[CVG's Shadows of the Damned review is based on the Xbox 360 version]
Thematically, Shadows Of The Damned is the maddest and most original game you'll play this year. As demon-hunting, motorbike-riding hero Garcia Hotspur, you smash through hell to retrieve your girlfriend from one of its most powerful demons.
Along the way you sup Absinthe and Tequila to recover health, feed demon pubes to glowing goat heads, and save your game by startling jellyfish demons into crapping themselves and flying away. Oh, and there's a gun called the Hot Boner. It's bonkers.
Underneath all the madness, though, beats the heart of a thoroughly ordinary game. It's Resident Evil 4 all over again, only with Silent Hill 2's composer on soundtrack duties and No More Heroes' creator on story. Sound great, even so? Sadly, the reality falls well short of the stellar billing. At first you're too busy acclimatising to the eccentricities of the world to notice its many shortcomings.
But by the time you've faced off against your third or fourth 'boss-with-glowing-weak-spot,' the cracks are starting to show. And then they glow red. While similar games such as Dead Space 2 and Vanquish do a great job of hiding their simplicity behind clever, varied set-pieces, Shadows falls victim to some of video games' oldest clichés - endless key-card(ish) doors, predictable bosses in clearly marked arenas, painfully linear levels... it's a conservatism that seems to have dragged much of the once world-leading Japanese games industry to its knees.
OK, it tops Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet 2 for surface creativity, but Shadows Of The Damned is the same ageing, traditional and risk-averse clunker underneath. Still, it isn't all ripping off Resi 4. Although the over-the-shoulder action feels very familiar (and yes, there is a 'merchant' who inexplicably pops up to sell upgrades), there are fresh flourishes - such as the 'darkness' - which add variety.
Darkness? At certain points, a thick black fog that constantly drains Garcia's health swallows the world. To stay alive you must find and light up a goat's head - which restores light permanently - or spark fireworks, often while fighting off a selection of hell-dwellers.
This juggling of combat and puzzle solving does bring thrills, but Shadows habitually overuses its smartest tricks. The first time a demon crawls up to snuff a light it's great, but it soon gets predictable, shifting from cute to just plain annoying. One thing that never gets old is the mix of horrific imagery and dark, dark comedy - mostly from Johnson, a reformed demon who transforms into weapons while spewing funny one-liners and misdirected knob-gags.
OK, he isn't Wheatley-from-Portal 2 funny, but he's a likeable companion as he lightly mocks Garcia's stern, deliberately clichéd seriousness. Ironically, it makes watching Garcia's kidnapped girlfriend get worn as a skin, pulled apart, drowned, swallowed, decapitated and repeatedly murdered by demons harsher and more affecting. It's all so over the top it's tough to accuse Shadows of being scary - but it's just nasty enough to make you squirm as well as chuckle.
Even the brilliant soundtrack, crafted by SH2's Akira Yamaoka, feels oddly out of place as Johnson lays B-list dick jokes over his velvety, haunting guitar. The problem is it's neither as funny as Portal 2 or Bulletstorm, nor as bumtinglingly scary as Dead Space 2 or SIREN Blood Curse.
In truth it's middling, and with a lack of innovation and thrills in its heart it fl oats off among the also-rans... think Enslaved, Dark Sector or The Club. Sadly, despite a fantastic line up of development talent, Shadows Of The Damned is ultimately a wasted opportunity.
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An ordinary shooty adventure, dressed up in a bizarre plot. With knob gags
- Familiar gameplay
- Doesn't do much new
- Might be too immature for some