Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Shadows of the Damned: First Impressions

What happens when you take a game concept and mechanics by Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 1, Resident Evil 4,Vanquish), develop the gameplay and creative elements around it with  Goichi Suda (No more heroes, Fatal Frame IV, Lollipop Chainsaw) and then score the whole thing with Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3)?

You get Shadows of the Damned which is one of the maddest freakin horror shooter you'll ever get to play.

Shadows of the Damned follows the exploits of one Garcia "Fucking" Hotspur, a demon hunter whose girlfriend has been captured by the lord of Demons. Unable to save her right away, Garcia follows the demon lord back to his world to find his stolen love and mess up the dinner dates of as many demon fiends he can get his hands on.

Now this might sound pretty straight foredward, and yes to some extent it is, but the devil is not in the details of the games story, but rather the mad characters you get to meet and kill, and the awesome Demon world you get to explore.

Like the bastard child of Evil Dead and Dante's Inferno with dashes of Alice in Wonderland,  Shadows of the Damned is an off beat, in your face horror game with a setting that could have only been conceived on a bad acid trip. .. or a good acid trip.

Graphically the game looks like an old school horror movie, with filters and effects that give the whole thing a grind-house feel. The characters play out very 'over the top' especially our hero Garcia. His a Motorcycle riding, Latino punk rocker with a gun called "The Boner." This gun is actually a demon itself called Johnson. The game is full of these sexual innuendos and at times can be overly explicit. Designs of everything in the game are twisted - it's actually very hard to explain this without seeing the game for yourself.

The shooting in the game plays out exactly like Resident Evil 4 with the view shifting over the shoulder for aiming, but you can move while shooting, which makes it also feel a little like Dead Space. It's very effective without feeling too over powering. In fact, the shooting mechanic is easy enough to pull off, but just limited enough to be tricky at times, which makes for some intense shoot outs.

The baddies too are a mix of slow and fast enemies, and its fun shooting off limbs and things to watch the demons crawl and squirm they way to you. (like in Dead Space) You have your zombies, and nightmare monsters and things stitched together, then you have your VIP demons (Very important pendejos) who are like stage bosses or mini bosses.

Garcia can dodge and roll out of harms way with easy, at first it feels like too much ease, but when you get past the canon fodder baddies and start butting bullets with the VIPs is when all your skills come in handy.

Your "Boner" can turn into three different weapon types; namely a pistol, a shot gun and an automatic riffle. These can then be upgraded with damage modifiers and other attachments such as grenade launchers etc.

It's not all just straight forward shooting however as aside from the demon nasties, there's this added mechanic that has to do with light and darkness.

Every now and then the game world is plunged into Darkness which slows you down and drains your health. Baddies that appear during this time also come with a darkness shield that renders them invincible. In order to disperse this Darkness you need to find and shoot a goat head.

Yes. A goat head.

There are things that can buy you time during this darkness phase, such as light barrels, human hearts laying around to be eaten and safe rooms here and there.

These moments make for some pretty intense gameplay and I found my self with clenched toes fits of "come on come on come on" moments as I came across them.

This whole thing of having the fire power and skills but still needing to be on your toes adds a level of cautiousness that fits well with the creepiness of the whole game, and is something I haven't come across in awhile.

Like the Splatterhouse remake I spoke about a few posts ago, this game plays like a massive  love letter to horror fans. It isn't Silent Hill creepy, like I said this is Evil Dead horror. It's a horror setting with a punk rock attitude. Think Cabin in the woods or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Not "Scary movie" but more along the lines of From Dusk Till Dawn.

For a new IP Shadows of the Damned takes a lot of risks with it's direction and it's appeal might be limited to a very niche section of the gaming crowd, even when it comes to horror gamers. This was evident from its reported low sales, but for me personally it's become a great edition to my gaming titles.

It's not a conventional game by any means, but it has solid mechanics that are fun to play.It reminded me a lot of the things that got me into horror gaming and just horror in general. As far as movie relations go - the game feels like something that will one day be a cult classic.

I heard there's a whole stage dedicated to Evil Dead that I can't wait to reach.

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