Shadows of the Damned breaks plenty of new ground. It’s the first game to feature a weapon called the ‘big boner’, the first game that during a twisted fantasy sequence lets the main character – Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur – walk over a giant pair of virtual bosoms, and the first game to feature swearword loaded achievements. During one cut-scene Garcia lets loose with ‘the c-word’ too, so needless to say this isn’t a game to play on the family TV before the kids go to bed.
Garcia Hotspur finds himself in a grizzly underworld on a mission to save his girlfriend who has been whisked off to a demon lord’s castle. He isn’t alone though – he’s joined by Johnson, a floating skull with a posh English accent. Oh, and a very foul mouth. And what does Johnson do? He turns into three different upgradeable weapons – the boner, teether and skullcussioner. A pistol, rifle and shotgun, pretty much. He also acts as a torch and can be used as a melee weapon. Not that you have to use it much; there’s always plenty of ammo around.
Shadows of the Damned comes from the minds behind Resident Evil 4 and No More Heroes, so unsurprisingly it feels like a combination of those two games. It retains Resident Evil 4’s over the shoulder perspective for shooting, and continues No More Heroes bizarre – yet pleasing – sense of humour. At one point you have to play a bowling mini-game by lobbing a giant skull at a crowd of ghouls in order to win a key, and there are also books to find which tell some very twisted tales. Johnson narrates these in an amusing manner, helping them to provide a break from shooting things.
True to the game’s title, shadows play a big part. Often the world gets covered in darkness, which drains Garcia’s health until you either find a way to light up the environment you’re in, or escape it. There’s a strong sense of urgency during these sections – Garcia staggers around in pain while purposely monotonous music plays in the background. Sometimes you have to stroll into the darkness to progress, usually to shoot switches or defeat foes whose weak points only show while they lurk in the darkness. There’s no need to worry about badly damaging your health bar though – bottles of booze, which restore Garcia’s health, are bountiful and vending machines full of liquor are frequent.
Boss battles too are frequent, and often occur at unexpected moments. Although they’re a varied bunch – including a bipedal goat riding a horse, and a bloke who turns into a demonic bird – they can be defeated pretty easily as their weak points are always clearly visible glowing red crystals. The final boss is an exception, however, requiring a little bit of weapon experimentation. Garcia’s arsenal is sometimes used in puzzle solving too – the final upgrade of the skullcussioner can fire giant skulls that have to be carefully aimed over walls and stuff to activate switches. Later puzzles are more taxing, but worry not – Johnson is always at hand to give a clue should you ever find yourself scratching the top of your head.
Although Shadows of the Damned entertains for its entire duration, throwing up the odd surprise here and there, it could have done with a bit longer in development. The animation is our main criticism here – Garcia moves around in a very wooden and unnatural fashion, going from being armed to unarmed in less than a second. There is also a bit too much of a reliance on that all too familiar video gaming cliché of finding keys to open doors. Well, they’re not keys as such – they’re human body parts that you have to feed to the demon children guarding the doors – but you’re still tasked with having to go searching for them far too often.
Regardless of being rough around the edges, if you like the sound of being told dirty jokes while shooting demons in the face then Shadows of the Damned is the game you’ve long been waiting for. Games as deranged as this don’t turn up often enough.