I bet you that line's bringing in some questionable traffic.
Shadows of the Damned is a game where in one level you get to traverse the giant, undulating body of Paula, your damned dame. It's a game where you feed strawberries and brains and other parts to baby faces stuck on doors. It's a game where you drink booze to regenerate your health. All thumbs up so far. Unfortunately, Shadows of the Damned is also a game that revels in structure, relying on an obnoxious darkness mechanic and far too much pattern gameplay to be as exciting as its story. But we'll go back to that in a bit.
By now, you've probably heard about Shadows of the Damned, a marriage of Japanese gaming heavyweights Mikami and Suda51. You've most likely heard that it's a game full of adolescent hubris: wiener jokes by the bucket full, boobies, weird moaning, excessive gore, a badder-than-badass protagonist, and a horny-as-all-get-out antagonist.
What you may not have heard is that it's a sluggish, third-person adventure with rather linear gameplay and no replay value outside of harder difficulties. The main problem with the third-person aiming in Shadows is that some enemies will get too close to the character, falling into a dead zone where you have to roll around to find your bearing and to see the enemy. It's as if the enemies were designed without the character and his move set in mind.
So why even bother with the game? The concept is almost worth the price alone. Almost. Demon hunter Garcia travels to hell to save his girlfriend who is snatched by the Lord of Demons. He takes his trusty transforming friend Johnson through places I dare not even describe. Johnson used to be a demon. He transforms into things such as the Big Boner by talking to a sexy-sounding lady on at a phone booth. This doesn't need to make sense right now, just know that he is essential in allowing Garcia to take on the denizens of the underworld and can turn into all sorts of sweet weapons.
The atmosphere here is truly interesting, and there is ingenuity in the way developer Grasshopper Manufacture paints a never-before-seen vision of hell, complete with story-time preludes to each boss fight that are probably my favorite parts of the game.
My problem is that this game was made by Shinji Mikami, who already completely devastated the horror landscape with the perfect Resident Evil 4, and Goichi Suda who is known for his inventive style. He did Killer7, No More Heroes, and the forthcoming Lollipop Chainsaw. Shadows of the Damned feels almost budget to me, though it's marketed the same as every other game at the same price point. Imagine how well Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon would have sold if D3 had done the same.
Naturally my expectations were high, but really this is a grindhouse outing for a big Hollywood director. And that would be fine if the game had the same sense of dirty fun, but there are these nasty requirements that structure the game far too tightly. I know I am being very critical of the game, but that's mainly because I feel like too many reviewers glossed over these aspects of it.
Shadows of the Damned has this mechanic involving darkness where you will slowly die unless you extinguish it. It's used in the boss fights and in normal levels, where often you will have to deal with enemies at the same time you are trying to shoot targets to open doors. Boss fights themselves usually just involve figuring out a pattern involving darkness and then doing it over and over again until it dies. These aren't really fun, just repetitive.
Here's the truth: I had to push to finish the game because I'm reviewing it. This hurts because I should love it. I think this was actually my most anticipated game for 2011 so far. It's the kind of game I like the most, but it failed for me in too many ways. I guess I wanted it to be a more silly Resident Evil, but it felt average and trapped and too mismatched. Resident Evil 4 was restrictive enough in its combat and I fully support that decision. I even like the limited control in 5, so Shadows should feel even better since you can shoot while moving.
I understand why there is no New Game+ (because it interferes with the flow of weapon distribution in the game), but all games should be designed to have them, especially ones this short: Shadows of the Damned is about ten hours or less on normal. Let me put it this way: the game is just not that fun. The story and environments are fun. Garcia is an awesome hero and the enemies are all interesting and well-designed. The action is average, trapped by puzzles and darkness and doorways. It literally gets in the way of all the good stuff going on. The action should be loose and free form, the way Garcia seems to be - the way Bayonetta was: another game buy a guy who revolutionized a genre and then went on to take it further.
You know, maybe I don't get Shadows of the Damned at all. I liked Resident Evil 5 and everyone says the action is the same. I just really hated the darkness. And why are there mediocre shooter levels in here? I don't mind them, but I don't love them much either. You know what I remember about the experience? I think of the quirky loading screens between levels and when you die. The music is awesome and I kind of wish they would go on forever. Why couldn't the whole thing be this clever? I haven't been this conflicted about a review in a long time because I don't want the game to bomb. I want more like this, just not exactly like this. Play Shadows of the Damned for the story and humor and ingenuity and not for the action, or find a friend to do it for you so you can reap the visual rewards.