Shadows of the Damned
Japanese developer Goichi Suda (a.k.a. Suda51) has a penchant for creating strange, stylish, and brash games such as No More Heroes. His studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, has also gained a reputation for creating gameplay that’s never as polished or interesting as the concepts behind it. That’s why Grasshopper’s latest project, a collaboration with Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami, is so exciting. Could this finally be the game that matches the insanity of Suda51’s vision with more widely accepted gameplay?
Shadows of the Damned tells the over-the-top tale of a man named Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter whose latest exploits hit closer to home. After his girlfriend Paula is kidnapped and imprisoned in hell, Garcia sets out to massacre as many demons as he needs to in order to save her.
Garcia’s main weapon for fighting demonic legions is a powerful torch that shape-shifts into various guns – a machine gun called the teether, a shotgun called the monocutioner, and a pistol known as the boner. Clearly, Suda and crew are not afraid of making easy jokes when possible. Garcia uses these weapons via traditional third-person shooter controls heavily inspired by the over-the-shoulder style of the most recent Resident Evil games.
Of course, demons can’t be destroyed by bullets alone. Garcia must use the regular torch form of his weapon to blast a powerful shield of darkness off his opponents before they are vulnerable to attack. At some points, whole sections of a level will be covered in darkness. When this happens the world turns blue and Garcia’s health is slowly drained. Enemies become invincible or infinitely respawn until Garcia can locate and destroy a goat head that is spewing the darkness.
In addition to hunting for goat heads, Shadows features simple puzzles where Garcia’s progress is blocked by a demon gate with a baby’s head on it that demands specific items as offerings before opening the gate. For example, in the demo that I watched, the baby gate requests a brain in exchange for opening the gate. Garcia then explores the nearby area until he finds said delicacy and delivers it. It’s essentially a bizarre version of keycards, but wouldn’t you rather be collecting livers and kidneys?
During his travels Garcia is joined by a big-mouthed flaming skull named Johnson, a spirit he rescued in a previous adventure. Johnson provides comic relief and gives clues to surviving certain puzzles and combat encounters. Garcia also has a unique form of health recovery – boozing. To restore his energy, he must visit vending machines filled with hard liquor like sake, tequila, and absinthe.
Late in the demo, Garcia has his first run-in with what he thinks is his girlfriend. Walking into an area that looks like a crowded Mexican marketplace, he notices a female head on a table. He picks it up and somberly identifies it as Paula. Before he can begin mourning though, the head suddenly screams, flying out of his hands and attaching to a nearby body. Garcia’s girlfriend twitches and a giant demon named George with blades for hands bursts out in a gory explosion.
As with all of the bosses in Shadows of the Damned, Garcia’s several encounters with George uncover a backstory revealing why he is especially damned. Don’t think this is the final fate of Paula either; it looks like pretending to be Paula and messing with Garcia’s head is a favorite pastime of the major enemies.
The producer who played Shadows of the Damned while I watched referred to the game as Evil Dead meets Desperado. Between the juvenile humor and Garcia’s wisecracks, the unique Grindhouse feel is sure to appeal to fans of Suda’s previous works. But more importantly, Shadows of the Damned has a good chance of being the first Grasshopper game to pull in a wider audience. I’m hopeful that this crazy journey to hell will come together in time for its June release.