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Shadows of the Damned (Xbox 360) Review

A Brutalgamer.com review…

Suda 51’s obsession with punk rock and pulp iconography is still going strong, even under the reigns of co-producer Shinji Mikami. In theory, the appeal of a collaboration between two industry giants should focus on the strengths of both developers, but Shadows of the Damned feels predominantly like a Suda 51 effort.

His latest lead, Garcia Hotspur, is a demon hunter trying to rescue his kidnapped other-half Paula, at the hands of arch demon Flemming. He’s accompanied by a fouled-mouthed, innuendo ridden skull with a British accent named Johnson (see what they did there?). The lines make Duke Nukem Forever look like Schindlers List. “Shoot your boner in that crack.” “Taste my big boner.” “I’m ready for insertion.” The barrage of filth lasts the entire game. Johnson is like some sort of Wheatley clone that has discovered pornography.

The dialogue is outright terrible, and the constant sexual references wear thin. Hotspur is a glorified walking tough guy cliché with no depth or relevance. Where the Smiths had an air of mystique and Travis Touchdown had a nerdy like-ability, Hotspur is a tiresome spiel of ill thought out one liners and out of place references, that don’t gel with the gothic horror source material.

Hotspur’s journey through the demon world takes him to the usual generic locations. Forests, a medieval style town and subterranean caverns provide unremarkable visuals. Though the atmosphere is boosted by the absolutely excellent soundtrack. Western guitar riffs, tinkling piano melodies and industrial pounding really help bring the otherwise uninspired design to life. The demons gurgle, high pitch violin scrapes are audible as Hotspur wanders through the medieval architecture, and ear piercing shrieks punctuate and reinforce the b-movie feel. It’s the strongest element of the game.

Gunplay is satisfying, but the uninspired level design means it never reaches its potential

Shinji Mikami’s input is clearly limited to the controls. Hitting back and ‘A’ results in a quick 180 degree turn, forward and ‘A’ performs a forward roll resulting in temporary invincibility. The problem is, the core game-play never becomes challenging enough to exploit this is the way Resident Evil 4 did. Gunplay takes place in tightly packed corridors leaving little room for manoeuvring and the lack of great set-pieces means it never evolves beyond a mediocre slog.

The demonic enemies come in droves but lacklustre environmental design and practically non existent AI means Shadows of the Damned is never a challenge. The collision detection is poor. Demons will lunge only to miss completely. At one point I found my self cornered by three demons unable to by pass them. I took absolutely no damage despite their clawing and scratching.

The enemy design is varied. Armoured ghouls will absorb bullets while frantic, agile demons will approach Hotspur with reckless abandon. But the level design never compliments this enough to make Shadows of the Damned a thrilling experience. Boss encounters  all have predictable attack patterns and massive glowing weak points. Most can be defeated by circle strafing their attacks and then placing a few well executed shots. The only encounters of note are a particularly intense chase at a carnival with a demonic butcher and the grand finale.

Hotspur's other half, Paula, pops up frequently. In one instance a chase sequence ensues where Hotspur will die in one hit if she touches him. It's dreadful, and moments like this detract from the solid gunplay mechanics.

The weaponry packs real punch. Demons explode into a shower of flesh and entrails after the a blast from the Skullmaster 3000, a glorified shotgun. Blood spurts from demons who take a pasting from the rapid fire Dentist gun, whilst the standard pistol packs enough force to decapitate demons with a satisfying splatter. The slow motion ‘kill cam’ is a nice touch that stylises well executed head shots.

Game-play idea’s are on the slim side. There are far too many lock and key puzzles where Hotspur must find strawberries and feed them into a babies mouth, thus opening a door. Some areas are covered in darkness that slowly drains Hotspur’s life. This can be nullified by shooting a light shot at a goats head, which is naturally a source of light. Although these idea’s are suitably dressed in Suda 51’s amusing lunacy, it’s not enough to disguise they are tired concepts that outstayed their welcome in the last decade.

Several levels feature side scrolling shoot-em-up sections which are an utter disaster, enemies appear on screen from nowhere and sap your health painfully quickly, making these sections entirely reliant on memorisation. A horrible turret section with the Big Boner (a phallic cannon) produces one of  the most dismal game-play experiences of the year, whilst clambering upon a gigantic semi-naked woman to reach an exit is simply ridiculous. It plays like a scrap book of ideas put together without any means of flow or consistency.  And it’s a shame because if the design wasn’t such a self-indulgent mess of stupidity, and the combat was allowed to take centre stage, this could have been something great.

Demons that have been veiled in darkness must be purified before they can be killed. Either using the light shot or a swift battering with the torch will leave them vulnerable

Final Thoughts

Despite the shortcomings of Suda’s previous work, titles such as No More Heroes and Killer7 managed to imbue a certain charm that masked their failings. Shadows of the Damned does not have that luxury. The puerile script detracts from the brilliant horror soundtrack and the humour fails to hit the mark. If the game had taken the subtle darkly comedic approach of Killer7, it may have found some success. But even this wouldn’t disguise the dated game-play concepts and the pedestrian level design. Suda’s punk rock ethos is still evident, but it’s at the expense of truly realising the potential of the game-play mechanics. It’s like an old punk dancing to God Save the Queen at a wedding, forced and unnecessary.

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