It's that time again, folks. Welcome back to the Kotaku Game Club. Today we're going to discuss Act 4 of Shadows of the Damned.
So today's chapter has a theme just staring us in the face. Between the storybook shmup levels and "The Big Boner", there have been a lot of mini-games in the past two hours. Gamers today have come to expect a certain amount of diversity in the types of gameplay in a AAA game. Adding short mini-games to "mix up" gameplay are meant to keep the experience fresh and break up both the visual and interactive monotony of a game's core gameplay. After a few hours, a little break from shooting or stabbing or driving or whatever it is you've been doing is almost always welcome. Act 4 of Shadows of the Damned, by concentrating all of its mini-games into a single two-hour stretch, begs the question; how much breaking up does one game need?
More than half of the act's six levels are self-contained digressions from the game's gameplay and narrative style. While most games would try to spread out their mini-games, Shadows decided to give them to us all at once. The answer is that the storybook shooter levels (4-2, 4-4, and 4-6) aren't actually meant to serve that traditional mini-game function: Their purpose is far more noble: to bring the game's "adult storybook" theme out of the realm of pure narrative exposition and bring the player into the fairy tale. Rather than playing a character who's reading a storybook, we're playing out a storybook ourselves.
The Big Boner (Level 4-1), on the other hand, is a distracting mini-game. In fact, it's a variation of the most generic of all modern mini-games; the turret sequence. The shooter levels falls perfectly in line with the philosophy of Shadows of the Damned as a whole: they're artistically creative takes on well-tested gameplay types. The Big Boner sequences are, on the other hand, uncharacteristically textbook. In fact, the level created a microcosm of the exact monotony most mini-games are supposed to prevent.
I actually like the Big Boner level. It's well planned, and does make you think in a different way than your average demon firefight. The third sequence got my heart-rate up by forcing me to constantly switch from shooting down one path to another. The problem: I only needed one of them. Why did that have to be a whole level? They should have interspersed the big boner sequences into other levels, rather than balling the concept off into one-off portion of the game that takes you out of the story and highlights the most repetitive aspects of the game. Everything is more repetitive in that level: The setup is exactly the same. There's one death animation, (which is funny once, but never again). Hotspur says one of two or three catch-phrase every time he hits something; Taste my big boner, for example. In short, while giving players a break from the core gameplay is a great way to keep a game feeling fresh, it's important to make sure that the deviating mini-game also stays fresh. Also, that said deviation doesn't take out the parts of the game that make it great. In this case, the story.
Our final meeting, where we'll be talking about Act 5 and the ending of Shadows of the Damned, will start at the same time next week. That's July 14th at 4pm eastern. Side note: If anyone you know is interested Game Club, but haven't been playing Shadows, you should tell them to pop in next week because we will be discussing which game we're going to play next!