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Shadows of the Damned
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Shadows of the Damned is set in Hell, though you'll occasionally wonder why things don't always look hellish. I say "occasionally," because this game is, in fact, seriously messed up -- and I mean that in the best possible way. This version of Hell is less about fire and brimstone and more about Gothic architecture and an oppressive, creeping darkness. The combat looks fantastic; every landed shot has a wonderful sense of impact, regardless of whether it dismembers or decapitates. Some headshots come with a Zack Snyder style slow motion zoom in that culminates in a freeze frame the second the hellmonkey's head bursts open. That, my friends, never gets old. The environments, however, do tend to get old. Still, that means whenever something really interesting comes along, it stands out. One such moment occurs late in the game, when the action not-so-smoothly shifts from third-person shooting to arcade-style space shooting. This brings with it a completely unsubtle shift in art style, where everything looks like it's made of paper. But then, when you notice that they use that exact style for the loading screens, a grin will spread across your face. Regardless of how you feel about the presentation and gory combat, you will be struck by how bizarre the imagery is; it's said that Suda51 got a lot of inspiration for Shadows of the Damned by drawing on his experiences as a mortician. I sure believe it; there's some truly sick sh*t in this game.

I have to give credit where credit is due: Shadows of the Damned features some of the best sound design in recent memory. The music and ambience hammer home the game's tone; given the game's tone, that's quite a feat. I'm particularly enamored with the soundtrack, which is simultaneously dark and enchanting. The strumming of guitars fits right in with Garcia's Latino roots but, humorously enough, doesn't feel out of place in the depths of Hell. I'm not surprised that the game sounds this good, though; Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) is the composer. The voice acting is also quite good, at least from a performance standpoint. Whether or not you find yourself enjoying the performances mostly has to do with your sense of humor and what you find obnoxious rather than funny. More on that in a bit.

The box art for Shadows of the Damned features a phrase underneath the title: "A Suda51 Trip." That sums up the game more perfectly than anything I could possibly come up with. Shadows of the Damned is one of the weirdest action games ever made.

Shadows of the Damned casts you as Garcia F**king Hotspur (yes, that is his name in its entirety), a Latino demon hunter with an unhealthy predilection for phallus-related humor. Constantly at his side is Johnson, a wise-cracking flaming skull with a British accent who can transform into a torch, a motorcycle, or one of three gun types. Still with me so far?

Garcia returns home one night to find his "Angel" Paula dangling from a noose. He's not left with any time to grieve, however; Fleming, the (admittedly perverted) lord of the underworld arrives to claim his new prize. Without so much as a second thought, Garcia hurls himself into the mouth of Hell, with Johnson in tow. An army of "hellmonkeys" stands between Garcia and his love, and he's all too eager to waste every last one of them.

Shadows of the Damned is the result of a partnership between Goichi Suda (the aforementioned "Suda51") and Shinji Mikami. Suda's flair for the truly bizarre and Mikami's eye for lightning-bolt action go a long way in this game. It really is a match made in Heaven, though technically, it was made in Hell. The quality of the third-person shooting action in Shadows of the Damned isn't really a debatable topic; it's fast, brutal, and loads of fun. The dialogue, however, is destined to be polarizing. Penis jokes abound in this game, so much that it might just affect how much you enjoy the game as a whole. For example, the standard gun is called "Boner," and over the course of the game, it is upgraded to "Hotboner" and "Big Boner." You see, it shoots demon bones. Personally, I found it all a bit much at first, but then I just went with the flow and eventually found myself laughing my head off. After all, how many games feature a man with a heavy Mexican accent shooting a giant explosive gun at a series of demonic robots while repeatedly bellowing the invitation "TASTE MY BIG BONER!" at the top of his lungs? None, that's how many. When you look past this game's juvenile facade, you'll see some really creative storytelling sequences, especially in the storybooks that Garcia finds during his journey.

Shadows of the Damned isn't that challenging on its default difficulty level, but some of the monsters put up quite a fight. This game is at its hardest and most unfair when it puts Garcia in a cramped area with a bunch of demons. The camera is already zoomed in close when Garcia is aiming, so more often than not, you'll have to make a break for an open area even when you don't want to.

The boss fights are excellently-designed, though they lean back on traditional "shoot-the-glowing-point" strategies. These encounters are challenging enough, but most of the fun comes from the actual enemy designs and attack patterns. For example, an early boss rides on a horse that actually defecates darkness; you must enter the darkness to properly visualize the boss's weak point. You won't be thinking out of the box as much as you will be twitch shooting, but it's a fun and challenging blend.

Game Mechanics:
Shadows of the Damned is essentially Resident Evil as written by Beavis and Butt-head. The gameplay of this game hearkens back to the action-oriented RE titles, but makes it more violent and quirky. You wander around Hell, finding ways to progress while killing as many demons as you can. The shooting, as mentioned before, is very fun, but the melee leaves something to be desired. Thankfully, some up-close-and-personal finishing moves give it at least a slight edge.

Sometimes you'll come across a locked door with a baby's face on it. These crying "doors" are hungry, and require sustenance. Every now and then, Garcia will have to search for something for the baby faces to nosh on, such as a strawberry, a brain, or an eyeball. Once you satisfy their hunger, they will swing open with a belch and a series of giggles.

Shadows of the Damned features a currency and upgrade system, just like Resident Evil 4. You can spend white gems at Absinthe machines for health-restoring booze, or you can pay a visit to Christopher, the demon with a thick Southern Accent who vomits whatever you need for the right price.

Darkness and light play a huge part of Shadows of the Damned's gameplay. Every now and then, the world will be completely smothered in darkness. Don't worry, it's not the kind of darkness that requires you to go into the video settings. This darkness is a dangerous purple cloud that slowly eats away at Garcia's health. If he remains in the darkness for too long, it will eventually kill him. The manner in which he must remove the darkness is all too obvious: he must seek out a bleating goat's head and hit it with his patented Light Shot. Some of the game's environmental puzzles require that Garcia immerse himself in the darkness. Additionally, enemies that have been in the darkness must be purified with a Light Shot -- kind of like in Alan Wake.

By now, you already know whether or not Shadows of the Damned is for you. It's a very well-designed and well-produced game that just so happens to be ridiculously bizarre. I'm personally hoping for another one. If you can't get past the subject matter or the manner in which it is presented, it's your loss.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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