Review: Shadows of the Damned

As I write this review, my copy of Shadows of the Damned resides in the dark recesses of my local Game store’s used drawer. Appropriately, it’s been banished to its very own version of hell, not for its flaws, or for a lack of quality, simply because that was always its destiny: what it was designed for.

I’m sure that by now you’ve become accustomed with the game’s surface details, but just in case, here’s a refresher. You, as hyper-macho-yet still metrosexual- postmodern-punk-pseudo-desperado- Garcia Hotspur, fight through a demon-infested hell in a bid to save your hot girlfriend from an eternity of demon rape. Along the way you’ll take in more dick jokes than you thought humanly possible, down absinthe to replenish your health, forcibly insert brains into cherubs’ mouths and read the grimmest of grim fairytales.

From the game’s opening credits, one fact is made abundantly clear: this game is brimming with talent. Suda 51, Shinji Mikami and Akira Yamaoka are exactly the dream team you would imagine: providing a mechanically taught, supremely imaginative and wonderfully scored title that solidifies them as major industry talent. If anything, the majority of the credit should go to director Massimo Guarini for his ability to orchestrate such diverse talent into a cohesive, and massively enjoyable game. Whilst the big names are mentioned at every possible opportunity, it should be noted that Mikami and Suda are most likely the Lucas to Guarini’s Kershner.

Shadows of the Damned if anything, is a stark reminder of the home of action gaming. Japanese developers, in my humble opinion will always have the monopoly on mechanics. And whilst consumers move further and further away from such substance in favour of big-screen spectacle and online competition, it becomes easier to overlook just what an incredible achievement precise controls can be. Shadows plays like a dream: so tight and responsive that you’ll wonder why all games can’t be this good.

Amongst the gem collecting, weapon-upgrading and dick-joke sniggering, you’ll also find some fittingly outlandish, and massively entertaining boss battles. Never quite reaching the dizzying and varying heights of Resident Evil 4, yet always dangling on the precipice of such greatness. Shadows will, at the very least, always amuse and thrill in equal measure.

It seems a shame to refer back to Mikami’s past greatness, particularly his work on Resident Evil 4, but it best highlights Shadows’ weaknesses. No matter how funny the dick jokes, no matter how outlandish the dialogue, or how diverse and accomplished the soundtrack may be, there is little to no reason to replay Shadows of the Damned. It is for this very reason that my copy of the game is now the treasured prize of some adolescent, sweaty-palmed bargain hunter. Secrets are so few in number that I have to question whether or not I actually discovered any and with no reward for multiple playthroughs or anything resembling a ‘New Game+’ type deal, completionists and sticklers for value will feel somewhat cheated.

Despite its shortcomings, at least in light of the ‘bundle value’ so many of us modern gamers are now used to, Shadows of the Damned should be remembered for its successes. Brief though it may be, nothing has made me whoop and yell at the screen with such delight or merriment for quite some time. Whether it was the time I scaled the giant, perfectly formed female ass, or witnessed a headless horseman piss pure darkness, I consistently had a blast.

All-in-all, it’s a riotous adventure that walks a dangerous tightrope: wavering as it does between a damning fixation on the past and being pleasingly retro. If you value a sense of humour, fear the summer drought and demand almost virginal tightness from your mechanics, then look no further.