Shadows of the Damned Review
Shadows of the Damned balances strong gameplay with artistic delights to create a mesmerizing experience.
- Uniformly outstanding sound design
- Challenging and terrifying boss fights
- Good array of different gameplay activities, all of them fun
- Clever use of darkness mechanics
- Morphing guns are a pleasure to shoot.
- No New Game+
- Stiff movement animation.
Honestly, even if you forget about the demons constantly trying to kill you, hell is a pretty lousy place. Take, for instance, an ordinary act like turning on the lights. While residing on the earthly plane, you just flick a switch and your world is bathed in a fluorescent glow. But if you're stuck in hell, you have to find a goat head (listen for the bleats!) and shoot it with your flaming pistol. You do have a flaming pistol, right? There's a chance it's called a Boner. That's what Garcia Hotspur calls his gun. Make no mistake about it, Shadows of the Damned is a weird game, but it doesn't use its strangeness as a crutch to hold up sagging gameplay. There's a chance you may become immune to the reggae charm of the sushi lamp or just find vulgar jokes off-putting. But the beauty of the brilliantly crafted combat situations makes it so that you can't help but push on to see what devious traps lay before you. Shadows of the Damned turns the gloomy world of hell into a digital paradise.
If you had to choose a prime candidate for hell's most-wanted list, a demon slayer would be a fine guess. Garcia Hotspur kills corrupt souls for giggles, so it's not surprising when his lovely girlfriend Paula is kidnapped by the vindictive lord of darkness. Unfortunately for the bad guys, there isn't anyone better equipped to win her back. Plot details don't get much deeper than a basic setup, but story is still a large part of this stygian adventure. Garcia pals around with a floating skull named Johnson that serves as your tour guide and moral compass, and which transforms into a gun or torch when the situation warrants. The demonic-hunting duo is unrelentingly crass, fixated on the male reproductive organ and its many useful functions. It's immature, to be sure, but it also comes across as genuine. There's a natural rapport between these characters that gives their raunchy dialogue a whiff of believability. There are times when Shadows is tiresome and there are times when it's laugh-out-loud funny, but it's usually amusing enough to add to the experience.
On the most rudimentary level, Shadows of the Damned is a third-person shooter. Victorian houses, farming villages, and other gloomy abodes confine you in mostly linear levels, and you dispatch pain to unruly demons with your trusty guns. Garcia moves with the troubling grace of an injured ballerina. Jerky animations and a zoomed-in camera combine to make navigation clunky, and there are times when enemies trap you in a corner, which obstructs your view. But, for the most part, the controls function admirably. When Sister Grim lashes out with her razor-sharp scythe, you can dive away like a frightened rabbit. Or when demons get too close, you can run, perform a quick turn, and fire to end their pathetic lives in one sure blast. Movement inconsistencies are a looming presence, but Garcia can still overcome this liability with practice.
Flawed core mechanics have been known to derail lesser games, but there's no such problem in Shadows of the Damned. Garcia enters hell prepared to execute every demon in sight, and he has the firepower to pull off such a feat. Endearing names like Skullblaster, Hotboner, and Dentist are affixed to guns comparable to a shotgun, pistol, and machine gun, but they are a lot more versatile than their real-life counterparts. Upgrades let you increase carrying capacity, damage, and reload speed, but these tools of destruction let you go much further. At specific story moments, new powers are unlocked that make the already-delicious combat even more enticing. Your ordinary pistol gains the ability to shoot combustible mines that are just as handy for knocking down cracked walls as they are at blowing a wicked demon sky high. With a blast from your shotgun, you can blow off an arm or leg or initiate an instant-death decapitation, but why waste your time aiming? Homing bullets let you dispose of demons with lazy ease. Weapons are diverse and deadly in Damned, and it's sadistically satisfying to strike down your teeming enemies with them.
Combat is a lot more involved than just shooting any fool who wanders your way. Darkness is the creeping threat that lingers around you, and if you get caught in the gloomy veil, your health slowly depletes. To lift this fog, you must seek out a goat head positioned somewhere on a wall. It's a basic concept that is used in fascinating ways during the course of your heroic rescue mission. You may need to run through a hall of shadows, cognizant of your slowly draining health, to reach safety on the other side. Or a monster may confront you that fears the darkness above all else, and you have to figure out a way to quench flames without succumbing to death yourself. Puzzles force you to step in a darkened room to find the solution, and certain bosses require you to make the same sacrifice. How can you so readily kill if you're afraid to dance with death when the time arises? There's a constant balance to tempt fate without dying that makes these scenarios intoxicating.