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Before Playing the Game
Prior to the game's launch, Shadows of the Damned was easily one of my most anticipated games of the summer, if not the entire year. I've been a longtime fan of Shinji Mikami's Resident Evil series, and Suda51 is easily one of my favorite designers in the industry due to his richly insanely ideas. I try not to have high expectations for games before playing them most of the time for fear of disappointment, but with the supergroup team behind Shadows of the Damned, I found it impossible to not be pumped about this title, which seemed to combine a variation of survival horror gameplay with a crazy plot and characters. Suffice it to say there was a sheer amount of excitement and anticipation as I loaded up the game for the first time.
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Upon beginning Shadows of the Damned, I was introduced to overly obvious badass Garcia Hotspur. The protagonist had a confident air to him, and he was obviously filling the role of the Latin machismo-laden hero with the heavy accent. I definitely dug it, but I could see how some gamers may not be too appreciative of the character's wit at first. The game's plot didn't take long to unravel as Garcia found his lovely girlfriend Paula kidnapped by the evil (and perverted) Fleming, the ruler of the underworld. Though Paula seemed very mysterious, Fleming's character was quick to introduce himself. Right from the get-go, you know you're not going to like this guy because he's nothing more than a foolish jackass with a lot of power. In behaving the way he did, Fleming quickly became an annoyance that I could not wait to take out.
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Getting the Hang of Things
Shadows of the Damned does a good job of teaching you the basics with its quick tutorial. You're fed a handful of enemies, and although they are most certainly aggressive, you don't actually take damage from their attacks during the tutorial. So if you've never played a game by Shinji Mikami, you'll be able to get the hang of it at your own pace. Thankfully, the controls are fairly intuitive, and it doesn't take very long to master the actions and become familiar with the gameplay. Basically, you shoot to kill and move around to avoid being killed. Unlike Resident Evil, you're not still when aiming, so you have more freedom and don't always feel like your back is against the wall. That said, the aiming is a bit tough, and it doesn't seem as accurate as that of Resident Evil, so even shooter aficionados will need a little time to get used to the shooting and aiming mechanics in Shadows of the Damned.
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I always imagined hell to be the most horrendous place around, full of evil and torture at every corner. It appears Suda51 has a different idea of what hell is like. In Shadows of the Damned, the underworld is a surprsingly interesting place. The architecture is especially old school, and it has a sense of aesthetic style that's certainly intriguing to look at. Of course, it's dark--it's really, really dark. It's so dark, in fact, that you need to literally shoot goat heads that adorn walls just to shine a bit of light on your surroundings. This is a Suda51 game through and through.
Aside from the ambience of the underworld, demons make their presence felt, though not as much as one might think. The souls of the damned are most certainly prevalent, but the underworld is in no way overflowing with baddies. As I was playing through the first few areas in Shadows of the Damned, I came across several hordes of enemies. These enemies were definitely a sight to see as they were terribly ugly, but they seem to embrace the fact that they're destined for a life of eternal damnation. Also, most souls in hell apparently look the same. I wasn't too fond of the constantly repeating enemy models, but this was a minor gripe. The repeated enemy designs in Grasshopper's No More Heroes never bothered me. I just expected a little more variety, I suppose. But as previously mentioned, this is just a minor gripe, and the only real flaw I found in the game's mostly wonderful visuals.
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Getting Further Into the Game
One thing I was able to appreciate about Shadows of the Damned was its linear, constant pacing. There are no branching paths, no decisions to be made, and no alternate scenes depending on which route you take. Instead, the game is a straightforward affair that keeps you enthralled the entire time. I easily spent a couple of hours playing the game without stopping because it presented everything in a very engaging manner. During my first few hours with the game, there was not a dull moment to be found. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate open world titles like Grand Theft Auto IV and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but I also like a good, no-nonsense, one-way game. And you can bet Shadows of the Damned presents itself as just that, making it an easy title to get into for action-adventure nuts such as myself and third-person shooter fanatics.
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I've always enjoyed the dialogue in games developed by Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. It's quirky, it's fun, and it's hilarious. I was incredibly overjoyed when I discovered that this was the case in Shadows of the Damned. Sure, Fleming has an enjoyably perverted wit about him, but the conversations between Garcia and his trusty sidekick Johnson--a skull who can take the shape of guns, motorcycles, and torches--was pure magic. I found myself chuckling early on as the duo traded comments to one another, always sounding serious yet full of sarcastic charm. Oh, and as a side note, it's totally kickass that Johnson has a British accent.
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Was That a Glitch?
But as awesome as my first few hours with Shadows of the Damned were, I found several little kinks that seemed to have been left in the game. For starters, the visuals aren't always as smooth as they should be. Animations can be a bit janky at times, the camera isn't perfect, and antialiasing issues pop up at times. Then there are the game's lengthy loading screens, which aren't welcome at all. And probably the most annoying glitch is the frequent pausing that occurs when the game autosaves. None of these setbacks are exactly a massive detriment to Shadows of the Damned, but they constantly make their presence felt, and I couldn't help but notice them.
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Should You Play This Game?
After spending several hours with Shadows of the Damned, I already find it incredibly easy to recomment the game. I wouldn't just recomment this title to fans of Suda51 or Shinji Mikami, though--no, this title features a lot to love for gamers with a penchant for shooting, action-adventure, and humor. Should you play this game? I certainly think so.