Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shadows of the Damned - Reviewed

Shadows of the Damned follows demon hunter and quintessential badass Garcia Hotspur as he fights his way through hell to rescue his beloved Paula. Haven't you heard this somewhere before?
No. You haven't. No one can say they truly understand the gist of a Suda 51 game (or Suda 51 trip as the box adequately puts it) without having played it first. In that sense, this review is a bit fruitless. Shadows of the Damned is nuts, inside and out. Just like other Suda games, it's similar to nothing else. It's this unique, influential insanity that make all of Suda's games so great and so important. So in short, if you've never acquainted yourself with a Suda51 game in the past, do so-- you wont regret it--, then come back. That understanding needs to be clear. Otherwise I might as well be speaking Latin.
That being said, Damned is the most coherent of Suda's titles, which again, isn't saying a lot, but at least It's premise is summarizable for the back of the box. Paula, Garcia's squeeze, is kidnapped by Fleming, Lord of all demons, and now you must battle through all of hell's creatures in order to reach Fleming and save the damsel.
The first thing that really popped out upon entering hell was just that, hell. The environment. Gamers have been to hell numerous times, but not this hell. Memorable environments in games I often like to equate to walking through a good amusement park. Everything around you, to the textures of the ground to the glow of the street lamps help aid in the illusion of a fantastical setting. And with the heralded Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame at the reins of sound design, it wont take long for you to get completely immersed in Damned's world. Hell is the locale for the games entirety and not once did I feel fatigued by any similar environments; each "Act" is genuinely fresh and brings a new spin to the game. Sometimes the rules are just thrown out along with a dimension and suddenly you're in a side-scrolling SHMUP. Yup, Awesome.
It's easy to call Damned a shooter, you use a gun, it dispenses bullets and hell monkeys fall. But it doesn't really feel like a shooter. It's more in-your-face and visceral than any shooter and that's something that should be applauded. It didn't follow suit with a typical run and gun feel, it paved its own path and it paid off immensely. The weapon at your disposal is also your partner in hell, Johnson the former-demon-talking-skull. Johnson shifts forms to three different weapons that evolve as your progress does through the game. Red gems you collect through the game can be used at the players convenience to upgrade passive attributes of the weapons. The results are significant, but not very exciting. You can also perform one melee attack. And... That's it. A bit anemic, but it still works pretty well and combat, just like the level design, remains fresh and exciting until the end. The end which comes after 10 hours of gameplay and therein lies Damned's achilles heel.
In an industry that more often than not provides customers with sometimes hundreds of hours of gameplay, having a singular 10 hour or less experience doesn't cut it. There's a hard mode and trophies, but not including those would just be insulting. Beyond that there's literally nothing. What's worse, I don't think the story should be any longer, it was well paced and ended on a perfect note, but it simply isn't enough. I'm not saying use tired methods to extend the game's life span like recycling environments, but at least extend to the player a little bit of added value. A boss survival mode, extra unlocks like costumes, weapons, abilities-- anything. The original No More Heroes encouraged multiple playthroughs by throwing in very arbitrary/relatively pointless collectibles, but it still felt like something to work at and look forward to after the credits. I think it's a perfectly avoidable flaw and it's unfortunate that an otherwise spectacular and inspired game has such little replayability.


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