The weird and grotesque meets the outrageous and surreal in this bizarre game that makes the setting of hell really fun

User Rating: 9 | Shadows of the Damned PS3
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Contains: Very Strong Bloody Gore, Very Strong Language, Strong Horror, Sex References and Disturbing Images
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Shadows of the Damned is a psychological action thriller from the minds and talents of Goichi Suda (Director of No More Heroes), Shinji Mikami (Director of Resident Evil 4) and Akira Yamaoka (Sound Director of Silent Hill).

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STORY - 3/5
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Garcia Hotspur is a demon hunter who has killed one too many demons which has enraged the Lord of the Underworld. He now must take a hellish trip through the City of the Damned to rescue his kidnapped love with his ex-demon sidekick Johnson, and learn how to harness the power of the light to defeat the army of the dark in psychologically twisted, visceral combat whilst also fighting his own sanity within a hostile realm.
The story is nothing spectacular and doesn't develop with any surprises, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable ride with good characters and a terrific script.

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CHARACTERS - 4/5
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You play as Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur, and will enjoy the company from an ex-demon companion called Johnson (an excellent character) who provides much of the comedy throughout the script. He is in the form of a glowing skull head who is more often in the form of a torch but contributes significantly by transforming into a variety of weapons with the ability to add new features when you encounter them via a special gem type. He chats frequently as you start to navigate hell's many peculiar locations with an input of some funny one-liners that suit the overall dark theme of the game. Vulgar jokes can be implied and seen from both friend and foe on this hellish journey, and a starting point for all this would be your trusty morphing gun called 'The Boner'. It's as ludicrous as it sounds, and the upgrades further reflect the style of humour wanted in this game, where the script is full of crafty lines and sexual innuendo that will either have you smiling in glee or uncomfortably cringing in your seat. The main antagonist of the game is Fleming, the demon in charge of the underworld, who killed and kidnapped Garcia's girlfriend Paula (in that order) at the beginning of the game. He's evil and sadistic and shows no mercy for his victims and his craving for human fleshy parts. Oh and he likes opera music.

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GAMEPLAY - 5/5
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Shadows of the Damned is the result of collaboration between Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami, and combines the styles of the two designers, namely the "punk rock" edge of the former and the "psychological action thriller" of the latter, and the gameplay is both incredibly smart, compelling and weird (in a good way). You wouldn't believe you were in hell given the level design and sights, but keen visitation from the underworld's inhabitants keeps your mind focused that you are in fact stationed within Hell's boundaries and trapped in the bowels of evil. Within this demonic sanctuary that you must trespass through perilously, there is a special kind of evil darkness that engulfs the scenery you previously knew was illuminated, and this is the start to your descent into madness and danger. In Shadows of the Damned you must learn to trust nothing and expect anything no matter how crazy the idea provokes your inclination to believe. You're in hell, and you'll soon understand from playing through this psychological horror thriller that it's not just completely vile, perverse and provocative, but it's absolutely f***ed up beyond your wildest imagination.
Once Darkness consumes the immediate environment, you're life dwindles in the balance of survival and damnation, and the only way to restore light to the area is to shoot a suspended goat head on a wall somewhere nearby with a Light Shot before you suffer the consequences. Goat Lamps are demonic creatures able to dissolve Darkness by emitting powerful rays of light and are your sole source of salvation once Darkness hits and light retracts all around you. The Light Shot is the only tool able to repel Darkness inside the demon's world. This versatile shooting mode has several functions including activating lamps, freezing demons, activating various Darkness-related objects, and revealing hidden Dark Cores. Darkness corrupts the human body by eating away flesh and long exposure to it drains health and leads to certain death, but can be useful for exposing Dark Cores which contain demons blood instead of human blood and are vulnerable only within the Darkness. Connected to inaccessible gateways, destroying these extinguishes the plagues of dark vacuum you are momentarily sucked up in and makes that pathway available to be traversed further. Sometimes objects that exist in darkness may disappear when darkness is removed, and it can also be very unpredictable and sometimes the hellish gloom of everything terrible and distasteful can even try to grab you and pull you in via a demonic hand. The light-based puzzles make excellent use of simple dark vs. light mechanics, but the outcome is intense all the same. As soon as you are plunged into a dark nightmare, the only thing on your mind will be to find and shoot the goat somewhere nearby, whilst also taking care to pick up soul hearts that keep you going for longer and to avoid any enemies who are invulnerable within the bluish black. The puzzles are challenging in a good way, and the tension is balanced perfectly so that you can't linger about because of the hazard looming over your health, and overall the idea is created with exciting results that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

On your travel through hell you'll be rewarded with several versions of gems. Red gems are a special currency used only to upgrade your weapons and are rare in comparison to white gems. White gems are considered the official currency in the demon world, and you can collect these hidden in crates or from killed enemies and use them to buy new items from Vending Machines (yes, hell does have vending machines) or Christopher. Christopher is a hybrid monster, who is half human and half demon. He's a travelling shopkeeper who happens to love white gems and is happy to trade what you have in your inventory for either ammo to your weapons, drinks for your inventory or Red Gems. If this game couldn't get any more unusual, the drinks in Shadows of the Damned act as a source to replenish your health bar, and naturally give vitality within the demon realm where your liver will never be a problem consuming so much alcohol. Finally, Blue gems are extremely rare, and are usually possessed only by giant, arrogant demons. After defeating a boss you'll be granted an additional blue gem which is used straightaway. They possess enhancement powers and when applied to Johnson's skull, it is possible to obtain a new weapon or a unique upgrade that offers a new stylish function to one of your fantasy guns.

Guns are kind of similar to ordinary, modern weapons in theory except for the fact they function with different ammo, have ingenious names and have a fantasy horror style look to them. Take for instance Garcia's pistol called 'The Boner'. Interesting name for a powerful magnum-like sidearm that uses an unusual source of ammo (skeletal parts), and when upgraded over the course of the game it hilariously upgrades into shooting "sticky payloads" that explode enemies once shot simultaneously in the correct spot. Another one of only a few interesting guns you possess is originally called The Teether. It acts like a machine gun except it fires demons teeth at foes that perform just as efficiently and admirably as bullets would. Progressing through the game changes the name of each of your weapons whilst adding a unique functionality that is both twisted and cool for the genre and setting of this weird masterpiece. Gunplay is solid and satisfying, and you can cut apart demons with real venom in each well placed effort that makes each shot feel immensely powerful and deadly. Dismemberments are common, and you can shoot off limbs with a big splash of blood and still see your target coming at you. And then headshots are the best of the lot as the camera zooms in and follows the flight of the bullet as it explodes brain and blood in all directions causing instant death on the evil foe that stood in its path. Shadows of the Damned has no shortage of gory violence, some being completely grotesque and very strong in tone, but nothing that'll put you off playing if you've got a strong stomach for disturbing and often horrifying content.
Shadows of the Damned also happens to be a constant learning process throughout the adventure, since all the concepts of hell you know about have been fictionally reimagined into stranger outcomes, and Johnson is pleased to explain to a bewildered Garcia each new piece of information you receive, like about certain objects of interest on the walls in the form of posters or advertisements depicting events differently as you would have thought, certain demon preferences and twists on certain activities, plus some well known demon types that aren't what you thought would look like.

Psychologically disturbing and mentally demanding, Shadows of the Damned defies any kind of normal explanation with it's totally surreal, crazy and fun mechanics and visual design that on first impressions appears vaguely reminiscent of a typical Quentin Tarantino/Grindhouse graphic gorefest.
You'll honestly have no idea of what awaits you or what to expect in the next strange encounter.
A simple activity like finding a strawberry to feed a baby head on a gateway that prevents your progress is just one of the varied, random and weird objectives you find yourself having to complete with perplexed reactions, but it still manages to be enjoyable despite (realistically) how stupid it actually is. But you can't define just how fun it truly is to be thwarted by a boss and face the challenge of figuring out how to defeat it with precious little time before the attacks overwhelm you, and each activity is satisfying to complete, whether you are playing a level with inspired scenes from 'The Evil Dead' movie which includes a chase camera that makes for some truly frightening sequences of gameplay, or fetching a fruit or brain for a baby that is crying with disappointment until you meet its demands for access to the path beyond for something even more ludicrous and imaginative that bends your believability to a frightening extent.

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GRAPHICS - 4/5
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The impressive art design that treats hell as differently as possible through the use of unusual pieces of imagery and locations are highlighted with tremendous amounts of variety and disgusting detail in each well crafted level, while the visuals impress with no serious complaints to make surrounding the technical side of things. Some excellent textures, a smooth framerate and no screen tearing make sprinting past objects a breeze when you aren't distracted by technical hindrances, and while the graphics at first glance aren't likely to be called stunning, the grimy art design more than makes up for it. Lots of disturbing and horrific imagery is placed effectively throughout environments, with many layers of blood and gruesome body parts that sometimes force you to question the path your taking because of the grisly content that accompanies your every move through Hell's locations. The colour palette used is particularly impressive, conveying lots of dark colours to depict the macabre backdrop of such an evil place whilst also inputting some unusual colours when encountering something odd and unpredictable within possibly a garden of alive flowers, or maybe even an old Victorian household with unfamiliar contents like a bright vending machine for alcoholic beverages.
Once Darkness sweeps across the environment you'll immediately know that you must hurry. An inky blue colour mixes perfectly with black to depress all thoughts except that of survival, and the visual effect combined with a deeply moving horror style audio makes everything feel bleak and soul-destroying with a dreading thought that death is so close you can literally feel it suffocating you in it's tight grasp. That survival instinct pushes you on to find an escape by shooting a goat head, and once you do it's almost like breaking the surface of water from being almost out of breath and drowning. It's an effect that is exceptionally well done to incur tension, excitement and terror and there isn't much visual effects that establish such an influence on your mind other than the Darkness in hell within this psychological thriller, with the only minor technical blemish being rare instances of slow texture loading when beginning from a checkpoint after falling victim to hell's minions.

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SOUND - 5/5
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Lots of different styles of music accompany your trip through hell, and in the background you'll constantly be followed by audio that continues to surprise you with the amount of variety, from the powerful feeling of death surrounding you in Darkness, the punk rock theme in gameplay events, or even the oddly produced reggae charm when closely following a random Sushi lamp through pitch black areas. The perplexing mix of such music genres is expected once you have been swept away by the extraordinary gameplay and visual designs, and it's delightful to hear such amounts of effectively placed audio that never fails to be interesting or unusual. Sound effects from any of your morphing guns, the blood splattering from a dismembered demon corpse and the delicate touch from the hellish atmosphere compliments finely to the sound stage, as does the voice acting that is well spoken and hit's the right tone when humour is present in dialogue. Overall the sound design is superb and is unlikely to be rivalled by any other game this year in terms of producing such a creative mix of music that captures the brilliance of the creative minds involved with the project.

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CONTROLS - 3/5
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A cracking control scheme and screen display HUD is only disturbed by some in-game problems that arise in animations and overcrowded situations. When backed into a corner within a confined space by multiple enemies, the gameplay can briefly feel cumbersome as you lose a good angle on your attackers and momentarily are troubled with aiming accurately because of the camera, sometimes unable to evade your foes and take damage as a result of the claustrophobic view of the action. Dodging incoming attacks is no problem at all though, and you can pull off this manoeuvre with ease at every opportunity that requires it. Animations can appear a little odd when moving about, but once again it's an aspect of the game that doesn't cause you to stare at it's occasional awkwardness, and since the game is mostly full of odd elements sewn together abnormally, these animations are merely a blur in comparison to the gameplay features and art design, and don't prove a negative influence to displease you on your travels.

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ATMOSPHERE - 4/5
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This survival horror is quite the opposite of rudimentary and is chocked full of tentative mind games that inflict large amounts of disbelief into your imagination. It perpetuates randomness and turns it into crazy concoctions that make no sense but continue to keep you craving for the similar demented outcomes whether it questions your mentality or infects deep inside your insanity, all the while installing fear and thrills into your rollercoaster trip through hell. Hell is envisioned with real artistic flair and captures a darkly magical balance between authentic horror elements and deranged nonsense that brings a brilliant atmosphere over the proceedings.

The environmental puzzles that make fantastic use of the dark and light mechanics can always be expected to include a perfect balance between survival and sacrifice, making the chances to succeed always possible but almost certainly tight. The close shave you will get from succeeding is rewarding if you successfully battle your wits against the limited time you have to expose yourself in the Darkness before your flesh gets dissolved, and the balance of tension is satisfyingly weighted out in each scenario. For example: A gateway may be impassable due to Darkness vines, and the only way to clear the obstruction is to shoot dark cores linked to it. However they can only be destroyed whilst in Darkness, and so you'll find you are forced to cause the Darkness to flood the area in order to see the umbilical cord connecting it to the door. You may need to let a certain demon breathe black gas over a goat head to instigate this blackness and sacrifice precious time to find the core halting your progress, but avoid the invulnerable beasts spawning within this deathly area until you've found a solution, all the while balancing out shooting the goat head to cause light and keep your health in good measure. It's exciting to say the least, and to further complicate matters in some dilemmas, huge mini boss demons will appear where, within Darkness, their weakness is exploited. And so you'll have to plunge yourself into a potentially costly scenario to kill the beast before you get killed. There are so many of these tense atmospheres that build up magnificently over puzzle and combat sequences, and the activities never feel repetitive even if you've done it before due to the twists and turns that accompany each new challenge you face.

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ENEMY AI - 4/5
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You'll receive a pleasant (or not) reception from hordes of hell's minions as you enter the gates of Hell, and Garcia is in no mood to show anxiety, but only confidence and commitment to secure the rescue of his true love. The demons that stand in your way aswell as some deadly bosses of all sizes will soon meet their match via some extraordinary firepower, and the fantastic amount of enemy variety makes sure that you won't find the traditional third-person shooter gameplay become boring or repetitive as the challenge is constantly amped up the further you venture into the grisly realm on the linear path to Fleming's sanctuary - The Castle of Hassle.

Demons love the darkness and hate the light, and illuminating certain lamps can scare them away, whereas flooded areas of darkness will entice them in with ravenous intent to take your life. Some demons can even create Darkness by disabling the goat head's blinding rays of light, and these creatures can make certain scenarios challenging and tense due to the lack of resistance you have against the Darkness that eats away at your health gauge, since you must focus all your efforts on stopping them before anything else that stands in your path. Each demon is detailed well enough to strike terror and fear as they slowly trudge towards you with their evil red eyes glowing amongst the darkness, and even the common demons that slowly traipse towards you are a force to be reckoned with in numbers as their behaviour can change dramatically in a blink of an eye as they menacingly converge on your position with brutal potential.

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LENGTH - 4/5
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Shadows of the Damned is split up into 5 acts with several chapters within each act, and lasts a good 12-15 hours, where you'll come to realise how it manages to surpass expectation and the imagination barrier in video gaming. It'll likely be the most deranged and enjoyable experience in recent gaming memory, proving unforgettable once your primary objective has been reached and the journey is concluded, and it's just a shame that a couple of those levels are old school-styled, 2D side scrolling ones that are certainly true to the word "weird", but unsuccessful in being fun due to some cheap deaths and mediocre looks. Luckily they are short-lengthed, but they feel like filler against the strong third-person gameplay and are missed opportunities for inventive variety.

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REPLAY VALUE - 4/5
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Once you've ploughed through Hell, completed your goal and watched the credits roll, you'll feel like diving back into the bowels of evil for yet another crazy trip. And while there isn't a "new game+" option to test your upgrades and find any remaining red gems you previously missed, Shadows of the Damned is best played right from the beginning with the original guns that Johnson transformed into, so you can indulge yourself to explore the environments for secluded areas once again and enjoy the activities that surround subtle attempts at exploration within genuinely linear places.

There's lots of content and imagery of a mature nature that explicitly alternates between both sexually disturbing and horrifically bloodthirsty, but hanging over this adult-orientated work of art is many adolescent implementations that maintain a good grip on keeping you hooked to what will appear nude or brutally savaged next.
If you ever doubted and thought this weird, over-the-top third-person shooter looked forgettable, think again. It's a psychologically draining conflict between what's unreal and what's totally ridiculous, but that strangeness is what keeps this hell-bound journey thriving with momentum and imagination, producing an abnormal game where there's never a dull moment and every sequence to force you rethink what your doing is snapped up by exciting and gruesome firefights and thoughtful, challenging, tense puzzles that remain to have unique mind-bending alterations for concepts that define this horror thriller action game as something truly special with never-ending, hellish entertainment.

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OVERALL SUMMARY - 9/10
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Good Points: Light and dark mechanics make for intense sequences of challenging puzzle solving and demon dismembering action whilst under the constant threat of depleting health, Totally weird yet highly imaginative activities and art designs, Enjoyable hell-themed story with great characters and sexual humour, Memorable morphing guns make for satisfying shooting with lots of strong gore, Amazing boss fights, Incredibly varied sound design.

Bad Points: The few side scrolling levels aren't that fun, Controls can feel cumbersome in confined spaces.
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