“I’ll never eat another strawberry again.”

Platforms: Xbox 360 and Playstion3

Developer: Suda51 (Grasshopper Manufacturers)

Publisher: EA

Rating: “M” for Mature

Review by Russian Renegade

Platform  Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Would you dive headfirst into Hell to save the one you love? Would you be able to do it while pulling off a purple leather jacket and more tattoos than Travis Barker? Garcia Hotspur does in Suda51’s latest third-person shooter “”Shadows of the Damned”” by Grasshopper Manufacturers and EA.

The point of this macabre adventure into hell is simple right? Man loves girl, girl gets kidnapped by the king of demons, man travels to hell to kill king of demons and get her back. Oh if it were only so cliché. But that’s what makes “Shadows of the Damned” so charming, its ability to make you scratch your head and go “Whaaaa?”

The game starts out with our hero and demon hunter Garcia Hotspur watching his beloved girlfriend Paula be literally ripped apart by demons. As you fight off these demons in the tutorial, the king of Hell himself shows up and claims Paula as his own and drags her off to Hell with Garcia chasing behind. But therein lays my first issue with the games storyline. The antagonist in the first 10 minutes of the game offers to let Paula go if Garcia just admits that the demon is superior to him. Yes I realize that Garcia is suppose to be painted as a total badass, but regardless of who you are, if the woman you love was being ripped apart in front of you and you had a chance to end her torment with a few words wouldn’t you? But that’s something in “Shadows of the Damned” you have to take in stride, the storyline suffers from a case of identity crisis. At times it can suck you in by being incredibly dark, sinister and engaging only to pull you right back out with the constant references to Garcia’s penis.  If the dialogue from “Bulletstorm” took the atmosphere from “Resident Evil” out to a nice seafood dinner, made love softly to it, never called it back and received a phone call weeks later that it was going to give birth, it would be to this game. And there’s my “scratching my head and saying Whaaa?” moment. As the story advanced and I was able to accept the dialogue as part of the games charm I found myself not only feeling for the characters but laughing at the jokes as well. This is in part due to the incredible voice acting from the entire cast. Steve Blum (Known for doing almost every voice in gaming/anime ever, notably most for Wolverine in the X-Men games and cartoons and Spike in Cowboy Bebop) had me floored when hearing him deliver his lines as Garcia in a PERFECT Spanish accent as well as Nolan North as Johnson (Most of you know him as both Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series and Desmond from Assassin Creed series) delivers a superb British accent and hilarious one liners.

It’s simple enough to say that it handles exactly like Resident Evil 4 and 5. The third person over the shoulder view when aiming was right at home for me and I found it comfortable. The buttons are mapped well and I never had a moment where I felt that I wish something with the controls was done differently. Johnson has three forms of guns that he can upgrade in the game, a pistol (called “The Boner”) a shotgun and a machine gun. All three guns have three different forms that you will upgrade through storyline through the game. Johnson can also be used as a melee weapon in his “Torch” form. Firepower, capacity and reload time can all be upgraded with the collection of red gems hidden throughout the game. A big part of the game play is “darkness”. Garcia can’t survive in it for long so he either has to get quickly into the light or make some of his own. Your alternate fire for every gun is the “Light Shot” that fires off a bolt of light. This can stun enemies, rip darkness that is coated on their bodies or illuminate certain objects so that the area is bathed in light and free of darkness.

“Shadows of the Damned” is extremely linear. There are very few puzzle elements in the games and it’s hard to even call them puzzles. It’s more like “Grab item A to insert in slot A to grab item B to insert into slot B”. There are two instances I can recall that have actual puzzle elements that broke up the action. The game is riddled with cliché gaming elements such as “OH MAH GAWD THERE IS A GIANT GLOWING WEAK SPOT ON THE ENEMY, SHOOT THAT!” but what I adored about the game is that they not only have clever way as to explain why that’s the solution “IE: The demons with obvious weak points are more powerful demons that must use human blood to fuel their strength, so break the blood reserve to kill them” and also the game as no qualms with making fun of itself or breaking the fourth wall. Something else that had me smiling during my time with the game is that make very subtle and very clever nods to other games.

The level design is both beautiful and bland at the same time.  Much of the levels in Hell look the same. I felt I was wondering the same damn street for hours until something new came along. Regardless there are so many little things in the level design that make me love this game. If you take the time to notice the same things that are placed on tables in houses and the writing on posters you can truly appreciate the small details put into this game. I remember one instance where I was walking down a side alley and I turned around and realized that the ground I was walking on was actually severed heads.

But most of my issues with this title were put to rest with the ending. The best part of my experience is when I defeated the final boss and was about the throw my controller against a wall due to feeling cheated storyline wise and difficulty wise when the game decides it’s not actually over. The difficulty ramped up for one epic final battle and the story was explained thoroughly. Let’s just say that all of my problems went away when I started to tear up during the final scene. I didn’t realize I was so involved with the character until this point and I was very happy to see that the game obviously is setting itself up for a sequel.

To wrap things up I would say it took about 10-15 hours to complete the game on the highest difficulty. Achievement wise I had only three left to get by the end of the game and that was partly due to the fact that the game doesn’t give you the stacked achievement for beating it on the highest difficulty (IE: I got the achievement for beating it on Hard but it didn’t give me the one for beating it on easy and normal as well) and I also never collected all the red gems. To be honest, I loved the game. It was a great romp through hell with amazing dialogue, near perfect music, and game play that even though it has been done before it still kept things fresh. Some of you may find it too linear or the story too odd to wrap your head around but for me this was a great experience and well worth my $60.00. But be warned other than going back for achievements there is no replay value in this game. You unlock nothing by beating it and you can’t go back and chose to replay any levels.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

BREAKDOWN:

Music: 9.5 (Nearly flawless soundtrack and effects)

Storyline: 8.0/10 (It’s hard to rate this, it’s all about preference. It’s quirky and charming but also heavy and dark. It’s hard to place a rating on this but the ability to make me tear up when it’s all over it priceless)

Character Design: 9.5 (It will be hard not to consider Garcia and Johnson as best duo of 2011 and the bosses are unique in twisted ways. I wish the common enemies were a bit more diverse but that’s a minor issue)

Gameplay: 7.5 ( We’ve done this all before with Resident Evil but strategic elements to fights regarding the darkness keep things somewhat fresh. The boss battles are where this game truly shines.)

Graphics: 7.5 (Things look beautiful enough when you’re close. But the texturing doesn’t load as fast as I would like it to. Nothing particularly special.)

 Overall Fun Factor: 8.5 (It’s hard not to have a blast with this game. At least for me it was. Despite it’s flaws I found myself wanting more when it was over. I would normally lower the score due to its lack of replay-ability but the experience I had when all was said and done was too fulfilling for me.

Final Thoughts: I can’t wait for a sequel. It won’t be a must have for everyone but I felt that even though I spent $60 on this game that I got my monies worth on one play through.

 

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