Shadows of the Damned

Sid and Nancy set in hell–how’s that for a video game premise? It’s exactly what players will get when Suda 51 and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture and EA unleash the humorous horror game Shadows of the Damned later this June.

Enter Garcia Hotspur, a Spanish punk with a New Wave hair cut and a studded leather jacket. He’s a bad-ass demon hunter, and he’s down in hell to save his one true love, Paula. That’s the basic gist of the game, and while the conflict will no doubt become a lot more complicated, it’s reason enough for Garcia to journey through hell. It’s no Dante’s Inferno, that’s for sure.

Thankfully, Garcia isn’t alone. With him is a prissy-voiced talking torch named Johnson, providing a foil to Garcia’s thick accent and aggressive demeanor. Along the way he is assisted by a multi-armed beast of a man with a trashy southern accent and a taste for diamonds. Garcia can collect these diamonds from his dead enemies and feed them to this guy for weapon upgrades, booze, and personal stat boosts. He’s an odd merchant.

The action itself is fairly standard. Garcia can melee attack the various enemies using Johnson, and he has a series of oddly named demon-hunting weapons that shoot from a distance. If he sounds like another well-known and stylish demon hunter, you’re a little far off, as Garcia controls with slight stiffness and the camera tends to ride a little close over his shoulder. Hopefully, gameplay will work itself out with some more hands-on time, but for right now it’s not quite as responsive as I would prefer.

There are some odd elements about the game. The melee attack is stuck on a fairly high plane, so it can’t be used to destroy boxes that may contain health-boosting alcohol or collectibles (teeth, bones, and body parts–all of which are currency or keys). Instead, players use their guns to break boxes and barrels, which feels like a waste of ammo. In one area Garcia must jump on a chandelier to swing and break the glass orbs placed around a tower interior. Garcia is very static, and the physics for this section just feel … weird. Overall, there are some curious design decisions that I’m hoping won’t be a deal-breaker when the game launches.

Thankfully, one element to fighting could turn out very interesting, or it could be very irritating. Since Garcia is in hell, darkness is everywhere. Garcia can use his torch to help him out. In certain areas of the game, the darkness will overwhelm, meaning he has to bring some light to the world. He can use his torch on special light posts to brighten an area (an action that resembles Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes recharging his energy sword) or follow behind a glowing slug to fend off enemy demons.

One area introduced a boss character that rotates in the middle of a cemetery. Surrounding this … thing (which looks like a rotating block with giant faces on it) is a gigantic black aura. Garcia has to destroy glowing red orbs to kill the boss while also eliminating the darkness-encrusted enemies. These guys prove to be the most annoying. Even with a lit light post illuminating the darkness, the enemy demons can still be shielded from normal attacks. Garcia can either hit them with his torch to break their darkness or, if they are particularly annoying (or on the ground), fire a special light-based shot from his guns.

I’ll be honest: Shadows of the Damned is a weird game. While main character Gabriel Garcia is a dyed-in-the-blood latino (with accent to boot), this game is distinctly Japanese. The shooting mechanics are a little weird, and the visuals, though certainly unique (a little bit of Day of the Dead, a little pop-up book, a little punk rock) look a bit dated. Hopefully the over-the-top style of the game and the cultural non sequiter can carry Shadows of the Damned far because they’re actually quite inventive.

That’s the most interesting part of Shadows of the Damned. With Suda 51 involved, things are going to get weird. Fans of Grasshopper will find plenty to anticipate; Suda’s philosophy of punk video games is no more obvious than it is here. It’s funny, spooky, outlandishly gory, and (possibly) fun to play. It’s a little hard to gauge now, but gamers definitely have something to look forward to all the same.