Shadows Of The Damned Preview

Shortly before sitting down to write this, I had been shooting demons with my HotBoner, unleashing my Sticky Load all over their face and then slapping them across the jaw with my fiery Johnson. Do not adjust your monitor’s settings, folks – you read that correctly.

Shadows of the Damned is that sort of game. Full of innuendo, full of in-your-face comedy, full of (almost) full-frontal nudity and full of dismembered demon bodies. You can’t walk through one part of any level without being confronted by some oozing corpse hanging by its eyeballs from a desiccated tree. If that doesn’t float your Grindhouse boat, then wait a few more scenes and you’ll catch a fleeting glimpse of your game-wide quarry: the missing girlfriend clad skimpily in white lingerie and begging for help.

For help digesting this odd madness, you can wash it all down with some context; protagonist and Demon Hunter Garcia Hotspur and his Johnson (read: his Demon accomplice) start the game by confronting the Demon Lord of the Underworld – the aptly named Fleming. He has stolen Garcia’s enigmatic lady-friend Paula to lure the prolific Demon Hunter down into his own domain – a netherworld swamped by insanity and darkness. Enraged by the Overlord’s transgression, Garcia leaps into the portal to Hell, intent on rescuing his beloved girlfriend.

Now, as you can expect, this game doesn’t take itself all too seriously – with a plot like that, there isn’t really a lot of room for a certain narrative depth to develop. Instead, the game relies on keeping your attention by positively hurling pun after pun at you. The first gun you have the pleasure of using, for example, is called the Boner. The Boner. When you upgrade this gun (by a system using Red Gems; you can collect these from hidden places on the game map or by destroying VIP demons – more on that later), it takes on the moniker of the HotBoner. The description field for this weapon tells you that you can “Hold down the alternative fire button [R2/RT] to unleash your sticky load on a demon.” In terms of gameplay, what this translates to is a sticky bomb that attaches to a demon’s body that you can detonate and chain by shooting at them. By the way it’s described, though, you can see just what Shadows of the Damned is getting at, and who it’d appeal to.

The control scheme, incidentally, is exactly the same as Resident Evil 5 and the gameplay (sort of) matches the feel of that genre; I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Shadows is a Survival Horror, but it isn’t exactly your standard third person shooter either. It’s somewhere between, say, Devil May Cry 4 and Resi on the scale of game-play – a sort of Shoot-‘Em-Puzzle-‘Em-RPG-‘Em-Up. The narrative and the cinematography of it is what would happen if you let Quentin Tarantino watch over the production of Bayonetta.

One thing that strikes you straight away about the actual game is how it looks and, unfortunately, it isn’t great. It’s by no means bad, per se, but you sometimes get the feeling that it wouldn’t have seemed graphically out of place on the 360 launch line-up. Even from the opening menu screen, you can see that branches of trees are just 2D-layers and, even then, they’re slightly pixelated and it suffers from poor facial animation which, granted, most games do. When static, the facial features are probably the highlight of the game’s visuals – Garcia, for example, has two scars cutting an ‘X’ over his left eye and his pseudo-Hispanic roots are clear in his dark hair and strong jaw. Paula looks as pretty as she is supposed to and, for all the ugliness elsewhere in the game, the shots of her running timidly away from you (and occasionally birthing a demon) can be quite titillating (if you’re into that sort of thing).

If you’re feeling particularly forgiving to the game, you can overlook the dodgy graphics engine in favour of the character design. This, as you’d expect from Shadows by now, is downright insane. As previously mentioned, Paula’s outfit of choice in the underworld is a burlesque-inspired white lingerie number whilst Garcia opts for tight trousers and a purple leather jacket (*cough* Dante *cough*). Your Johnson isn’t really kitted out in anything, since he’s a blinged-up flaming skull, but the weapon designs are over-the-top and satisfying whilst living up to their names: BigBoner, TeethGrinder, Skullfest 9000. Whatever you’re imaging them to be right now is probably correct. Another prime example of spot-on character design is the elusive Opera Singer from Act 2; although not wearing much, and gratifying the assumed demographic (teenage boys that like fart jokes), the Singer has a few nice touches laid upon her – her hair is coiled in industrial fittings that compliment the weapons strapped to her thighs and wrists. It’s all very modern-gothic/cyberpunk melded with some twisted example of steam-punk.

The game also comes into its own aurally – the soundtrack is mesmerisingly good. In fact, the first thing I heard as I sat down, pad in hand, and booted up the start menu was a guest at the event say “I can’t wait until I can download the soundtrack to this.” How many times has that been your first thought when a menu screen pops up? From the odd, jaunty carnivalesque loading music to the organ-heavy symphonic beats of the boss battles, the soundtrack never lets up; it always engages you with the right atmosphere and the pace for whatever you’re doing. Credit to the developers (EA) – they always seem to choose amazing composers at the moment; from Dead Space to this and Alice: Madness Returns. It all, well… just works.

Unfortunately, you may spend more time listening to the soundtrack than you might want to – the loading times are unforgivable. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that I only played the development code, but even still, there was a lot of sitting and waiting, reading the same bit of info countless times. When the game does load and you’re thrown into the action, you’ll find that you aren’t actually doing anything a lot of the time – just listening to the racial stereotype that is Garcia banter with the racial stereotype that is Johnson. Sometimes these exchanges can be humorous; sometimes they can be inane. Johnson, of course, is English and, like every English character in any game to ever exist, he’s irritating. Good representation of our fair isle, no?

Johnson acts as your guide to the Demon World, after leaving of his own accord some centuries ago. He’s also every weapon you’ll ever need. And a torch. And a motorbike. And he is your answer to every puzzle. And this game has a lot of those – so many, in fact, it prompts Garcia to exclaim “I fucking hate puzzles” only two levels in. Unlike Garcia, I enjoyed the puzzles – until I realized there are only perhaps four variations of them; the game will just up the difficulty or scope of them each time one is solved. This can all be forgiven however, because the doors that are covered with “Darkness Vines” (which require you to find a switch and shoot it to open) are referred to as “Demon Pubes” by Garcia. How can you stay mad at a game after that?

A lot of the in-game variation is spawned courtesy of “The Darkness” (not the band) that covers the world from time to time. This can be activated by demons in different ways: it can descend as bells toll from a nearby bell tower, it can come from hands that “barf Darkness” or it can come from certain bosses or VIP Demons (bigger versions of regular demons that can sometimes become bosses themselves) that decide to show up whenever they want. One of my favourite little skits was when Beast George (a boss with an odd name) got tired halfway through a decidedly epic battle and went to take a piss on a statue. His urine caused the area you were in to be swamped down with Darkness. When Darkness settles, it eats away at your flesh, which isn’t very nice, so you usually have two options – 1.) Find whatever’s creating the Darkness and kill/injure it. 2.) Shoot a golden mounted Goat’s Head on the wall. (Yeah, I know.) Sometimes, however, you’ll need to be in the Darkness to damage certain bosses or activate certain objectives, which are invariably switches, so you have to balance how much damage you’re willing to take in order to achieve a goal.

Should you become too badly injured, you can heal yourself with alcohol – a la John Woo’s Strangehold and a plethora of others. You can find bottles of tequila, sake, absinthe and many others just lying around, or you can buy them from a vending machine, or – if you’re feeling brave – you can buy them from Christian. Now, Christian is a bit odd. He’s half-beast, half-human, and he’s your supplier in the Demon World. He speaks with a Texan accent and looks like what would happen if a necromorph from Dead Space got onto the set of Where The Wild Things Are. He eats your White Gems (dropped by killed demons, used as currency) and you can buy the elusive Red Gems from him in return, along with a glut of ammo, drinks and other miscellany. He’s a useful little monstrosity, but you sometimes get the feeling he’s there a little too often – I played through on the medium difficulty setting and died perhaps twice all the way through; too often there were drinks on hand or, should they become depleted, Christopher was there to stock me back up.

What was nice about the game layout was that it was rigidly linear. For a game of this ilk, you don’t want there to be too much deviance from the main path – there is such progression in your weapons and skills over a realtively short time that any deviance could potentially punish, rather than reward. This stringent path is remedied, however, by the randomness of the major fights that occur – unlike other games of a similar genre (and I have to go back to Resident Evil and Devil May Cry again) – Shadows won’t make you trawl to the end of a level only to find out there’s a huge boss waiting for you, no. No, Shadows will occasionally just go “Fuck it” and throw one at you, whether you’re prepared or not. It keeps you on your toes, which is always nice.

On a final note, there seems to be a discrepancy between the content of the game and its prospective audience. The humour, although still attractive to an older audience, is really right at home with teenagers – teenage boys at that. Throw in semi-naked women and the chance to feel like a bad-ass with God-awful one-liners (“He better be ready – he’s got a whole lot of dying to do!”) and you have a high school boy’s wet dream lined up. Content-wise, it’s bloody, it’s dark… it’s 18+. I’m not sure what the balance is there, but, for a game like this, you get the feeling EA might have considered toning down the violence/language to appease PEGI and perhaps secure a wider demographic.

Either way, the game itself isn’t bad. But neither is it particularly good. After playing it, I’m not half as excited as I was for the final product as I was when it was enshrouded by mystery. It’s definitely a game I’d consider picking up in a few months when the price has been knocked down but, saying that, I’m sitting back home now, wondering what happens after the point I’d reached at the event, and thinking about what the bigger weapons would be like. So I guess it’s got my interest piqued. The game isn’t a triple-A title, and it knows that – and therein lies the charm; there’s no pretence about Shadows. It’s just a mess about, after all. Think about it; can you smack a demon round the chops with your Johnson and then blow his legs off with your BigBoner in any other game?

No, no you can’t.

Last five articles by Dom



  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Top preview Dom. I didn’t have high expectations for this, but the premise sounded interesting. We’ll see if the final product actually comes out any better!

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Dom, there are words that can describe this preview that I can’t use because they won’t match how highly I want to speak of it.
    In terms of the game itself, it reminds me quite a lot of No More Heroes in the sense that it seems to have a lot of repetitive gameplay and ideas wrapped up in such a subversive “I don’t give a fuck” style that you manage to like it despite the flaws, or liking those flaws as a result. There’s a lot of things you mentioned that would potentially turn me off the game, but the fact the game gives approximately zero fucks is half the reason I’m still interested in it.

    Hopefully it gets better after what you played, cos it sounds like a game we need more of in this industry, but with less flaws.

    Once again, seriously Dom, just wow.

  3. Ben Ben says:

    Pun-tastic, I approve :D

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