It may be hard to take Shadows of the Damned's journey into the depths of Hell too seriously, when you have a disembodied ex-demon skull named Johnson—who can transform into a weapon dubbed the Boner—as your sidekick. When demonic pubic hair and eyeball-eating baby heads serve as key obstacles in this horror game, you'll find it hard not to giggle with delight.
Shadows of the Damned taps into the gross-out schlock of films like Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series for its cocktail of humor and horror. It's terribly gory. Heads explode. Bodies rip in two with a blood drenched beast—terrifyingly named George—bursting forth. Johnson cracks wise about demon genitals and the hard-on he's physically incapable of sporting.
This is a game with a tattooed punk rock latino as its lead. Named Garcia Hotspur, after its creative lead's favorite soccer team, the Tottenham Hostpurs, this gloriously cheeky adventure sends a demon hunter in to a ghastly world in search of a dead girlfriend, Paula.
Co-creator Goichi Suda, head of developer Grasshopper Manufacture, name-checked director Robert Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse as a major source of influence for his campy, creative game. The other? A Japanese manga series about high school delinquents, Crows. (That comic book has served as the source material for two Takashi Miike-directed films, incidentally.)
Despite Shadows of the Damned's punk rock and horror DNA, at its heart it's a rather straightforward third-person shooter, a la Resident Evil 4. Garcia has three main weapons at his disposal, the Boner (a bulky handgun), Teether (machine gun) and Monocussioner (shotgun). All are Johnson in his different gun forms. He's normally a flaming skull on a stick that offers comic relief, but can transform from torch to weapon of demon destruction at will.
As Garcia struts through the streets of Hell, he faces an onslaught of grisly demons skulking about blood covered alleyways. Most are easy to gun down with a headshot. Some are covered in a blue-black armor of darkness that can only be destroyed with Johnson's "Light Shot." Exploding barrels filled with light (no kidding) also line the streets.
That dark-light mechanic comes into play elsewhere during this horror adventure. Some areas of this Hell are bathed in a blue-black glow that inflicts damage upon Garcia. Players will need to venture into that awful darkness, find the golden goat head that's emitting it and destroy it with a blast from Johnson to progress. They'll face invincible enemies in that darkness and puzzles made harder with the pressure of Garcia's slowly whittling health.
Doors guarded by "demon pubes" and demon heads that crave internal organs also aim to keep Garcia Hotspur from finding his true love. It seems that around every corner of this Hell, there's something weird, wacky and unexpected.
Even the expected is creatively bizarre. Destroy some demons and huge diamonds will burst forth from their corpses, gems that can later be used for upgrades. Take damage from them and Garcia will need to knock back some booze to regenerate his health. "In order for someone to go into Hell, you'd have to be passionate, right?" Suda says of his hero. "Take a shot of tequila and head in. That's Garcia."
Our preview of Shadows of the Damned lasted about ten minutes worth of demon hunter-on-demon action, slowly progressing firefights and two major demon encounters. One was with a special demon, summoned forth by a dancing beauty by the name of Justine. While other demons could be dispatched with a few blasts from Johnson, this one required Light Shots to stun it, then shots to a big red growth on the demon's back. It was a mini-boss encounter in a game in which we expect much more dramatic run-ins with evil minions.
The next encounter with the blood-coated George, who happens to have a harmonica lodged in his throat, concluded the demo. After bursting forth from a decoy of Paula, sloughing off her skin, the hulking George dripped and lumbered his way toward Garcia, crushing the scenery on his way. To slow his approach, shooting those barrels of light were the only option. But as George shuffled ever closer, the screen faded to black. Damn.
Our brief look at Shadows of the Damned was creatively quirky enough to get us interested. The blend of Grasshopper Manufacture's odd design sense coupled with the gameplay of producer Shinji Mikami (Vanquish, Resident Evil) and the musical stylings of composer Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) is certainly worth looking forward to now.
Shadows of the Damned comes to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this summer, June 7 to be exact.