Shadows of the Damned is a game with a customizable weapon system, where one of the weapons is a handgun called "the boner." In other words, you can upgrade your boner. Shadows of the Damned is also a game with hideous, horned demons. One of them is named Christopher. He's incredibly polite and speaks in a charming southern accent. Notice a pattern here? Shadows of the Damned is kind of insane.
As the latest project from No More Heroes developer Grasshopper Manufacture, Shadows of the Damned carries that same absurd sense of humor that fans of the studio have come to expect. The jokes are often vulgar, but they're well done if you don't mind a few rough chuckles in your video game dialogue. It's also a much darker game than previous Grasshopper titles; it's a game studio head Suda 51 describes as "a road movie set in Hell." Ultimately, what you've got here is a game of contrasts; it walks a fine line between horror and comedy. And if our recent hands-on demo is any indication, it seems to be pulling it off.
At its core, Shadows of the Damned is familiar stuff. It's a third-person shooter dressed up in themes of lightness and darkness (which you can read about in detail in our most recent preview). You've got a collection of guns that, despite such names as the boner, the teether, and the monocussioner, behave more or less like the usual array of shotguns and machine guns you've fired countless times before. The wrinkle here is that you need to remove the cloak of darkness from enemies to render them vulnerable to your gunfire. Thankfully, each of your weapons has a handy illuminating alternate fire to do so. In practice, it feels a lot like the flashlight mechanic from Alan Wake.
The difference here, of course, is that Shadows of the Damned is absolutely out of its mind and that the third-person shooter core is merely a springboard for various forms of insanity. For example, healing yourself during battle isn't done with mere health packs--you have to down a bottle of tequila or sake to restore your spirits. And the torch you carry to light up the darkened corners of the world is also a jive-talking English demon named Johnson. At one point, before encountering a particularly nasty boss, Johnson remarks, "It sounds like a cat having sex with a harmonica! And I don't mean the consensual kind." So that's Johnson.
One of our enemies during this demo was a giant head on a column or, rather, four heads on a single column. We had to fire at the glowing red orbs ornamenting this twisted statue while taking on a series of ghost demons that just couldn't help but take part in the festivities. After this run-and-gun action, we had to scale the interior of what appeared to be a massive church tower. This was achieved by leaping onto an equally massive chandelier and swinging about wildly, smashing everything in sight until we somehow made it up to the top. We're not sure how the physics of this section worked, but the bottom line here is that there was a lot of smashing. That appears to be something of a theme in this game, and we're OK with it.
The whole game takes place in Hell, as mentioned earlier, but this version of Hell looks more like a sleepy European village shrouded in darkness and evil spirits. Think of it as the world's worst (or best!) backpacking trip through Europe. The level we played through (a brief 15-minute chunk of the game) was a linear affair that involved a lot of running through narrow alleyways before encountering enemies in a large courtyard before being funneled back into a narrow alley of some sort. We're hoping that other parts of the game involve more freedom to explore this twisted city, though we will say that the environmental design is awfully well done. There always seems to be some terrifying castle or skyline looming ominously overhead that is hiding behind a dimly lit layer of fog.
Ultimately, though, it looks like Shadows of the Damned's biggest strength is its personality: protagonist Garcia Hotspur is a tattooed, slick-haired, purple-leather-jacket-wearing force to be reckoned with, and Johnson seems like a pretty entertaining costar. When you add some twisted enemy and boss designs, you've got a game that oozes character. Hopefully, the combat evolves into more than just Alan Wake light elements followed by "shoot the bright glowing thing on the boss," because then this game could be something special. We'll have to wait and see when Shadows of the Damned is released on June 21.