Shadows of the Damned Hands-On: A Groin-Grabbingly Good Time in Hell
Just about a week ago, when GDC was barely starting, I was able to get into a massive EA Partners event, showcasing some of the many fantastic games being published under the EA Partners label. The most talked about (and most crowded) of the games was Shadows of the Damned, the demon-hunting shooter from modern Japanese legends Suda51 and Shinji Mikami. After waiting in a huge crowded queue in an impossibly hot suite on the second floor of the club, I finally got my chance at the game, and fans of both Suda’s and Mikami’s works will not be disappointed at all.
Shadows of the Damned looks to combine the best of both Suda51’s and Mikami’s signature styles. It blends the bizarre, almost surreal human interaction and dialogue of a Suda51 game with the stylized gothic horror style of a Mikami game, and, as expected, meshes perfectly. To summarize the story, you’re Garcia Hotspur, a renowned demon hunter off to rescue your lover, Paula, in the deep recesses of Hell. In this case, Hell just happens to look like a dark, gritty version of the Southwestern US or Mexico, and demon armies are amassing just to prevent you from saving your girl. “Heavily stylized” is the key phrase here, with Hell looking like Red Dead Redemption on a bad acid trip, and the enemies and demons looking like gruesome skinned corpses and whatnot.
Essentially, the gameplay here was more in line with a behind-the back third person shooter reminiscent of Mikami’s Resident Evil 4, but with the standard quirks you’d find in a Suda/Mikami game. Your one and only weapon is Johnson, a helpful soul that’s embedded himself in a human skull attached to a stick. Johnson’s pretty much your chatty companion for the entire game, and he’s where all your weapons come from. Just like in Mikami’s previous game, Vanquish, you won’t see Hotspur carrying multiple weapons; rather, all the weapons are just forms of Johnson, upgradeable throughout the course of the game. In the demo we played, we were shown three of them: the Boner, a pistol that shoots bones; the Teether, a submachine gun that shoots teeth; and the Monocussioner, a shotgun that shoots skulls. It’s signature Mikami, and the oddness of it all really added to the charm of the game.
We’re also introduced to the light and darkness system that’s essential to most of the game, including the puzzle aspects. At certain points of the demo, areas were surrounded by “Darkness”, an enveloping zone of just pure deadness. In this “Darkness”, enemies are invincible, and if you remain in there for too long, you’ll start to lose life. In order to dispel this Darkness, you’ll have to find a mounted goat’s head somewhere in the area and shoot it, at which point the Darkness will cease to exist. Does it make much sense, if any? Not really. Is it pretty rad? You bet.
This light and darkness theme also extends to the combat system. When you come across enemies, often they’ll still be covered in a black film of Darkness. Similar to Alan Wake, in order to hurt and kill these demons, you’re going to have to get rid of the barrier first with a “Light Shot”, a shot of pure light from Johnson. This Light Shot can be used in any form of Johnson’s, and unless you want to go through the whole game not killing any beasts, you’re going to make liberal use of it throughout the game. Additionally, it may be used to stun larger opponents; towards the end of our demo, we were able to use the Light Shot to stun a large mini-boss, causing it to turn its back so we could shoot the glowing red weak spot on its back.
Beyond that system, the gameplay was pretty much your standard shooter fare. It’s solid, the controls are tight, and everything feels fun, but as is always the case in a Suda51 game, it’s the small details that make it a must-play. Some gates are shackled shut, with the large head of a baby as the lock. In order to pass, the baby will tell you what it needs to ingest. These can be anything from human brains, to human hearts, to human…strawberries. Yep, apparently strawberries are like sweet sweet crack to demons, as our demonstrator explained to us. Additionally, he made it known that all the characters and main bosses you come across in the game will have some sort of backstory or justification for their actions. The end of the demo showed Garcia catching up with Paula, only to have her spaz out and completely implode, revealing “George”, a huge, hulking beast of a demon with a harmonica in his throat, possessing her insides and running away from you. The demonstrator assured us that we’d get to know his backstory and who he is, which is good, because that was a serious mind-screw for me.
Ultimately, Shadows of the Damned looked like a day one purchase; after having time with it, I couldn’t help but think, “Suda51 and Mikami, you magnificent bastards; you’ve done it again.” The story sounds captivating, the world looks like a refreshing new take on Hell, and everything looks fantastic without being overly stylized. Shadows of the Damned hits the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime this summer.