Friday, 5 August 2011

Game Review – Shadows of the Damned

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

One can’t help but notice that the video game world is filled with adaptations of hell, demons and Satan himself. Franchises such as Devil May Cry have made the demon-killing business extremely lucrative for developers and especially fun for gamers, so when a game comes around offering you a 1st class trip through hell, it’s difficult to refuse the offer. Shadows of the Damned is just that game – intertwining an excellent protagonist, entertaining characters and a hilarious narrative with well-implemented 3rd person shooting and some outstanding boss sequences. Make no mistake, this game isn’t for everybody, the excessive use of crude humour, sexual innuendos and swearing can be off-putting, but if you look past those childish antics you will find an engrossing and engaging experience.

Shadows of the Damned puts you in the shoes of Garcia Hotspur, a demon-hunter with a score to settle after the ruler of the underworld (Fleming) kidnaps your girlfriend and forces her through an endless cycle of death. Naturally you’re way too bad-ass to stand by and let this happen, so you jump through a portal and end up on hell’s highway. Garcia is strong lead character, but is exemplified by his trusty sidekick Johnson, a floating skull that serves as a torch, tour-guide and weapon (that is an efficient friend right there). Johnson provides the witty humour and tips in his posh English accent while Garcia serves as the brute of the story, but together they form an entertaining partnership that resides on, well, plenty of genitelia jokes. That’s not to say it’s all crude because Garcia’s constant chase for his beloved Paula keeps things in perspective, but over the course of the story you will come to peace or get fed up with the consistent flow of innuendos in the narrative.

At heart, Shadows of the Damned is a 3rd person shooter, concentrating on slick weapons and fast-paced action. Garcia can move while aiming his weapon and can swiftly dodge enemy attacks with a well-timed dodge roll. The enemies themselves are all variations of demons, starting from your basic ghoul to armored enemies. The camera can be frustrating at times as it feels stuck a little too close to Garcia’s back, meaning enemies that come from the sides have the upper-hand.

Your trusty sidekick Johnson can transform into a number of weapons, but your handgun (named Boner, seriously) is the most fun to use. Smooth slow-motion cut-scenes trigger when you blow an enemies head clean off their shoulders and the Boner feels fantastic (did I just write that?) with each and every shot. For versatility Johnson can also transform into a machine gun to tackle groups of fast enemies, and a shotgun to blow through hordes of compact foes or bigger demons. You can even use his basic torch form to perform melee kills to conserve ammo. Each weapon has customization options that include power, speed of reload and capacity, alongside the key enhancements to each weapon at particular points in the game, which also upgrade the aesthetics and add cool additions to your weapons like multi shot or timed explosives.

So far Shadows of the Damned sounds good, but doesn’t quite provide a trump card to make it stand out above other 3rd person shooters. Well the unique mechanic here is the darkness. Constantly throughout your time in hell, an ominous vale of darkness that not only saps away at your health, but also makes enemies around you invulnerable, will surround you. The only way to remove the darkness is to find a source of light and shoot it with your weapon’s Light Shot ability. The light can come from a goat’s head on a wall (goats are a source of good apparently), condensed barrels of light for momentary reprieve, or even fireworks to light up the sky. Sometimes however, Garcia is forced to enter the darkness to see things that you simply cannot see in the light – this allows Shadows of the Damned to implement some nice puzzle segments to split up the combat. Some bosses for example, can only be hit in the vale of darkness, forcing you to play with a double-edged sword. The darkness is an excellent addition to what could have been quite stale combat as it forces you to act quickly under pressure to avoid being engulfed.

The story itself is strung together rather well, with boss fights being the particular highlights of the experience. Your constant struggle to find Paula helps keep focus while Fleming’s personal army engages you at particular points in the game. These creatures range from a Minotaur to a giant Demon Bird and you even get to take on the Grim Reaper sisters (who knew the Grim Reaper was female and had a twin sister right?). The most heart-racing boss comes quite early on but a chase through a market place ensures you will be panicking and dive-rolling for dear life to avoid this particular psycho. It’s stuff like that which keeps Shadows of the Damned fresh and unique, it certainly has its own version of hell and all these stylish twists are fun to engage with.

Shadows of the Damned does an excellent job being unpredictable. This 3rd person shooter builds upon itself in fantastic ways as you progress through the game, ensuring you are never stuck with the same weapons for too long or facing the same batch of enemies for a lengthened period of time. It even sets you free from the shackles of the 3rd person shooter and implements some neat segments that use other styles of gameplay, for example a rather crude rail-gun portion of the game sees Garcia pull out his Super Boner and wipe out a group of giant demons. Another section sees you ride a chandelier to the top of a tower using your mode of transport as a bulldozer, smashing everything in your way. These sections help pace the action and ensure you are always looking forward to the next thing Shadows of the Damned will throw at you.

Shadows of the Damned impresses on many levels, including audio. The superb sound design certainly helps to draw you deeper into the bowels of hell, ranging from melancholy piano pieces, to hard-rocking guitar solos, all the way to spine-tingling ballads – there really is everything here to ensure your senses are touched in a multitude of ways. The excellent sound design goes further than the music, with the slightest of sounds being tinkered to perfection, from the howl of a deranged demon, to the crying of hung babies on top of trees (yeah, I know right) – the darkness is a terrifying place but is exemplified by the sounds coming from within it. Shadows of the Damned is certainly an example of a game that benefits greatly from the audio that comes with it and it certainly heightens the experience in many different ways.

Unfortunately with all this praise, there must be a complaint – Shadows of the Damned is a relatively short experience, clocking in at around 10 hours. This isn’t so much of a problem because it is a concise and tightly packed game, ensuring that you get the most for your 10 hours of gameplay. The issue is there is no New Game + option, meaning you cannot carry over any upgraded weapons for another run-through. Providing very little reason to come back to Shadows of the Damned once you’ve completed it once is a major disappointment. With no new unlockables, no extra content, there’s no reason to go back.

I must stress however, that this takes nothing away from the experience. Shadows of the Damned is a terrific ride through hell, it is engaging, it is intuitive and innovative – Garcia Hotspur is a terrific lead character helped greatly by his sidekick Johnson and together you will take on one of this years most exhilarating games. Just because there’s no incentive to play it again after completion, doesn’t mean you won’t want do so just to go on that ride all over again.

9.0 | Gameplay |
Well-implemented 3rd person action, excellent pace and some interesting divergences ensure you will never be bored throughout Shadows of the Damned

8.5 | Presentation |
Hell has character in Shadows of the Damned, this is a unique ride through our worst nightmare and this is clearly conceptualized with a stunning visual design.

5.0 | Replay Value |
No New Game + or unlockable content means the only incentive to play again is if you want to go on that crazy ride one more time, which is a decent enough reason.

8.5 | Final Thoughts |
Shadows of the Damned is a great game that does everything to a high standard. It provides gamers with a variety of fun and interesting things to do, while constantly keeping them on the edge of their seat in anticipation. It’s just a shame there isn’t more content after the credits roll.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.

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