sunnuntai 16. joulukuuta 2012

REVIEW - Shadows of the Damned | Xbox 360 | 2011

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: June 21, 2011 (PS3)
DEVELOPER(S): Grasshopper Manufacture

We're halfway through the Bond marathon and I've skewered through six games, so let's do something different, an intermission - I know just the game for that. Shinji Mikami is the man you want to thank for Resident Evil. Deeply disappointed with Capcom's decision to publish his masterpiece Resident Evil 4 on the PlayStation 2 against his desire to keep it a GameCube exclusive, he left his pet franchise in mid-2005. Akira Yamaoka is the man responsible for the critically acclaimed, multi-influenced music of most of the Silent Hill series. In 2009, he moved on from Konami and signed a contract with Grasshopper Manufacture, a studio famous for cult games such as killer7 and No More Heroes, due to his adoration of their work, especially that of Goichi Suda, a.k.a. Suda51. It was around that time that a previously announced, mysterious game named Shadows of the Damned was confirmed to be a collaboration between survival horror legends Mikami and Yamaoka, and Suda51, who was known for artful, rough-edged games that were never made to please everyone. In 2011, this future cult horror comedy hit the shelves, pleased the hell out of a lot of folks, but there's no way around the facts that it certainly won't please everyone - least of all women - and that it was a few years late.

Hell ain't a bad place to be

Steve Blum : Garcia Hotspur
Greg Ellis : Johnson
Julianne Buescher : Paula
Paul Mercier : Fleming
Cam Clarke : Christopher
Tara Strong : Justine
Yuri Lowenthal : Elliot
James Mathis III : X
Jeff Salter : George
Susanne Blakeslee : Kauline Grim

Garcia Hotspur is a Mexican demon slayer with a flaming Latino temper and streetwise attitude. Fleming, the head demon and lone tyrant of the underworld, grows tired of Garcia running through his ranks on the surface, and kidnaps his girlfriend Paula to lure him into his abode and let his troops have the home advantage for a change. Armed with a very brief knowledge of the dangers of the underworld, but luckily also with a weaponized former demon named Johnson, Garcia sets out on a journey through hell to save his one true love.

Pure Resident Evil 4, the way we've appreciated
it for years.
I'll start by being totally honest and saying that until a week ago, I had no idea this game even existed. When it comes to games, I blasted through my early teens with Shinji Mikami's work and his most famous creation laid the foundations for one of my all-time favourite franchises. The first thing I fell in love with when it comes to Silent Hill was Akira Yamaoka's music. I was never that much of a Suda51 fan, but Mikami and Yamaoka's affiliations with the game were quite enough to convince me to go and seek this game out. I was actually browsing through titles that sounded interesting, as I was compiling a wishlist for my Backloggery site, and found this game. I'm glad I did, I really am. Not just because of the way it is, but because I predict that in a few years, it will be an extremely valuable cult title.

When it comes to influences, we're talking Evil Dead - we're MOST CERTAINLY talking Evil Dead - From Dusk Till Dawn, Constantine, Zombieland... silly "horror" movies packed to the brim and beyond with action. There are truly frightening moments in this game, but each passing spook is compensated with a dirty joke or a dozen of them. It plays out like Resident Evil, but sounds like a Rockstar game - a lot worse than any of their works, though. Shadows of the Damned is one mold-breaking game in the field of simply being foul. It's foul, dirty, sexist, sometimes plain gross, always hilarious, and very often surreal. You might find yourself hanging onto and depending on the humour a lot more than you would originally expect, since as a gameplay experience, Shadows of the Damned is not bad, of course it isn't, since it's like Resident Evil. But, it's like Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil 4 was six years old when Shadows of the Damned came out. Resident Evil 4 remains a timeless classic, but a whole new carving from the exact same tree in 2011 wasn't such a great idea. Reflecting on the greatest bits of this chauvinist hellride makes me want to state otherwise, but there's no way around it; Shadows of the Damned feels a little old. It's fun - most definitely - it lives up to the most basic standards as a game, it has great music that puts the most recent Silent Hill soundtracks to shame, but it's completely devoid of free exploration, advanced tactics, unlockable extras and any sort of New Game+ option. If the graphics were stripped down a little, the Achievements/Trophies removed and the bad language/imagery cleaned up from a casual "motherfucking cunt" to the point of a well-placed "holy shit!" or two, I'd make a guess this game was made in 2005. Or even earlier.

I'd go to hell for her.
The graphics definitely aren't the best of this generation. Image quality noticeably changes between in-game graphics and cutscenes - like the game was an HD remaster of a last-gen title. Whoa... I just figured that's exactly what the game FEELS like, as well. The quality of the voice acting bounces up and down, constantly; Steve Blum (Garcia) and Greg Ellis (Johnson) have hilarious lines and juicy banter which hits the mark regardless of the quality of the performance, since it's all written so awesomely well. Paul Mercier, who voiced Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4 (see a pattern forming here?) voices the head demon Fleming, and the ever so versatile Cam Clarke pulls a hillbilly ace from his sleeve with the character of Christopher. The music is outright awesome - Yamaoka fans might accuse me of stating the obvious, but let me shove it further in. This is Akira's finest and most consistent work since Silent Hill 2 - extremely versatile stuff, I lost count of all the traces I'm hearing. There's everything from heavy metal to the smokiest jazz of the decade, to his trademark ambient horror themes and emotionally charged soft rock, and of course, a song or two sung by voice actors and frequent collaborators Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker. Classic stuff that has gone, and will probably continue to go unnoticed. Shadows of the Damned proves that Akira Yamaoka is perhaps the top video game composer of the generation, and that he doesn't need a Silent Hill backdrop for great inspiration.

In Shadows of the Damned, you play as Garcia "Fuckin'" Hotspur, who's like a cross between Dante from Devil May Cry and Ash from Evil Dead - a tough guy with a temper that leads him into a lot of trouble, and not the brightest light bulb in general. To balance him out and to guide him through a strange world is a former demon named (and shaped like) Johnson, who usually presents himself in the form of a very phallic torch, but can transform into a pistol (Boner), shotgun (Skullcussioner), machinegun (Teether), and other stuff which Garcia might need in a pinch, but usually this is scripted cutscene stuff. In a very familiar way, Johnson - as well as your maximum health - can be upgraded with red gems, which are hidden all across the otherwise extremely linear path to Fleming's keep. Johnson's different forms can be permanently upgraded with blue gems, which are dropped by the underworld's V.I.P.'s, in other words bosses. In the upgrading process, the weapons' names are changed into something more intimidating (or funnier), like Hot Boner and Teethgrinder. The names of the weapons come from the type of ammo they use, in case you're wondering - bones, teeth and skulls. Yep, nothin' foul about the Boner. Nothin'. All the weapons pack quite a punch once upgraded, and killing demons gets more and more satisfactory on the go. Gruesome murder of demons is the best part of the game - it's something that never gets old. Of course, there are melee attacks as well, from "brutal kills" to vicious stomp attacks, and a Light Shot, which takes a little more explaining, as it is very crucial to your success.

When in trouble, you need a Big Boner.
As soon as the demonic darkness kicks in as a prominent gameplay feature - which is sooner than expected - the game goes from following the footsteps of Resident Evil 4 to following the footsteps of Alan Wake, and not any less than to the capital T. The weapons are changed similarly with each directional button assigned to a different weapon, Garcia's movement is similar (even the control quirks are the same...), and softening your enemies up with light becomes regular, not to mention constant and mandatory business. Every weapon has an alt-fire light attack, which luckily won't consume any of your ammo. The light attack is used to burn darkness off enemies engulfed in it, just like the flashlight and other light-based equipment in Alan Wake, and light lamps to kill the darkness from whole areas. As you can imagine, it won't be so simple throughout. There are clever enemies that can switch the lights back off, creatures that spit out all things dark, and lamps which are impossible to reach without some clever thought. Finally, the (very mild) puzzles in the game usually require you to willingly step into the darkness - which is explained not to be fit for a mortal man. There's a limit to how much darkness you can take without losing health.

All of this seems very familiar. The game is exceptional in terms of humour, but as a game, it would seem Shadows of the Damned brings nothing new to the table - and pulls most of its stunts straight off games that were released years ago. I guess Suda and Mikami predicted that they'd be accused of repeating both Resident Evil 4 and Alan Wake, in particular, so they decided to create a real WTF moment and place it smack in the middle of the game, to shuffle things up. One of the five acts in the game is half standard gameplay, and half retro shoot 'em up. You read absolutely right - retro shoot 'em up. Prominent features such as a truckload of demons and the darkness are featured in these three levels as well, but it plays out very differently, and looks very different. People will love these levels, I certainly did. Nothing more to say about them - they are something you have to see and/or experience for yourselves. There are a few more minigames, but there's nothing quite as surreal, prominent or complex. It seems that these levels partly inspired the latest Grasshopper game, Black Knight Sword, so if you've played that one, you know what to expect.

Meet Christopher. He's a demon, ugly as hell, yet
kind at heart.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Shadows of the Damned is that it's extremely easy for a third-person shooter veteran to conquer, even on the highest difficulty level. There's plenty of spare ammo, and if you run out, more will respawn - immediately - so it isn't really a survival horror game, and it barely passes for horror. The bosses are real easy to figure out, and you'll do fine with minimal upgrades. Actually, the only thing you really want to upgrade is your health - there's no way to upgrade anything to the max anyway, since there's no New Game+. General completists might not enjoy the game all that much, since there are no extras to unlock either. After beating the game on the Legion Hunter difficulty, you probably have all the Trophies/Achievements, too, and after that, there's simply nothing left for you to do. Shadows of the Damned is an experience, but sadly, it's not a lasting one. You might want to replay it, but only because the dialogue is so damn awesome, even if it's not always performed that well. Steve Blum makes for an awful Mexican, to tell you the truth.

It's flawed, for certain, but it's a fun game. A fun game with an one-eyed bird with increased bowel movement for a save point, demons lusting strawberries for doorknobs, alcohol for medicine, and one extremely witty, extremely British, extremely dick-shaped gun for a tutor and your most important tool. It's Shadows of the Damned, and it was out to break taboos left unbroken by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004, but sadly, it seems that it's stuck in the very same year as far as gameplay is concerned.

+ It's COOKY
+ I love killing demons
+ The dialogue is awesome - foul as hell
+ The music is even more awesome - Akira Yamaoka is very near his very best
+ The Demon World shoot 'em up levels are a fun change of pace

- It feels really old, and old-fashioned, from every angle
- The voice acting isn't always on the mark
- The controls are quirky, sprinting is a particular pain
- The game is a little too easy for a shooter vet
- No unlockables at all; without the red gems to distract, it would be a tube run

< 7.6 >

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