by Joseph Barron
previewed on X360
Crazy doesn’t do it justice
In recent years EA have shown that they are willing to take risks on new IP and their latest risk may be their biggest yet. Shadows of the Damned is a "punk rock psychological action thriller" coming from Grasshopper Manufacture, a studio that has gained a cult following with titles such as Killer 7 and No More Heroes. The punk rock aspect of the game comes from Goichi "Suda 51" Suda, the writer and director of Grasshopper's previous hits. His unique sense of humour is being joined in collaboration with Shinji Mikami, the master of psychological action, famed for his work on the Resident Evil series.
This mad partnership makes for one of the most unusual games that you're likely to see this year. The core gameplay is an over-the-shoulder third person shooter similar to Resident Evil 4 and 5, but that is where the similarities end and the insanity begins. The game opens with your girlfriend being killed by a demon that rips her in half from the inside and that’s just the beginning. From there you will experience weirdness such as a slow-motion camera zooming in after shooting a demon in the head just to show off the fountains of blood coming from the undead's neck and doors which are locked by demons' pubic hair. Calling Shadows crazy doesn't really do it justice!
Teethers and Boners
The Story sets you in the role of Garcia Hotspur, a professional demon hunter whose girlfriend is taken taken to Hell by a vengeful demon lord. There, she is forced to die over and over again for the lord's entertainment. Along with your companion - a floating skull named Johnson with a distinct British accent - you must enter into Hell to rescue your girlfriend and defeat the lord of all demons.
Thanks to the ability to move and shoot at the same time, the action is much faster than in many other Japanese survival horror titles, Mikami's Resident Evil included. You start with a pistol called the Boner, which uses bones for ammunition and can be used to aim precisely at demons' heads for a quick kill, or other parts of their anatomy in-order to slow them down. There aren't any slow, shambling zombies in this game so your aim will need to be steady and true. Later weapons include a shotgun that fires skulls and an automatic weapon called the Teether which – you guessed - uses teeth for ammo. This tongue-in-cheek humour has been the hallmark of Suda 51's previous work and fans can look forward to just as much of it in Shadows.
The madness is backed up by gorgeous graphics courtesy of the Unreal 3 engine. Characters are as impressive as they are imposing. The environments have a little bit of the famous Unreal engine shine, but it works well in a game that is so incredibly over-the-top. The lighting is great as well, offering plenty of moody atmospheres to supplement the bizarre action, story and set-pieces.
EA's dream team (or should that be nightmare team?) of Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami want you to squirm simultaneously with horror and delight and its looks like they're almost certainly going to achieve that. Most importantly though and unlike previous Suda 51 titles, the gameplay in Shadows looks to be extremely well executed. Both No More Heroes and Killer 7 suffered at times from gameplay mechanics that became repetitive. However, with Mikami onboard for Shadows the gameplay mechanics seem far more consistent. If the mechanical execution can match the imagination of the story and writing then Shadows of the Damned could be a very special game indeed.