Normally a summer ship date is music to gamers’ ears, with the new-release doldrums and all, but with a game like Shadows of the Damned, you almost wish EA would’ve waited until Halloween to charge into retail. Shadows, Damned, trips to alternate-universe Hell, zombies … it just feels more natural in October. Unless EA knew that the desperation of summer would make the game seem better than it really is. Shadows of the Damned may have come from Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami, but pedigree and hype mean nothing when the end result is this horrific. And no, not in the cool Halloween sense.
In a nutshell, Shadows of the Damned is a gaming version of Kill Bill, complete with action, blood, comedy and a complete lack of taking itself too seriously. Players assume the role of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who’s only hunting damned souls because their evil leader kidnapped his girlfriend, Paula, and took her to the Underworld. Garcia, naturally, does what any heartbroken hero would do: chase after the demonic Fleming and kill every unholy beast that crosses his path in the process.
Shadows of the Damned is aptly named, because defeating the underworld’s finest requires activating all manner of light sources to “burn” away their evil and vanquish them once and for all. In essence, Garcia’s blasting away the shadows. Seems like a great game to play in October, and that stuff all seems fine. Then you learn that Garcia also blasts away with his Johnson. Really.
Par for its horrid humor course, Shadows of the Damned features an all-in-one weapon called Johnson. Johnson features several alt-fire modes, none of which makes any real sense, and he deadpans more than his fair share of sexual innuendos mid-battle. In fact, there are so many needless sexual jokes and potty humor that it makes you think Shadows of the Damned is why the “mainstream” public thinks gamers are a bunch of mouthbreathers and still live with their mothers. Believe me, I love poop humor more than your average person, but this game’s humor delves far below any level to which I’d personally stoop just for the sake of a laugh. It’s just too fringe, too bizarre, too vulgar and too random.
Case in point: one of the checkpoint indicators is a floating eyeball that takes a flaming dump on the sidewalk when you get too close. You laugh now, but that’s just one instance of all the random crap in this game — literal and figurative — that has the cumulative effect of making you start to lose respect for the game and its development team. In fact, there’s so much random stuff and weird in-game items that you continually have to pause the game and consult the “Johnsonpedia” to learn what the heck you’re supposed to do with every item you pick up. Talk about removing you from the immersion of a game… you’re actually forced to leave the game world just to figure out what’s going on inside it. That’s bad design.
The gunplay with Garcia’s Johnson is also pretty bad, mostly because it’s hard to properly aim at the undead creatures as they bob and weave through the game world. Without any semblance of lock-on, and with the need to take off zombies’ heads to kill them, the gunplay’s just another obstacle to enjoyment that this game definitely can’t afford.
Short of the opening music, which is awesome and sounds like a demonic mariachi band, I can’t think of many redeeming qualities in Shadows of the Damned. It’s not in the same craptastic league as Thor, which suffered from horrible gameplay and production values; it’s just a waste of time. The humor’s too juvenile, the gameplay’s too convoluted, the level design’s too bizarre and everything’s just too … weird. Thematically, Shadows of the Damned seems like the perfect game to play around Halloween. In reality, it’s not worth playing at any time of year.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360