Zombies are all too common in games nowadays. They’re getting everywhere, whether it’s a random add-on to Call of Duty or the inspiration to one of DiRT3’s online modes the charm of zombies has worn off considerably, leaving “real” undead titles such as Shadows of the Damned needing something new to stand out from the crowd. Something deep, something meaningful, and something that’s so undeniably entertaining that you can’t stop playing it. Brilliantly, Grasshopper have come up with exactly that key extra: knob gags.
That’s not to say our protagonist will be creeping up on zombies, shouting “cock!” and running away sniggering, not at all. Unlike the less than great humour in Duke Nukem Forever, the mix between subtle comedy and blatant double entendres make Shadows of the Damned a remarkable love-child of Resident Evil and a Carry On film. The dialogue between your main character Garcia and his former-demon helper Johnson (it’s starting already…) isn’t a constant drawl throughout the game, instead developing into genuine conversation and witty comments between friends at relevant intervals. Unlike other games which try to be funny it never ends up being too much.
One thing that I think helps the dialogue is the characters themselves – Garcia speaks with a strong Mexican accent which contrasts with, and indeed emphasises, the very English accent of Johnson. And while Johnson generally speaks politely (apart from a few sly digs at Garcia), Garcia himself doesn’t hold back with his thoughts and constantly curses the demons, surroundings and anything else that pisses him off. It’s a fantastic mix of dialogue styles that works beautifully, and after upgrading your basic “Boner” weapon (it shoots bones, obviously) to a more powerful and explosive version the advice that Johnson provides is one of the finest lines of speech in a video game ever. It’s certainly not every day you’re told to “fill those cracks with your hot boner”…
So aside from the character interaction and well-judged innuendo, there’s a game to be played. The mechanics are basic enough: track down the love of your life (who as you’ll discover you met in a quite unusual manner) who is being held and tortured by the demons, shooting any undead creatures that happen to cross your path. Some of them are dispatched fairly easily with a well aimed head-shot, others wear masks or helmets to force you into thinking differently. It’s no bad thing – I never got tired of blasting off legs and stamping on the half-beast as it dragged itself towards me. There are a series of bosses, some of which are tough to beat but once you work out what you’re meant to be doing can be polished off with a bit of effort.
Fairly standard fare then, until you bring another weapon that Shadows has up its sleeve into the equation. Darkness plays a key part of your progress, and I don’t just mean a dark corner of a quiet street. This is evil darkness, a darkness that drains your energy, protects otherwise vulnerable demons and gives you yet more stuff to worry about while trying to get away from a nearby figure trying to slice your nuts off. Luckily for our hero, you can banish the darkness by shooting light at a goat’s head (yes, really) which you’ll generally find bleating away nearby. The dark can be useful at times though, showing up secret switches and revealing weak spots on larger enemies. The way the darkness is used give Shadows a fantastic, unique edge that really alters how you’ll play the game.
Your weapons get gradually upgraded as you make progress, making your firepower faster and more powerful or even using a phone sex line to give your boner an erection to turn it into a powerful long-range rifle. Let’s be honest, you definitely won’t find that in Resident Evil. You’ll also meet Christopher, a half-demon half-human that lets you trade white gems for ammo, red gems (which upgrade your kit) or drinks to “unkill” you. In a style that won’t surprise you by now, there are three levels of alcoholic beverage to boost your health and you’ll be looking at buying some pricey Absinthe to give you the biggest kick. Drinks can be glugged down at any time, so mixing preservation with picking the right time to drink is an important balance to make, especially on the tougher difficulties.
This all adds up to a game that’s far more intelligent than its brash and knob-obsessed face would initially suggest. Not only that, but it’s massively enjoyable. It’s not without its problems; there’s the odd occasion when you can glitch through scenery and end up running around under the map with no way of getting back, and things get a little repetitive towards the end of the game, but it’s unlikely you’ll care in amongst the great gameplay.
Recent sales of Shadows of the Damned have been less than impressive, yet this could be the game that fills the summer void of non-releases. It’s a genuinely great game, and one that deserves a place in most gamers’ collections, even if just for the tit bridges.
If you like this, I can wholeheartedly recommend Vanquish – also by Shinji Mikami.