A good buddy flick brings life to the mundane. A good road movie is a crazy adventure with obscure outcomes rivalled by too much cough syrup on a hot summer afternoon, or awaking from a nightmare just as the clown sinks its razor-sharp yellow teeth into your ankle. Everything that Shadows of the Damned does well fits well into these two categories—it’s as much a twisted drug trip as it is a voyage of two penis-joke-loving buddies on a quest through the shadow world. While the game captures the spirit of obscurity to near perfection, some of the actual gaming functions fall a bit flat, leaving you with a truly clever experience that is occasionally hindered by the fact it is attempting to breach too many genres.
Shadows of the Damned stars Garcia Hotspur, a demon killer on a quest to find his girlfriend in the depths of hell. I say that Garcia stars in Shadows of the Damned because the game feels like it’s pulled directly out of Quentin Tarantino movie. The atmosphere is more grotesque than creepy, and the stellar soundtrack helps drive home the point that you are witnessing something unique. But after that thick atmosphere wears off you will likely search for something mildly unique in the actual game.
Most of the game is split between standard third-person shooter combat and mildly interesting puzzles. Your main weapon is Johnson, a former demon, which is ironic since you are a demon killer—again, this adds to that buddy flick contraction. Fortunately for you, he can transform into a few different guns, including a piston, shotgun, and machine gun. However, his real purpose is to keep you company and provide some obnoxious adolescent-inspired penis jokes.
Johnsons’ other trick up his, um, sleeve, is the ability to transform Darkness (with a capital D) into light. Darkness equals death in Shadows of the Damned. Sure, there are tons of demons to try and dismember you throughout your journey, but the game’s primary catch is Darkness. When Garcia finds himself helplessly in Darkness, he will slowly perish as it eats away his health—nothing a shot of tequila can’t fix, though. Darkness also serves as a factor in the game’s puzzles, but don’t expect any major head-scratchers as this is more of an action game than a riddle-based affair.
Garcia is anything but a swift criminal. He’s slow, bulky, he can’t jump, and getting him to turn on a dime is like trying to Parallel Park an oil tanker. This all makes for some frustrating action segments as you try to quickly turn to face oncoming enemies. I found myself frustrated at the clunky controls and slow movement, while the overly tight camera makes this all so much more irritating when cornered. On several occasions I found myself lost trying to get Garcia to turn 90 degrees away from a wall and finally pop-off a few rounds into a demon’s face. Turning 180 degrees is as simple as pressing a button, but anything in between will take some time. Of course, this is something you’ll get used to, but it’s unfortunate that the combat can occasionally feel forced.
Some of the larger boss battles are fairly entertaining, albeit rather simplistic. The enemies all have weak spots that you’ll easily find; exploit these and that giant demon will fall to the ground begging for mercy. Battles themselves are fairly varied and frequent enough to feel quite natural. I will say that after a while using the same exploit system became a bit repetitive, but in many ways it fits well with the game’s general restrictive nature.
In addition to the hulking boss battles, levels are peppered with mini-bosses, swarms of enemies, tiny puzzles, clever scenery, and just plain ridiculous characters—I’m looking at you Christopher. The game truly shines (in a really gross way) when it’s not being played as a game, but experienced as a throwback to cult action/horror film classics. This is a Mature title in every respect, and it’s great to see Executive Producer Suda51 really flex that muscle. It’s bloody, it’s graphic, it’s sick, it’s twisted, it’s sexual, but it’s done in a way that is not only funny and entertaining, but true to its roots. Shadows of the Damned is more about the experience and entertainment value than it is about really smooth game mechanics.
You essentially do the same things over and over again throughout most of the game, but luckily it’s pretty fun to solve the quick puzzles and mow down swarms of baddies. In an effort not to spoil any fun, I will say there are a handful of levels and segments that kept me on the edge of the sofa, not out of fear, but just sure enjoyment. Shadows of the Damned is single-player only and there is no reason to play a second time without a game+ system. I can’t say the game is lacking without multiplayer because the combat isn’t good enough to warrant playing competitively; however, after you finish the 8-12 hour campaign you’ll probably put this game on the bottom of your stack.
There are some little things that I liked about SotD that often go unrecognized in modern games. For instance, your health does not automatically regenerate—it takes good old fashioned booze to fix your pains. Weapon and health upgrades are plentiful and unique, allowing you to really customize how you want to play, but they also don’t come too fast, allowing you to savor your rewards. The music and sound works so well that I found myself creeped out by the cries of the baby doors or the gorgeous soundtrack that creates the perfect marriage of suspense and insanity. In a game that left me feeling really wishy-washy, these little things helped put my mind at ease and just enjoy it for what it is—a satisfying action game with killer style and over-the-top adult themes. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend time these days than in the world of obscurity—it’s just too bad that when the experience is done there is no reason venture back into hell.