Review: Shadows Of The Damned
“My name is Garcia Fucking Hotspur, and before you die, I will carve my name into your flesh.”
- Worth The Time?Any game that sings to you after you complete it is certainly worth the time. This one is no exception.
- Things LovedThe comedy, the game mechanics, the protagonist, the game’s art direction and innovation.
- Things HatedThe linearity of the game, the lack of a chapter select.
- RecommendationIf you enjoy comedy in your games and aren’t easily irritated with bad puns or a silly joke here and there, or you just enjoy third person horror type games, then buy this game. If you’re a more serious type who prefers games that are more drama and less sitcom, then don’t buy this game. Also, try a fucking laugh now and again…
- Name: Shadows Of The Damned
- Genre: Third Person Shooter Action Horror Comedy (seriously)
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R 450
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Shadows Of The Damned.
The cover had a picture of a guy in an ironically purple jacket with scars all over his face and swept back hair, very Mexican hombre like, wielding a laser-scoped, extremely intricate style of metallic-finished uber-gun which gives whole new meaning to the term “skull fucked”.
I loaded up the game and was immediately greeted by the familiar EA logo, in a themed guise, and the developer’s logo as well, and then one telling me that this game was developed in that all too familiar Unreal Engine that we’ve come to adore.
Next? Achievement Unlocked.
I hadn’t yet actually even hit a button and I got 5 Gamerscore.
Puzzled, I proceeded to adjust gamma settings as requested by the game before it immediately threw me into a short credits sequence followed by a loading screen and a cutscene straight after, neither of which made much sense.
The first thought I had once I got control of my character was “ooh, this feels a little like Resident Evil”. Indeed there are a lot of cues from Capcom’s games that seem ever so slightly familiar here, though they were never really convincing enough, for those shouting out “Resident Evil clone”. The A button allowed me to do a quick 180. Always handy when fighting the Damned, I assumed.
And of course, there’s that badass laser-pointed skull-fucker of a gun, in my hands.
The game plays out in what seems like an attempt at a cinematic style with the camera blackening out at the edges of the screen to give a sort of tunnel vision appearance to the game.
At this point, I still have no clue what the fuck this game even is, to be honest…
Oh look! Zombie / Undead / Damned / Whatever-they’re-called-in-this-game to shoot.
Yay! I mow them down with my aim and shoot skills, the camera taking the chance to slow things down and do a behind-the-bullet shot each time I nail a headshot, and then they’re all dead, cool, so what was that about Resident Evil?
Some story occurs in this apartment somewhere and it is then revealed that our tattooed protagonist’s name is Garcia Hotspur, he is indeed Mexican, and he, that is you, are some sort of demon slayer.
Upon the big bad (spoilers) taking your (spoilers) down into the (spoilers), Garcia chases after and ends up making his way to the underworld. Hell, basically. But let’s call it the underworld to keep to the theme.
How will he get there? Well remember that gun you wield? Turns out it’s a motherfucking demon. That’s right, your gun is a demon! And it morphs into a motherfucking motorbike! And it has a motherfucking British accent!
Garcia hops on and rides off on some arbitrary road to the underworld, after spouting some lulzy lines.
That’s when the proper “New Game” screen comes up, and it hits me…
Shadows of the Damned is portrayed as a serious game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. In a way it’s like Devil May Cry — another Capcom game — in that the protagonist is a parody of cool. He’s got the tattoos, he’s got the badass weaponry, but he still makes jokes and doesn’t care how silly he looks while doing it. Or so I thought from the first impression that I got from witnessing him in action.
So far so good.
I start up a New Game.
This is a review, not a walkthrough, so let’s talk about other aspects of the game.
To be honest, the graphics are not the best.
You have seen a lot better in other games, but considering the relatively unknown status of this developer — whose only other games that I know of are No More Heroes and Killer7 — and the fact that it’s based on the Unreal Engine, it’s not so bad that it makes the game ugly, or unplayable.
In fact, though it lacks graphical fidelity, it’s actually aesthetically amazing.
That is to say, everything fits to the theme of the game. Some of the areas in fact are very aesthetically pleasing, even if the actual detail or graphical fidelity isn’t too high. You can tell that the developers didn’t really care much to focus graphics, up to some point.
It’s definitely a plus point to have a game that shirks on graphical fidelity to provide pleasant aesthetics. More on that later….
The soundtrack played on pretty much throughout the intro parts of the game, during cutscenes, actual gameplay and even in the menus. And that’s okay because it was actually quite good. It fit the theme of the game well and the riffs and beats never really felt out of place. A fan of rock music would have enjoyed the early bits of the game purely for the soundtrack.
And then later on it took a turn for the decidedly more strange and unfamiliar, yet it still somehow found ways to add in riffs and a little Mexican flair as you went along.
At no point in the game did I feel that the soundtrack was out of place or implemented incorrectly, unless of course that was a deliberate design choice, as you might notice from the loading screens which use a rather more soothing Jazz Comedy Club type of sound over the action-esque music of the game sequences. Again, more on this later…
At any point in the game, in the Pause Menu, you may reference various aspects of the game a la Codex entries or Journals through what’s called the Johnsonpedia. Johnson is the name of your gun-motorbike-torchlight demon companion who accompanies you on your quest through the underworld to defeat the big (spoilers) and (spoilers) your (spoilers) from eternal (spoilers). He will explain what is required of you at various points in levels and acts as probably one of the best-implemented talking tutorials that you will find in a game. He’s also good comic relief at times. More on this, right now!
Shadows Of The Damned is, first and foremost, a horror-centric title. It has blood, guts, gore and guns that you use to create the first three things. But as mentioned already, the game does not take itself seriously at all, whatsoever.
Almost everything in the game is created with some element of humour to it.
In that sense, a lot of the game mechanics are handled and implemented ingeniously by encapsulating arbitrary game elements such as save points and health kits into the game’s story, with everything existing for a reason.
Without spoiling anything, the easiest example is the consumption of alcohol to regain health. Yes, consuming alcohol in the underworld heals you. And Absinthe is your Large Med Kit equivalent. Winning already?
There is also a checkpoint system that the game implements by walking up to and awakening a demon — Johnson’s distant cousin, even — named One-Eyed Will, who will pop out a little demon-poop in startled surprise and fly off, causing the game to save.
It’s that kind of ridiculousness that is on display all through the game.
There are even entire sequences later on that will have your eyes popping out of their sockets, while you laugh at the cheek of the game.
Equally ridiculous is the way that Garcia will simply flop over like a plank when his health reaches zero, and then the loading screen will show him getting up and carrying on walking, a la Johnny Walker.
It’s quirky, it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, whatsoever.
The combo of Garcia and Johnson spend most of the game one-upping each other with various innuendos and dick jokes. In fact, that might be the only criticism of the humour that I have from the game. Way too many dick jokes. Some funny, some cringe-worthy. At times, they do come across as forced, and it’s only forgiveable because that was no doubt a design choice, to take the limits of sexual perversions, and break them. Hard.
Johnson himself is quite adamant in talking about the size of his <bleep> at times.
Caution: Prolonged exposure to this game will result in a boobies level. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The duo will also regularly break the fourth wall, something that is refreshing, and doesn’t happen a lot in gaming.
Apart from what was already detailed with regards to the health and the save systems, the game employs similar tactics in other areas as well.
Throughout the game you collect various gems, of the White, Blue and Red variety. The latter is your “skill points” gem that is used to increase such things as the damage, reload time and capacity of your weaponry, while the former is your in-game currency. Blue gems are provided after every boss fight, and will upgrade your basic weaponry as the game goes on.
What are those weapons? Well Johnson doesn’t just morph into a skull-fucking pistol. He also has a sub-machine gun variant that fires teeth and a shotgun variant that fires skulls. These are your weapons for the game, and the combination of the three as the game goes on, never gets stale or tiresome thanks to those blue gems providing more and more usage for each.
All guns have a common secondary fire known as the Light Shot, which is basically a shot of pure light, useful for stunning enemies and lighting up areas using torch-lamps and… Wait I’ll get to that in a second.
As an example of the innuendo in the game, the pistol once upgraded is called the Hot Boner which shoots an explosive payload as its charged secondary fire. Phoreals.
Your in-game currency is spent in two ways: Either you find a vending machine and buy alcohol, for healing purposes, or you speak to a half-human, half-demon known as Christopher, whom you meet early on in the game, that will provide you with ammunition, health and red gems so long as you feed him white gems. He then regurgitates whatever you paid for. Yeah…
Another system that is implemented in this game is that of The Darkness.
Essentially the underworld thrives in a place devoid of light, and the introduction of light is actually a hindrance to most of the underworld’s denizens. As a result, while in The Darkness, a sort of all-encapsulating atmosphere that oozes out of various objects in the game, almost all enemies are invulnerable to damage and you subsequently take damage to your health if you remain exposed in The Darkness for too long.
How do you abolish The Darkness then? Well how can I say this… You shoot a goat in the head on a wall with your Light Shot and the candles on the “crown” that it wears light up and all The Darkness dissipates. Words can’t describe the weird feeling that engulfs you the first time you do that.
If there is no goat head on a wall, and during various parts of the game you’re expected to move through The Darkness without it, you instead get to replenish your exposure timer and therefore not lose health by, wait for it, eating human hearts. Or at least running past human hearts in orbs, in actual gameplay.
It’s ridiculous and yet brilliant at the same time.
The game itself takes place over five acts, akin to a Shakespeare novel, or indeed Super Mario. Act 1 is pretty much just the prologue, and the game proper, starts at Act 2. From there it’s a downward spiral through the depths of the underworld to reach your intended destination, the lord of the underworld’s lair. Stereotypes aside, it’s actually quite a wild ride getting there, with a lot of plot twists along the way.
Indeed there are some parts of the story that you will truly not see coming, and some other parts that you will see coming that will end with you affected by it nonetheless. The game is emotionally engaging in that respect, without needing to actually be serious for too long.
Throughout the game you will encounter various characters that serve as either boss battles or story filler, usually always ending fatally in either case.
Each of these “boss” characters will feature in a separate Act. The boss battles themselves are alluded to over the duration of the Act and the actual story of how the “boss” character came to be, is told to the gamer through, and I shit you not, storybooks and posters.
Throughout the game you will also fight what we’ll call an amalgamation of the Sisters of Fate and the Grim Reaper. Essentially the Sisters Grim. Three of them, who are after you and pretty much anyone else they deem worthy of murdering. Their story as well is told through storybooks that either Garcia or Johnson will read out loud to the gamer.
Now it may not sound very interesting but because the stories are told so well and thanks to the chemistry between Garcia and Johnson, it’s always delightful to experience such things in the game with Garcia struggling to pronounce certain words and Johnson always turning sentences into a sexual perversion of some kind.
The “boss” characters themselves are interesting and carry a lore to the story, per character, that fits well with the overhanging theme of the game, as well as adding to the ridiculousness of it all. Without spoiling actual story, at some point you will fight a grossly enlarged humanoid figure with a goat’s head, that pisses The Darkness. I know, right?
Coming back to the reading of storybooks, essentially oral presentation — sexual perversions aside — in a game, as well as Garcia’s inability to pronounce certain words in English, in fact the simple truth that Garcia is a Mexican man…
Tell me, when last have you played a game with a Mexican protagonist?
Grim Fandango? Okay but that was a fucking skeleton. Name another game.
To my knowledge, this is the first game to feature a true Mexican protagonist in Garcia Hotspur, who clearly does not speak English as his first language and exhibits a specific trait that goes a long way to explaining the point of this game.
That trait quite simply is a term called “machismo”.
What this means for the culturally unaware is the (very Mexican) expression or exaggeration even, of masculinity, usually showing dominance over femininity but not always the case, though you sort of imply it when you mention machismo.
Essentially you’re saying that a person displays “machismo” when they are showing exaggerated masculinity and believe themselves to be of the highest form of strength, because of that.
Garcia Hotspur exhibits “machismo” all throughout the game.
He embodies it.
Nowhere in the game is this made apparent than a level in which you use what’s called the Big Boner, an elongated version of your normal pistol, with Garcia holding it in a specific way — basically as though it’s a phallus — and shooting, well, big things… Err…
Now this shouldn’t be confused with misogyny or chauvinism, Garcia Fucking Hotspur is very much not Duke Nukem and he will never be Duke Nukem. That guy’s a royal prick.
No, Garcia Hotspur is your quintessential, culturally accurate portrayal of a Mexican man, in a game. Give or take the ridiculous tattoos, the demon hunting, and the ironically purple jacket.
In fact, a lot of this game is a culturally accurate portrayal of Mexican ideals.
The orally presented storybooks that detail the “boss” characters, for example. The soundtrack, for another.
Then there’s the presentation of later levels, which I won’t spoil for you guys but the pictures themselves can tell the story for me.
All of this simply alludes to a single over-arching point.
Shadows Of The Damned is a grand old metaphor for the Mexican culture, with some Japanese developer lopping on fair helpings of comedy, horror and action, to taste…
The game certainly does more as a reflection of art in gaming, than many other art-centric games.
I would compare this game to BioShock in that sense.
Not necessarily in that it’s a harrowing portrayal of a broken paradise and the failings of a single man’s dream, but more in the sense that it is an exhibition and a genuine example of games as an art form.
The sad truth is that this will fly right over the heads of many people who play it. They simply won’t understand the underlying influences of the game, and that’s actually quite sad.
Thankfully, they’ll be too busy having fun to tire of it, anyway.