So… Dream Team, eh?
HIGH The Moor Pu Dekcuf.
LOW The "Big Boner" and chase sequences.
WTF Justine looks like a reject from the Metal Gear Solid series.
I've heard mention that the poor sales of Shadows of the Damned were both surprising and disappointing given the powerhouse creative talent behind it. After having played through the game myself, I'm surprised that anyone was surprised. While on paper it seems as though all the right elements are in place, there's no denying that the game never comes together and delivers the way a real winner should.
To be brutally honest (and to disagree with Mike Bracken in his main review) I think Suda 51's reputation as some sort of bad-boy creative genius isn't quite deserved. Rather than crafting engrossing masterworks, he's more adept at stringing together conceptual limericks while constantly winking at the player and hoping that it passes for more than what's there.
For example, Garcia's kidnapped girlfriend Paula makes numerous appearances throughout the game, but instead of being horrific or evoking an emotional response in the player, they don't serve much purpose at all. It's almost as though Suda 51 had intended to tighten the psychological screws by constantly taunting visions of Paula's torment, but they come off as bizarre cameos, or just annoyances. (It probably doesn't help that the game isn't even remotely scary—it's more like a dark sitcom.)
An even bigger misstep is the fact that the game's main antagonist, Fleming, makes an appearance in the opening scene and then isn't heard from again until the end of the adventure. It's hard to get much satisfaction from killing someone who's been absent for the bulk of playtime, and there's no dramatic weight when the encounter finally happens. The same goes for the "Justine" character who pops up several times without ever showing any personality. The player has no motivation to go after her apart from the fact that the game demands it.
Looking at Garcia and Johnson themselves, I found neither to be very memorable or appealing. They suit their purpose, but I doubt they'll end up on any "greatest characters" lists. Part of the problem is that it's hard to build a connection with characters who are constantly spouting expletives and penis references regardless of the situation. I don't have a problem with that content per se, but the writing is one-note from start to finish, and I can't say that I ever found it particularly clever or humorous. Rather than the cool, cocky Han Solo that it's trying so hard to be, Shadows of the Damned comes off like a cosplayer in an ill-fitting vest who's memorized the lines but carries none of the swagger.
As far as the gameplay, it fares slightly better than the writing. Although the shamefully lazy locked doors were too plentiful and the nonsensical 2D shmup sections were a bad idea, I appreciated the fact that the bulk of Garcia's trip through Hell is a sped-up and streamlined Resident Evil. From that perspective it satisfies to a decent degree, though players who dislike linearity should stay far away.
Otherwise, I also appreciated the "darkness" mechanic that served to add tension and variety to what would have otherwise been a continuous string of corridors and shoot-outs. It's an interesting idea, and really, the only unique element that Shadows of the Damned can claim. That said, the darkness isn't substantial enough to push the game into "recommend" status. Blasting demons is fine for a time, but even at a speedy eight hours, I felt as though the game ran out of ideas before credits rolled.
Despite the generally brisk pace, the darkness, and an interesting interpretation of the underworld in its favor, it's hard to think of Shadows of the Damned as anything other than a forgettable weekend diversion. With lightweight characters, straightforward shooting and a story that never really gets going, it was a title that served to fill a gap in my review schedule, but little else.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via [rental] and reviewed on the [Xbox 360]. Approximately 9 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times). There are no multiplayer modes.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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