Thursday, December 3, 2015

VGR Shadows of the Damned

Demons are like men. They're always trying to get into the prettiest girl.

Here's the craziest...weirdiest...SEXIEST thing you'll ever seen!

Flowers, sun, rain, some guy named Mondo and people killing the past? Time for a Suda51 game!

VGR: Shadows of the Damned, initially tentatively titled as Close, Kurayami and Darkness 
From Grasshopper Manufacture/Electronic Arts
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3

Type 3rd Person Shooter shooter/Survival Horror game
Year 2011 

A game that doesn't take its first two acts setting up the final act in Hell but just drops you there on a bike in the first 5 minutes!? Where do I sign?!

Shadows of the Damned is a pretty strange game. I plays and feels like a 3rd person action game, but underneath the paintjob is a slow-paced tight challenging survival horror, with the atmosphere of a creepy psychological horror story. Not surprising when you know who's responsible for the game.

The game was released on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2011.

Following Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture's immense success with the No More Heroes series and a remake of the 2001 PS2 classic Flower, Sun, and Rain for the Nintendo DS, Suda could now afford new more ambitious projects. 

Shadows of the Damned was born out of a collaborative effort between Goichi Suda's wild imagination and a co-development with Shinji Mikami, the creator of the Resident Evil series, published through EA.

Combining two different game designs and their respective styles, namely mixing a "punk rock" edge with horror thrills. And if that wasn't enough Suda even got the music composer and executive producer of the Silent Hill series, Akira Yamaoka to bring up the most tense atmosphere he could to this crazy adventure.

The story of the game can be boiled down to your fairly standard cliché video game classic "damsel in distress" scenario... with a twist!

Our story begins like 90% of Suda's game - in a hotel room. We are introduced to our main gal - Paula.... who gets immediately kidnapped by a bunch of creepy demons!! Fleming, the Lord of Demons, sent them after Paula! And now it's up to Garcia Hotspur to save his girlfriend!

The awesomely named Garcia Hotspur must travel to the City of the Damned to save his love from an eternity of torment at the hands of Fleming and his hordes of demons where she will be killed again and again forever. But Garcia is not alone on his quest! He is followed by his friend and sidekick the demon Johnson who seems to be a floating skull on fire. Johnson can also take the form of a torch, a moto and guns!

The game sees Garcia and Johnson traveling through the demons underworld, facing all kind of creatures Fleming set on their path. There Garcia must avoid the darkness that runs through the demon world, which can tear human flesh to pieces. 

The objective is always pictured on screen in-between levels (like the classic Doom games in a way) which shows you how far Fleming's castle is.

On the way you will face several other unique characters such as this other demon hunter named Colonel who's also on a quest to avenge the death of a loved one, Christopher, a half-human/half-demon hybrid who serves as the ingame store, as well as the several demon bosses all unique in their own way.

Only to finally reach Fleming and save Paula.. and learn the real reason the demon was interested in her in the first place.. The answer might surprise you! (But we kinda see it coming..)

Gameplay can only be summarized as your typical modern survival horror game with more emphasis on action compared to tension. If you're familiar with Resident Evil 4, 5, 6 or Dead Space 1 and 2 you probably get the idea.

You control Garcia from a third person perspective. He's just "equipped" with his sidekick Johnson to help out. There's a lot of banter through the game, Johnson keeps talking all the time. Our "big Johnson" can turn into a torch as a source of light or for melee attacks. And he changes into your three different weapons which act as a pistol, shotgun and rifle. You can upgrade Johnson through the game as you defeat boss demons. There's also a light RPG-style experience system to upgrade defense, attack and range of all your weapons with these red gems you can either find or buy.  

Taking a note from recent innovative survival horror titles like Alone in the Dark (2008) and Alan Wake there's also a whole light dynamic. You can fire light bullets to fight the "darkness" spreading through hell or weaken demons covered in darkness. It also makes demons stronger so you might wanna hit a goat's head in the scenery which will light the area. This light mechanic is often a source of environmental puzzles, which you need to solve to open locked doors and closed areas.

In fact the game contains quite a surprising big share of puzzles. These puzzles pop up from time to time and they're pretty reminiscent of earlier RE games.

The game also contains quite a few random minigames thrown in for good measure. Sometimes the game will turn into a puppet-theater 2D sidescroller shoot 'em up, just because! While it doesn't happen often, near the end there's quite a few segments like this in your way. They start fun (and remind me of the recent Rayman games in a way) but they get a bit tedious and repetitive later on.

Shadows of the Damned began its life as early as 2005. Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami have been friends since they worked together on Capcom's Killer7. They always wanted to make another game together. The first idea was to make a survival horror PS3 title. After a first exploration into the genre by himself with Michigan: Report From Hell, Suda started conceiving ideas for a game that would be named Kurayami (or Darkness in English). When he got EA in 2008 to publish the game, he was able to get a proper easier modern game engine (the "Unreal Engine 3"). He finally took the chance to get Mikami back on board.

Things took their final form when he also got Akira Yamaoka (sound designer on the Silent Hill series) on the project, who really loved Suda's No More Heroes games.  

The first draft was a much more different game which would have seen our hero starting shirtless with no guns and he would then acquire clothes and better weapons through the games. A lot of ideas were thrown around, for one Paula was actually living inside Garcia's gun before they gave the gun a life on its own.

The final product is now a completely different game, following a much simpler Mario/Princess Peach/Bowser typical scenario.

Despite being originally intended as a much more serious and darker game, I really like the way it turned out. It kind of combines the best of both worlds. The game plays like a fairly standard 3rd person shooter like most survival horror titles sadly do nowadays. But since this comes from the "grandfather of the genre", Shinji Mikami was able to do his own twist on an overused formula. And you even find yourself running low on health and ammo if you don't manage well enough your ingame money. For one it has a lot of psychological horror elements, the twisted scenery and psychological attacks of all sorts on our hero. And for two, Suda brought his own unique twisted sense of humor, tongue-in-cheek dialogues and humorous meta approach. Nothing takes itself too seriously. It all works pretty well on screen.

The game also has a pretty decent cast of voice actors led by a great Steve Blum (Wolverine in most media these days) who carries quite a lot of the game on his shoulders alongside Jonny Rees who plays Johnson. And despite only having two major scenes in the whole game - in the beginning and at the end - Paul Mercier makes for quite a great opponent a the voice of Fleming. The rest of the cast features familiar voices like Tara Strong, Yuri Lowenthal and other big name voice actors.

The game is simply hilarious! It's great horror and campy, a really fun story. While the main gameplay is not really something we've never seen before, the role light and darkness play in the gameplay fits quite well the game. It's a pretty neat mechanic.

Plus the great general sense of humor of the game really brings it all up. The game feels sort of like a parody of modern 3rd person survival horror action games. Specifically the last few Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. Not just the music but also the imagery and gameplay mechanics. I mean using an alternate world to move around is fairly reminiscent of the Silent Hill series.

The humor, the tongue-in-cheek dialogues and the constantly breaking the 4th wall approach really define the tone of the game. It never takes itself too seriously like so many games nwoadays.

I mean, how many video games have whole stages above giant naked ladies dancing in hell?

Johnson really steals the show. His camaraderie and sarcastic comments really bring a lot to the characters. Our double-entendre handy torch/gun/sidekick is hilarious through the game! And Garcia himself is one tough badass protagonist, a tattooed foul-mouthed grindhouse-style hero who doesn't take shit from no demon, even from the devil himself! They have some great banter between these two.

The game also has a great badass imagery. The environments are pretty varied and creepy despite the first impression might gave you. I really loved the dark and saturated aesthetic of the whole game. Kinda taking to the extreme what Suda did with No More Heroes and Killer7. There's some many great creepy places. The demons look great if that all kinda look similar as well. I mean, did you look at those creepy baby face door keepers?! Now that's some serious effed up shit! The City of the Damned is one hell of a place!

Shadows of the Damned is a really fun game that will keep you on your toes despite its fairly linear straightforward nature.

The game is long, challenging and full of surprises. Plus there's a NewGame+ mode for those that will want to explore the game some more.

When it's all said and done, Shadows of the Damned is a funny 3rd person shooter/survival horror game taking entirely place in hell! I'm just sad we saw so little of the urban environment at the beginning, I kinda wish we could have gotten back and forth from Hell like the Doom series.

Also the game got kind of tedious in the last few chapters.

The story reminded me a lot of the old (and modern) Splatterhouse games, it's basically the same plot!

The story is worth following with a great tone. The game is full of hilarious cheesy dialogues and bad jokes, it was really fun. 

There even was a lot of references to the likes of Evil Dead & the Ghostbuster films. There also was a ton of allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy, such as Fleming having six eyes like Satan's classic depiction.

And let's not forget the fantastic music. Akira Yamaoka composed an absolutely phenomenal score that mixes creepy suspenseful tension, badass over-the-top guitar riffs and his signature theme songs similar to Silent Hill's.

Overall, Shadows of the Damned is a fantastic underrated classic! One of Suda's best titles despite its fairly obscure nature. A Recommended for any fans of the genre or any of its creators.

The game received a lot of really good reviews and reception at the time yet it didn't sell that well.

It might look a bit generic before playing it, but it has a lot of character and personality. Using darkness is an important part of the gameplay. The game tries to shake things up from time to time, with entire levels radically departing from the rest of random minigames inserted in the game from time to time. But what really sold it to me was the humor, it's just a really funny game with and over-the-top story and a gorgeous art style. A few interesting environmental puzzles. And some frustrating boss fights like any good game should have.
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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