Shadows of the Damned is a collaborative production between three of Japan's most beloved game developers, musicians, and writers - Shinji Mikami (the director of the Resident Evil series), Akira Mariyoma (the composer of the Silent Hill Series), and written by Suda 51(the writer of the No More Heroes series). I found this game in the less than $20 bin at EB Games and intrigued by its premise, I decided to give it a go.
Story and writing:
Shadows of the Damned's writing, though nothing new, was a pleasant surprise. Garcia Hotspur is a Mexican Demon Hunter who after meddling with the demon lord Fleming has his wife abducted and he follows him into hell to rescue her. Normally this would be a setup for a dramatic or action packed plot, but Suda 51 manages to balance this with enough humour to make the game feel that it is self aware of its own premise.
The strength of the humor and quirkiness of the story is in the characters and design of the demon world: Johnson, Garcia's demon companion serves as comic relief and is able to transform into different types of guns which fire demons teeth, bones, or skulls as ammunition (the one that fires bones in particular is called the Boner, and upgrades into a HotBoner when you gain the ability to fire sticky bombs), and Christopher who serves as the shopkeeper is grotesque but has enough personality to make him endearing.
Further attention is also given to the bosses, whose backstories are presented in a collection of storybooks which are found in the levels.
Being a few years old now Shadows of the Damned certainly isn't as pretty as today's titles, but where it lacks graphical prowess it makes up with a strong, gothic art direction reminiscent of movies such as the Evil Dead series. The weapon designs (despite being a typical shotgun, pistol, and assault rifle equivalent with some differences such as a lock on for multiple targets and the ability to fire bouncing exploding demon heads) are unique and unlike anything that I have seen in a game before. But the real star of SoD's graphical presentation is the character design and the bosses. They all have a suitably twisted aesthetic and the characters Johnson and Christopher are bursting with personality thanks to their animation and mannerisms.
SoD plays like a traditional action horror third person shooter. Garcia's sidekick is a demon named Johnson who can turn into either a torch or weapon, and can fire light bolts to stun enemies. These weapons are upgraded after boss fights and red gems can be found in the environment or purchased from the shop. Health is restored by drinking alcohol which serves as the equivalent of a health pack. The game also has a focus on darkness, these areas will drain your health if you stay in them for too long, but can be dissipated through solving puzzles or shooting light at goat's heads mounted on a wall.
Common enemies aren't too much of a threat, so experienced gamers should play on the hardest difficulty
The real star of the gameplay are the bosses, these are typically powerful, terrifying entities that harken back to the days of old school gaming where defeating a boss felt like a genuine accomplishment. The only complaint I can make about though is that these battles can take a long time with no checkpoints on the highest difficulty with a lot of rinsing and repeating the same actions while reading a boss's attack pattern, but aside from that defeating them is very satisfying. By comparison though, the standard enemies in the game are much easier to defeat and offer very little challenge comparatively. I do recommend starting on the highest difficulty if you're experienced at games – and for a tip, there is no shop before the final boss stage, so make sure you spend it in the last stage.
Boss fights take the spotlight, each victory carrying with it a great sense of accomplishment