, swearing, and sexual innuendo. It comes together to give the game a quirky flavor that makes it distinct and unique from other games. By the end of the story, things become a tad bit confusing. The ending leaves room for a sequel, but the story in the sequel would most likely be very similar to this game’s.
The graphics in the game are both unremarkable and solid. The old Unreal Engine does a fine job of cranking out detailed characters, varied environments and ghastly monsters. You won’t be feasting upon any jaw dropping visuals but what you will see is pretty nice. There is a fine variety of locations in the game. Apparently cities, swamps, forests and more fill the jaws of hell. Certain environments suffer from a lack of color and you’ll notice that dark blues, grays and blacks are leaned on heavily throughout the game. Not that you expect hell to be colorful, but certain areas definitely are. The demons are nightmarish and terrible, as expected from a survival horror title. Some of the monster designs are genuinely scary, and some of them wind up looking a little silly, which works for this game. The blood and gore are awesome and other little visual flourishes such as fire and water are equally well done. The game looks good, not great, and the visuals definitely get the job done.
Shadows of the Damned is actually a very musical game. The soundtrack spans a variety of genres, including ethnic/tribal influences, rock and roll, classical, ambient and more. Even the music during the loading screen is bearable. The aural and spooky ambient music plays during the majority of the basic game-play, although certain sequences or events prompt different songs. The music is most notable during/after cut scenes and in instances where you’re simply heading from one point to another and not combating anything. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much work went into the game’s soundtrack. I think that I didn’t go in expecting much on that front because it’s a survival horror title and I was prepared to be bombarded by nothing except the spooky aural stuff for eight hours straight. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
The sound effects are spot on as well. Water splashing, guns firing and blood cascading onto the ground all sound appropriate. The moaning and screams of the demons, the sounds of footsteps patting across various terrains, the irritating cries of the demon babies mounted on doors (We’ll get to those in a little while), it’s all adequate. The voice work glistens with the same level of polish. We’ve already discussed Garcia’s accented and slightly irritating voice, but Johnson’s is cheerful, loud and has a delightful British accent. There isn’t a ton more voice work in the game, save for a small handful of individuals. Paula has the most wonderful screams though.
By this point, even though we haven’t discussed the game-play yet, you can imagine how much hard work went into the creation of this title. The visuals are good and the story isn’t fantastic but the music is superb. Good game-play would complete a pretty solid game. The game-play is made up of combat, looting and puzzles. Let’s start with the combat or the shooting. Garcia can make use of one of three guns (yes, only three guns), in addition to a close range melee attack: shotgun, pistol and machine gun. Their actual names are something entirely different but I’ll spare you.
Three guns seems extremely petty, doesn’t it? Luckily you have a couple of options to make things less offensive. Each gun can be upgraded in two ways: with blue gems or with red gems. Blue gems increase your guns abilities and also change their appearance. For example, the shotgun can be upgraded to shoot out bombs with blue gems. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose which weapons get upgraded with blue gems, but this encourages you to try all the guns out (not that you had much of a choice).
Red gems can upgrade your guns stats, such as ammo capacity and reload speed. Each red gem places one point on any stat on any gun you choose. Because of how often you run into red gems, it makes progress slow and steady. Red gems can also be used to increase Garcia’s maximum health and the charging speed of the melee attack. You can use them on the light shot too, and I’ll explain what that is in a moment.
In spite of the blue and red gems, three base guns felt very scarce to me and I didn’t appreciate that more steps to add variety weren’t taken. No matter how many times they soup them up and reintroduce them to you, three guns are still only three guns. In their defense, I can’t say that anything is severely lacking from the combat. The upgrades did allow me to use the weapons in a variety of different ways. In addition to his guns and melee attack, Garcia can also perform some sort of epic running special attack that immediately decimates foes but I never could really get into that.
In combat, everything moves smoothly and around mid-tempo. It isn’t extremely quick but it’s faster than Resident Evil 5. Enemies start out sluggish and slow but gradually evolve to fast, big and very aggressive monsters. The awesome lasers on the gun help your accuracy a ton and tiny circle patterns pop up when you’ve targeted part of an enemy. It’s best to go for headshots, although they aren’t easy to get on a lot of demons. When you pull off a flawless headshot, the camera zooms in on the demon’s head exploding and it’s pretty sweet. Garcia can roll to get to or from an enemy quickly. The powerful melee attack takes a while to charge (at first) but immediately destroys lesser demons and is great for close range situations. During combat, sometimes you’ll be prompted to quickly hit the circle button and doing it correctly will whip Garcia around and allow him to smash his weapon into the face of a demon that got a bit too close. Grenades and the like will be introduced later in the game via upgrades to your guns.
Light plays a very relevant role in Shadows of the Damned. In hell, Garcia can only safely go into well lit places. If he goes into darkness, he will be submerged in it and his health will quickly deplete. This mechanic forms the basis of most of the puzzles and thereby a big part of the game-play. This is where the light shot comes in. Enemies who touch darkness will be submerged in it as well and you won’t be able to harm them until you remove this barrier. Hit a protected enemy with the light shot and it’ll remove the darkness, making them vulnerable again.
Furthermore, demons don’t like light sources (with the exception of one absolutely bastard critter) and therefore they won’t step into light sources, preferring to stay far away from them. This gives Garcia a relatively safe platform from which he can exterminate his foes. In the darkness the shoe is on the other foot because the demons are invincible and you have to combat your constantly depleting health. By the way, grabbing human brains will allow you to live a little bit longer in the darkness.
Goat heads provide a strong light source, for some reason, and shooting one in the darkness will banish the darkness and restore light. When a goats head is submerged in darkness, it makes the most delightful yelp. This fusion of elements gives SOTD a strong foundation and makes progression challenging and satisfying, especially during long instances under darkness. The boss enemies are all appropriately challenging as well.
The puzzles are neat but are usually not too challenging, which I found to be a bit refreshing. You’ll be stopped from progressing pretty often by locked doors, which are decorated with the disembodied heads of demon babies. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. To top it off, they scream angrily and laugh happily before and after you’ve provided them with their snack of choice. Once you’ve found whatever ridiculous thing they want to eat, Garcia shoves them into the baby’s mouths in an ugly display.
Throughout the game you’ll want to horde items or loot. You’ll be responsible for collecting ammo, drinks and white gems. You obviously need ammunition for the guns. Drinks are bottles of alcohol that replenish Garcia’s health. White gems are used as currency in the game and you can use them to buy drinks, ammo and other things at the various stores in the game. There are also story books scattered throughout the world. The books tell all sorts of tales, and I found them to be largely enjoyable. The stories are narrated, which is the biggest bonus.
The game is undeniably well made and it deserves a lot of merit for what it offers, but everything isn’t so great about the title. For some reason or another, there is no multiplayer in the game. Not locally, not online, no multi-player whatsoever. The game is a single player experience, and it doesn’t fail there, but I can’t believe that there was no way it could have been implemented. This is more of me scolding the developers than actually crying about this omission. If the sales aren’t up to par (and from what I’ve been hearing, they aren’t), this would be the most obvious and perhaps most legit reason why.
After completing the game, I feel that it doesn’t contain a lot of replay value whatsoever. This stems from a greater problem with the game overall and this problem is that while Shadows of the Damned is good, it isn’t great. It does what it sets out to very well, but that isn’t a whole lot. Sure the ambiance and world, characters and lore is all great, but at the core, we aren’t doing anything remarkable. Furthermore, after completing the game, I find that it suffers from a pretty significant lack of content. You would expect any kind of single player shooter to offer a ton and a half of content, right? That isn’t the case here.
Aside from two or three unique little missions, the game is pretty straightforward and doesn’t offer a lot of variety. This flaw is fatal, as there has to be enough things for the player to do to keep the game from becoming boring. Shadows of the Damned does not pass in this area. Back to the replay value, there is almost no reason at all why you would pop the disc back in after the credits have rolled. The only exceptions would be to collect all the red gems and completely max everything out (because you won’t collect them all in one play through) or to re-experience the game on a more difficult setting. Neither one of these seen too legit to me. Hard mode is only appealing if normal mode wasn’t challenging enough (or if you love the game enough to tackle it for fun) and that isn’t really the case here. Also, why would you go back to a game with the sole purpose of strengthening your weapons? You’ve already beaten the game, why are you getting even more buffed up? Just to spend the time?
In the end, Shadows of the Damned is a good survival horror TPS that will offer you an enjoyable ten hour romp through various environments, pit you up against hideous and challenging enemies and keep you entertained with its goofy sense of humor and distinct characters. It has high production value, save for an unremarkable story, and features some unique game-play elements.
Unfortunately, its flaws are equally severe. A lack of content is simply inexcusable in this situation because there is already no multiplayer. It’s as if the goal was to provide you with an enjoyable game that you would be indefinitely sliding onto the shelf after the credits roll. Inexistent replay value, multiplayer, and a general lack of content (three fraking guns? Really?) are all tough pills to swallow and you ‘ll be paying $60 to swallow them. If you do take the plunge, you’ll definitely enjoy your time with the game, though that time will be remarkably short.
- Title: Shadows of the Damned
- Platform Reviewed: PS3
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: June 21, 2011
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.