What do you get when the creators of “Resident Evil” and “No More Heroes” team up to make a game together? You get “Shadows of the Damned,” a campy horror third-person shooter with adolescent humor and familiar gameplay.
Garcia Hotspur is a foul-mouthed, purple-leather jacket-wearing demon hunter with a talking skull sidekick named Johnson. When the six-eyed demon lord Fleming kidnaps Garcia’s blonde bombshell girlfriend Paula, the demon hunter heads to hell to get her back. That’s about all there is to the story. The denizens of hell are more interested in eating your face than talking, and there are almost no other characters in which to interact.
“Shadows of the Damned” is light on plot, but heavy on jokes. The game is at its funniest when it’s winking at the camera, such as when Johnson quips about the developers or when Garcia questions the often-questionable video game logic at work. Unfortunately, most of the jokes are groan-worthy sexual innuendos. You level up your weapons by collecting Performance Enhancers, and Fleming claims that he’ll release Paula only if you admit “your endowments are no match for mine.” Laughing yet? If so, you’ll love this game. If not, congratulations on having a sense of humor that graduated from junior high.
The gameplay is very reminiscent of “Resident Evil” and “Dead Space.” Johnson can transform into a pistol, shotgun or a nifty machinegun that shoots demon teeth instead of bullets. Some enemies come swathed in Darkness, which means that you must first blast them with a shot of concentrated light before dispatching them by conventional means. Sometimes the lights will go out completely, and Garcia will have to find a new source of light quickly before the demonic darkness kills him. Much of the gameplay involves lighting lanterns and shooting off fireworks while trying not to get eaten by demons keen on exploiting your weakness to darkness.
The gameplay is the standard formula of killing enemies, upgrading weapons, finding keys for doors (strawberries in this case, which are “like cat nip to demons,” according to Johnson) and fighting bosses. Though it’s not groundbreaking, it would have still made for a solid game if not for the clumsy controls and uncooperative camera. It’s zoomed in too close to Garcia’s back for you to ever really see what’s going on around you, and you’ll find that when enemies do end up nibbling on your face, it’s because you couldn’t see them coming. Sadly, the camera is you deadliest weapon in Fleming’s arsenal.
One area of the game that is without fault is the incredible soundtrack. The dimly lit cobblestone streets and corpse-filled caverns of hell are genuinely scary when the music starts creeping up on you. It sets a mood as thick as blood with post-rock guitar chords, ambient tormented wailing, Spanish guitar, and a reoccurring enemy whose breathing sounds like a broken harmonica. More than once the music filled me with such a sense of ominous dread that I was positive there was an enemy waiting to jump out at me, even though I was just walking down an empty corridor.
The ubiquitous voice actor, Steve Blum, gives a believable Mexican accent to Garcia and injects the character with a little more humanity than the script would lead you to expect. The best moments of the game are when Garcia tries to read the storybooks detailing the histories of the bosses he’s fighting. Garcia struggles with the big words and Johnson helps him out, like a parent reading over their child’s shoulder. It’s a humanizing moment in a game full of cannibalism, piles of corpses, and a hero whose every fourth word is a four letter one.
“Shadows of the Damned” tries to compensate for derivative gameplay with potty humor and doesn’t quite pull it off. In the end, the love child between “Resident Evil” and “No More Heroes” has a dirty mouth, but not much to say.