Shadows of the Damned is exactly what the creative offspring of Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami ought to be. The hyperactive yet genuine irreverence of the former and the gore-spattered gunplay of the latter are both proudly on display. And make no mistake, the game is insane. But more of the spastic madness of No More Heroes than the surreal Killer 7. To cross the media boundary, it's equal parts Takashi Miike and Robert Rodriguez (Dusk 'Til Dawn, not Spy Kids). And god dammit, if I don't love it.
It's not flawless in its execution and I can see how its aesthetics woudn't be to everyone's taste. But I'm loving Shadows of the Damned because it delivers an increasingly rare commodity in games these days- surprise. It may sound trite, but it's so refreshing to be genuinely surprised by what Shadows of the Damned delivers. It refuses to let itself be predicted.
Coming across a giant blue demon, complete with curled goat horns and an apparatus of lamps? eyeballs? on his back, I'm expecting a setpiece combat encounter. Instead he's a hillbilly merchant of sorts, happy to chow down on your currency of white gems and vomit up items in exchange.
The "voice in your ear" companion is not the proverbial attractive-yet-aloof, supportive-yet-nagging communications officer. Instead it's a talking, floating skull named Johnson (wait for it ...). He's remniscent of Morte, except he can also transform into a burning demon-bludgeoning torch, your motorcycle and a gun called "The Boner." (Johnson, boner, skull, get it? Layers upon layers, I'm telling ya)
The game's antagonist is a demon named "Fleming" with a skull head and glowing red eyes. Except on top of his skull, is another skull. And on top of that? Another god damn skull. It's absurd, it's quite intentionally ridiculous and I never could have predicted it.
I can just sit back and let whatever insanity Suda, Mikami and the rest of Grasshopper planned wash over me. With the lion's share of AAA games this year (and the next) demanding you stare down iron sights at grey-brown ruined buildings while listening to gruff men with buzzcuts grunt about their dark past and/or the badness of their communal asses, Shadows of the Damned is an honest relief.
And that 'honest' bit is important. I want to talk about that facet of the game more, but I'd also like to play a bit more first. But thus far, the game manages to be both fantastically self-aware and irreverent without ever seeming crass. Unlike Resident Evil 4, which I could never tell if it was meant to be taken at least somewhat seriously, Shadows of the Damned knows it is absurd. And it takes every amazing liberty it can.
Oh, and the sound design/soundtrack are awesome. But with Akira Yamaoka (composer/sound design for the Silent Hill series), nothing less could be expected. As if you need another reason to be interested though, right?
Labels: Shadows of the Damned