When Shinji Mikami made the original Resident Evil for the PSone, no one knew he was changing the face of interactive horror forever. But, a few years on and with more than enough saturation, the series and its staple visual and traversal delivery became nothing but stale, awkward gameplay options. You sort of played it because
it was Resident Evil, despite the rest of the industry moving beyond.
So, in steps Mikami again to reinvent the series, and this time action games are changed forever with his vision. And in one fell swoop. Resident Evil 4 is regarded by many as the most revolutionary action title in the last 10 years, and rightly so. It took actual horror to a level of intensity no other ‘horror’ title had, especially over the cheap scares Mikami’s own series had popularised. This was done with an arsenal of moves and actions at your finger-tips in a fully 3D game-world, replete with context-sensitive actions and a creepy army of villagers-turned-monsters. Where the original games had used camera trickery and locked, bitmapped backgrounds you could only move through
, Resident Evil 4 gave you all the running-away room you needed.
So it’s best to point out early on that Shadows of the Damned is very much a Shinji Mikami joint, if he shared said joint
with the already industry esoteric Suda 51 (Killer 7, No More Heroes). Where the two combine is in visual delivery, but where they shine individually is in action and comedy (the latter being Suda’s shtick).
We’re used to seeing crazy
from Japanese developers, but honestly the combination of these two on a single product takes the cake. The game pokes fun at so many other titles from the genre - that oft take themselves very, very seriously - while also making fun of itself. Your weapon’s name is Johnson, for example, and at one point you level him up by calling a phone-sex hotline (the irony here being, it’s likely Johnson is gay). The layers upon layers of comedy are so thick, it’s a joke in and of itself, especially because it’s all neatly wrapped in an actual videogame that follows some pretty old-school rules.
The basic crux is, as Garcia Hotspur - demon hunter, your girlfriend has been kidnapped by the boss of the underworld, Fleming (yep, even more jokes). She’s not just any videogame kidnapee though, as she ends up haunting you throughout your journey to actually save her. She blames you over and over again for allowing it to happen, which is an obvious inside dig at games like Mario and Zelda where the Princess, who is always apparently quite strong, can still be easily taken away again and again. I mean really, if it keeps happening surely Mario and Link should go to lengths to make sure it cant, right?
You then need to descend into the underworld, traversing levels, upgrading weapons, fighting new enemies and defeating bosses. It really is that straight forward. There are a few unique dynamics to the tried and tested formula, such as the battle against all-encompassing dark that requires use of your “Light Shot”, a charged shot from your weapon that can either stop enemies, reveal their weak spots, or be directed at specific parts of the environment to defeat said darkness as it encroaches and eats your energy, or empowers other demons to mess you up.
Moreover, in keeping with the inside gaming jokes, Garcia drinks Tequila to regain health (might be a slight racial stereotype there, too. But hey... ). As mentioned, you’ll also spend much of the game upgrading Johnson who, while a trusty weapon by your side, is very much your guide through the game - kind of like a cross between C3P0 and Nick Frost (to Simon Pegg). He’s usually quite crude, and anyone who actually manages to make their way right through to the end, will be served a reasonably funny treat.
From a gameplay perspective, Shadows of the Damned borrows heavily from the aforementioned Resident Evil 4, though you can walk and aim at the same time (ala Dead Space, actually), which opens up Mikami’s action magic and progression ten-fold. The game is still quite challenging in parts, and the action is utterly satisfying as you play, but it doesn’t vary too much, so don’t go expecting the same kind of impact on the genres as Resi 4 had. Enemy AI is very basic, for example, to the point of being non-existent. Instead you just have different enemy-types to tackle and they do keep you on your toes. A head-shot for the lowest enemies will take them out straight away, while body shots or shooting off their limbs doesn’t do too much at all (which some might see as a slight at Dead Space). What’s interesting though is, with the combination of the action and humour, the game doesn’t really need the sort of dynamism so many other games strive for these days - this is a shooter, straight up. It just happens to be a funny one.
By the by, Shadows of the Damned will not change games, or gaming. But it will make you laugh and will keep you engaged for some time. It’s a solid 10-hour experience for anyone versed in the genre, and if you’re into upgrading and collecting, you could squeeze a bit more out of it. It’s definitely worth the time and investment in my book, as something of an equal throwback, and back-stab (in the comedy sense), at the industry today. Both of the guys behind it are obviously irreverent, and that works for them, especially given the Japanese development market’s lack of creative flair over the past generation (probably why Mikami took his newly formed studio, Tango Gameworkd, to Bethesda to become part of their in-house stable), and for a game like Shadows of the Damned, that attitude couldn’t help more.
Pick this one up if you’re looking for something slightly left-of-centre without breaking any molds.