Much like a woman scorned, Hell has a great deal of fury. We should know, we’ve taken virtual vacations to the underworld in several video games, the latest of which is EA’s third-person shooter. Shadows of the Damned is a survival-horror with a considerable sense of style, and fortunately it isn’t bereft of substance either.
The game does, however, feel quite strongly derivative. Co-creator Shinji Mikami (of Resident Evil fame) brings the horror vibe you’d expect, but the over-the-top Tarantino-esque violence and gore reminded us of Wet. Other gameplay mechanics put us in mind of further influences, such as Alan Wake‘s torchlight beam that removes a monster’s shroud of protection, which this game has a more in-depth version of.
Shadows of the Damned distinguishes itself with some quality production values, however, including a marvellous tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Not many games feature a demon who has swallowed a harmonica and wheezes D-minor when he breathes. Equally, there are deft atmospheric touches such as a satanic church with bells tolling and an off-key choir singing discordantly somewhere in the background, which put the player on edge nicely.
The core gameplay, however, is very much meat-and-potatoes material. The path through Hell is a pretty channelled one paved with locked doors, keys and basic puzzles that generally revolve around escaping the “darkness”, the palpable pitch black that drains your health (just as in Amnesia: The Dark Descent). Some light RPG upgrade mechanics are also pitched in.
While Shadows of the Damned can feel a bit plodding in terms of level design, its script, characters and atmosphere still manage to be consistently entertaining. Frenzied combat against multiple demons is much fun, too – and there are some thrilling set pieces featuring hideous horrors of boss monsters.
Ever battled against a horse-faced demon riding a person-faced horse? No, we thought not. The horse also stops periodically to poop out concentrated darkness – yes, this is a game with an often crude sense of humour that won’t appeal to everyone, but there are some genuine laugh out loud lines here, we assure you.
- A stylish and bloody vision of Hell which blends humour and horror with disturbing results.
- Plodding and linear level design.
Despite a somewhat derivative and linear vibe, Shadows of the Damned has a sharp (but base and often scatological) sense of humour, and yet at the same time evokes a haunting and disturbing vision of Hell. Ultimately, it's more than the sum of its many parts, and remains compelling and colourful at its freshly-ripped-forth and still-beating-heart.