Status : Game cleared (hard)
For those of you who checked out my Infamous 2 review, at the end I promised to cover Duke Nukem Forever, but as it turns out, the game was so awful yet so fascinating that I decided to attempt a defense for the game instead. A full length review would be redundant, and as it just so happens, I was saved by the bell (my Shadows of the Damned package).
The love child of a trio well known to the gaming community : Akira Yamaoka, former composer of the Silent Hill series, Shinji Mikami who is responsible for a certain Resident Evil series (notably RE4 which he directed as well as Godhand) and Suda51 who brought such games as No More Heroes and Killer 7 (the latter of which had Mikami as the executive producer).
It makes sense, the game has a heavy Killer 7 vibe going on. Not with the politically complex themes, oh no, the foreshadowing is way too apparent, and the game revels more in being over the top and obscene than trying to make the player piece the story together bit by bit. The combat feels very reminiscent of fending off various Heaven’s Smile types for those of you familiar with them.
For the most part, control and aiming follows the standard set by Resident Evil 4. There is no inventory because all there is are weapons and healing items. Ammo is semi-unlimited, scattered around are crates with one of three types that respawn after a short period. There are only three weapons to the game, but they evolve over time.
The Boner functions like your traditional handgun; alright ammo capacity and decent damage when upgraded. Eventually it becomes the Hotboner which fires bombs that you then shoot in order to detonate it. The splash damage can of course hurt Garcia (I killed myself to test it out). It upgrades once more to the Big Boner, but it’s only used in one level.
If a harder punch is more your style, then there’s the Skullcussioner. It shoots skulls that hit harder at close range. Later, it becomes the Skullfest 9000 which can charge and fire up to 4 skulls at a time. Eventually, it gains another ability that if you charge it longer than 4 skulls, it fires one single giant skull in an arc like a grenade launcher.
My favorite gun, and the one that gains the most dramatic upgrades is the Teether. At first it functions like any SMG in a RE game. Its evolution, the Teethgrinder doubles the rate of fire while accuracy diminishes. Its final form, The Dentist fires at a ridiculous speed, but adds a lock-on feature so that your bullets actually hit. If upgraded properly, it’s the most useful end-game weapon.
Now, we’re all adults here, so I’ll be perfectly honest and say I was fucking blazed 90% of this playthrough. Because of this, I swear that the baby-demon-doors are the cutest things I’ve ever seen… there’s just something about that giggle when you feed them what they want (eyeballs, brains or strawberries). Also, when I first saw George (the first boss) I was terrified to say the least, and left the game on overnight so I could finish it the next day in less of a panic.
In the least, my first night got me into the atmosphere of Shadows of the Damned. Over the course of the next few levels I learned how the weapons functioned and the formula the game follows. Prior to each boss fight, you get to read a story related to the spectacular deaths each boss suffered in the real world, which adds personality to what you’re fighting.
On hard, the difficulty curve was surprisingly small. In a typical game, you would expect things to start off easy and then gradually increase to some plateau. Here, the bosses start off difficult, but toward the end, they’re about as difficult as before. It’s all about finding the right way to damage them and then exploiting it properly, otherwise the increased difficulty is just a larger amount of demons to kill in a given area. Aside from one glitchy as fuck boss that I’ll discuss later, the game’s progression feels nice and steady. With an unlimited supply of ammo at your disposal, heath drinks that drop from the many crates and barrels you can blow up in the game, and periodic shops where you can buy both if you find yourself running low, the overall ride is nice and comfy, especially if you’re smart in your spending and upgrading habits.
On the bad side, the game is linear, and frequently blocks you from backtracking to see if you missed any red gems or secrets laying around. On the good side, the vendor of the game sells an unlimited supply of red gems (80 in total are needed in order to get all possible upgrades and a trophy/achievement), so if you missed one or two, it’s no problem! Just be prepared to grind a ton of gems in the game’s few unlimited demon spawning sections in order to do so…
There are other ways to make reduce the difficulty such as roll-spamming. I didn’t realize this until near the end of the game, but the invulnerability time while rolling is generous enough that if you continuously roll, Garcia is nearly untouchable. With red gems you can purchase up to 10 boosts to your max hp. If done while at low health, this upgrade refills your health too, saving even more of your precious liquor.
Levels range from incredibly long to a single room in duration. A dreadfully long stage may lead to something that plays more like a mini-game in typical Suda51 fashion. Late in the game, puzzles begin to surface… they’re a pain in the ass, like the one that has you spamming your flare gun trying to hit arrows with the terrible flare gun collision detection. Luckily I practiced my flaregun in Timesplitters 3, which spirals far worse than this one. Also it’s great that you get unlimited flares (they stun most enemies for a duration that increases with red gems)
My one gripe with the game surfaced during the second to last boss battle. My bombs would collide with an imaginary solid surface in midair at times that I had mere seconds to execute the bomb attack. My ammo meter lied to me, telling me that it only has 3 skulls in my clip, when I need all 4 to shoot the giant skull, and jamming the reload button would do nothing. I looked up a faq on how to finish the fight, because it dragged on about 20 minutes without it revealing its weak spot as it is supposed to after it takes a certain amount of damage. Round after round of my flaming hot boner, and nothing to show. I repeated this segment of the fight 3 times before I just got fed up, blasted the fuck out of it with my maxed out The Dentist and it finally gave in. Most frustrating point in the game by far.
I will not let that one fight take my opinion down though. The game is far too unique to pass up. Bringing everything together is a masterfully eccentric soundtrack courtesy of Akira Yamaoka. Along for the ride are other familiar names to those who played the later Silent Hill games Yamaoka worked on : Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Joe Romersa – they’re all in there somewhere. I’m glad to see them all still together after the big departure from Silent Hill.
In fact this is exactly what Shadows of the Damned feels like in the end. The gathering of a great set of game designers and musicians who in some cases crossed paths during other projects. It has elements of each one of their styles and what results is a game that could appeal to a wide variety of gamer tastes.