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This is not a ‘Shadows of the Damned’ review

shadows of the damned 210x300 This is not a Shadows of the Damned reviewThere is a poignant, almost beautiful moment in Grasshopper Manufacture’s Shadows of the Damned. Demon hunter Garcia Hotspur happens across a giant storybook; a fable of an upcoming boss’s human existence. Garcia, fresh from splattering buckets of demon blood across the soil outside, reads it aloud, soft-spoken and almost cautious. He struggles to pronounce larger words like “meandered” and “triumphant,” taking time to sound them out. On the next page he is utterly amused with words like “snort,” chuckling to himself and repeating the word again under his breath to see if it has the same comedic value.

Here is a man who has seen his girlfriend ripped away from him by the underworld, and forced to watch as she is tortured and dies a dozen brutal deaths. A man certainly enraged by the events that have unfolded in front of him; yet the developers take a rare moment to show us his softer, more vulnerable side in a stroke of very skilful storytelling.

It’s too bad, then, that the above moment is bookended and spoiled by an onslaught of dick jokes.

Shinji Mikami and Suda 51 are the creative forces behind Shadows of the Damned, and both boast impressive portfolios. Mikami created Resident Evil and went on to contribute to Capcom classics like Viewtiful Joe and Devil May Cry, before turning his full attention to the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4 and later, Vanquish. Goichi Suda (better known as Suda 51) is responsible for Killer7, No More Heroes, and a wealth of other quirky, imaginative games. The undertaker-turned-game developer has a penchant for dark, twisted punk-rock visuals.

These two developers have earned the right for their output to be taken seriously, perhaps even with giddy enthusiasm. So I entered into my Shadows of the Damned playthrough with optimism, hoping that the overtly sexual (and immature) humor in trailers leading up to the release would be the reserved exception and not the beat-it-to-death norm.

That optimism quickly dissipated as my in-game companion Johnson – a much stupider, hornier version of Portal 2’s Wheatley – used any opportunity possible to talk about his imaginary penis, or about Garcia taking hold of it. See, Johnson is a skull-on-a-stick who transforms into Garcia’s weapons; weapons like “The Teether” and “The Big Boner.” He and demon hunter Garcia Hotspur engage in banter fitting for a junior high school playground, and about as tired. These are dick jokes and sexual humor that you grew weary of by the 2nd season of Two and a half Men; penis references from the days of Animal House and Beavis and Butthead.

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Creative, twisted adversaries like the Electrodiode Demon aren't enough to save you from SotD's onslaught of immaturity

Clashing quite abrasively against this ceaseless immaturity is an underworld replete with bizarre creations; goat-heads crunching nonchalantly on food as they illuminate the darkness, baby gatekeepers which demand strawberries and eyeballs, laughing joyously when they’re fed. Picture Jim Henson’s Labyrinth bred with Grindhouse-style horror. The world is populated by ghastly adversaries who put most survival-horror enemies to shame; particularly the frequent boss battles headlined by twisted and emotive characters that are a spectacle to behold and to battle.

All told, this should equal a compelling gameplay experience with its wholly original, twisted visuals, dark storyline and heartfelt touches of narrative brilliance. Of course, then there’s the “Big Boner” level, in which Johnson calls a telephone number specializing in pornographic voice chat in order to, ahem, enlarge himself to fight some especially oversized, nefarious robotic-like enemies. Garcia grasps the newly-formed “Big Boner” shotgun and yells at the top of his lungs “Taste my big boner!” at least 25 times during the sequence. I actually felt a tinge of embarrassment, turning my surround system down for fear of the neighbors overhearing.

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The "Big Boner" level: In practice, a grating and embarrassingly juvenile joke

This is not the kind of content that demands serious attention, and thus won’t get it from us. It’s a Z-movie of the worst order. It’s inspiration gone horribly wrong, marred by consistently cheesy, decades-old dick jokes which, frankly, will lead you to wonder about the developer’s fascination with all things phallic. Grasshopper Manufacture tease us with their creative potential, and then sully their name with a grossly immature, toilet-humor-laden misstep which pervades the entire experience.

Combined with sound glitches and game-breaking bugs such as levels (like “Suburban Nightmares” in Act 4) which fail to load enemies and plot-progressing triggers, leaving only a barren environment to stumble around in, Shadows of the Damned is intended for only the most diehard fans of Mikami and Suda 51. Even then, those fans have been done a huge disservice.

Our suggestion: Skip Shadows of the Damned and track down the game’s masterful soundtrack, composed by the brilliant Akira Yamaoka.

About Jason Evangelho

Jason is VGW’s founder, publisher, and longtime podcaster, writer, and “solopreneur” who is driven by the classic Jello Biafra quote “Don’t hate the media. Become the media.” You can hear him ranting alongside the VGW Collective in the site’s official podcast, “Unlimited Ammo.”

Comments

  1. Caizer39 says:

    sad reviewer is sad, fun games are no good for him

  2. Alison_flemming says:

    Sorry, but you don’t get a free pass for calling your article a non-review. Moreover, it reads like a review. 18 months from now you’re gonna have a whole bunch of these “Not A ‘(insert game here’) Review” cop-outs.

    Thanks for playing.

    • Jen Bosier says:

      Alison,

      Thank you for stopping by and for your comment which does have a good point. In addition to being more casual than one of our standard reviews, Jason’s notes on SotD are missing many key features to a review, and for good reason.  The reason we have this entity is for those rare cases where a game was just so unenjoyable, we didn’t feel as though a review would be either fair or, frankly, add anything to the table.

      However, please be assured you will see a non-review-review such as this on VERY rare occasions. In fact, I think it’s safe to argue that this game was the first in a long (and I mean more than 12 months) time where it felt unplayable to the reviewer. We at VGW pride ourselves on being able to play most anything, so your concerns may rest easy.

      Thank you!

    • Alison, thanks for reading this editorial. The only remark I feel needs to be made in response to your comment is this: Intelligent discourse about a video game can be had without assigning a number to it. 

      • Alison_flemming says:

        Sorry, but the fact that you associate the term “review” with a product critique that needs a rating attached to it has nothing to do with my comment. I know of a number of respectable writers from several news outlets that write reviews without scores, but they don’t treat their no-score editorial stance like it’s a badge of honor.

        Just the very fact that you take a stance on a buy/not buy recommendation at the end of your article and you support that position makes your article a review in the definitive sense.

        • I won’t argue with you, because you’re clearly set in your opinion, and I respect it. Suffice to say that if VGW could please everyone, I suppose it would be one boring read. 

    • I have to come to the defense of Jason on this one. I rented this game and was barely able to choke down 2 hours of it. I would consider an entire play through of this game a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

      I don’t think you can fairly review a game unless you play through it completely. Jason didn’t cop out, he was honest and in the end isn’t that the right way to be. I respect your opinion Alison and see your point, but I think you need to give VGW more credit. You can’t take 2 bites of a 5 course meal and honestly judge it, that’s unfair. This site is outstanding and very fair, and believe me they don’t cop out.

  3. Zomboid-G says:

    I thought the jokes actually added to the bizarre and funny atmosphere of the game.  I am actually a highbrow sort of person, but I knew not to take it seriously.  Yeah, I winced a couple times, but a lot of crude dick jokes aren’t what I’d qualify as game-breaking,  It’s a Suda 51 game.  Roll with it and have fun!

  4. Review/non-review notwithstanding, I appreciate Jason’s observations.  Yes, the game sounds like campy fun, but the immaturity sounds as appealing as a tinfoil sandwich.  For me, games that cater to the juvenile within cannot be excused by the “aw, it’s just a game” lament.  I don’t tolerate more thematically sophisticated games getting dismissed from serious scrutiny for the same reason.

    There are lots of games out there and 2011 is shaping up to be a great year for players and devs alike. I was looking forward to Shadows of the Damned but will now pass.  It’s a little like voting — it might not matter much but for something you take seriously, you gotta stand on principle.

  5. Rebellion says:

    I don’t get the point, SotD looks like Bayonetta, it’s Japanese trash.
    It didn’t claim itself to be taken seriously like Gears, Killzone and other 20.000 T/FPS that at the end they completely fail to give mature content, or for better say, they give mature content from teens point of view.

    • Bayonetta is certainty not trash, it is easily one of the best games to come out of Japan in a long long time. Putting this game in the same category as SoTD is close to sacrilegious. Sure it had some corn ball cut scenes, but the gameplay was ROCK SOLID and I love the chances they took in design, style and music. Platinum Games is an outstanding studio. 

  6. Rented this game, I am with Jason, very very disappointing. I only played it for about 2 hours and was done with it.I was expecting so much more. Haha the music was the best thing about it!

  7. Moofster says:

    Most fun I’ve had this year with a game. There are a few levels that are more annoying than fun, but they are quickly done. The jokes are clearly aimed at a teen audience, but on the other hand the voice acting made it rather fun despite having left my teens well over a decade ago (sigh).

    The many references to pop culture, other games and the amount of variety makes it easy to recommend Shadows of the Damned to anyone who appreciates grindhouse style movies and Resident Evil 4-styled gameplay – with a bit of shmup and puzzling on the side.

  8. Really I don’t understand where the hate is coming from, the gameplay itself is worth buying alone, with enough pressure to challenge (such as Darkness moments) but not gamebraking (although the big boner level was difficult) ive never played the producers games before, and i dont understand the last comment about it being for only die hard fans. All in all a great game, and left me wanting more, not less.

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