Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Shadows of the Damned
I try not to go into games with too many expectations, either negative or positive. It's the reason I try not to watch too many pre-release trailers or interviews with shithead developers talking about how much more "dynamic" and "engaging" the sequel is than the predecessor. But it was hard not to have at least moderately high expectations when you look at the development team for Shadows of the Damned: Shinji Mikami, creator of one of my all-time favourite series Resident Evil, Akira Yamaoka, Silent Hill sound designer and one my favourite musicians of ever and Suda 51, a man whose games I haven't played before but I'm aware of his many well respected past titles. Woop, there goes the bar shooting way up, on with the game!
The horrendously titled "Shadows of the Damned" is a third-person shooter following the adventures of rugged demon hunter and presumed sex pest Garcia F. Hotspur and his quest to rescue his girlfriend, a blindingly original premise, as you can see. The plot doesn't really get much more complex than that, it's basically just Mario with more violence and sexual allusions. You're accompanied on your journey by Johnson, a floating skull who also acts as a motorcycle, gun, overcompensatory phallic symbol and comic relief throughout the game, imagine Resident Evil 4 if your mildly attractive and slightly ethnic female support character had been replaced by a penis with the personality of Jimmy Carr. On that note, the comedic aspects, and particularly the partnership between Garcia and Johnson, were actually my favourite part of the experience, with a vast variety of penis-related humour on display. Sure, it's juvenile and vulgar but that's right up my street, and right up the streets of many man-children gamers, the videogame equivalent of Jim Jeffries to Portal's Stewart Lee. Together, this couple o'ragamuffins must journey through the Underworld and fight off many, many generic demons in search of Paula, Garcia's girlfriend/kidnap victim.
The gameplay is generic. Oh so generic. We're talking third person, over the shoulder shooting, periodically upgraded weapons, bosses with giant glowing vagina weakspots, there's nothing here gameplay wise that hasn't been done a million times before, or more precisely, there's nothing here that Resident Evil 4 didn't do better. SOTD goes for a sort of over the top, comic book violence-feel and achieves it very well. Enemy body parts fly off in suitably gory fashion and the action is mostly fast paced and constantly moving and ammo is never in short supply, and this emphasis on action creates a very thrilling and exciting experience.
Akira Yamaoka's music is of course expertly composed; it does suffer from a lack of a consistent style, jumping from soft acoustic guitar to industrial metal on a whim but it's all done so well that it's hard to question it, and you have to applaud Yamaoka for not falling into the same trap that many musicians would have and making a lazy 80's speed metal soundtrack just cause Garcia shoots some guns and rides a bike once or twice. Oh, and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn sings on here, too. If I gave ratings that'd get at least 3 stars on its own.
So we get strange music from Yamaoka and fast paced violence from Mikami but what does Suda bring to the game? Well, I guess we know who the beta in that friendship group is! Given Suda's reputation for pure weirdness I was expecting something a lot more... messed up but outside of some vulgar humour and the fact that the general atmosphere is slightly stranger than your average shooter I'm not sure how much he brings to the table, on this occassion. Perhaps if I were more familiar with his previous titles and the nuances of his style I might have noticed his contribution a bit more.
Despite being a generally fun experience, there is plenty to nitpick at in SOTD. The difficulty, for one. I played on the highest difficulty available and once I'd mastered the controls and recalled my RE4 crowd control skills I was breezing through the game like nobodys business. There isn't too much variety on offer in terms of enemies either, they tend to repeat themselves a lot, creating the feeling that many of the fights are simply filler and that you're not really advancing. There's a sort of pseudo-RPG thing going on with weapon upgrading that's completely pointless, especially as your weapons are upgraded automatically and in very noticeable and game-changing ways (The homing machine gun is OP as fuck!) and I never actually noticed the firepower or the reload speed increasing after an upgrade, in the same way you notice a damage increase in an actual RPG.
The chase sequences are plaintively fucking dreadful, obstacles and enemies are placed specifically to make shooting as fiddly and difficult as possible and useful items placed so they're impossible to get without being insta-killed. Similarly horrible sequences take place later in the game when you're forced to play through multiple 2D side scrolling levels. Now, 2D side scrolling is my absolute least favourite form of gaming, ever. I don't care how many nostalgia fags tell me otherwise, there aren't any "classic" 2D side scrollers without Castlevania in their name that didn't improve by going 3D, and to be blind-sided by this bullshit when I feel I'm as far as I could possibly get from 2D side scrolling, playing a 3D 3rd person shooter, actually made me feel pretty insulted. I'm assuming it's for the sake of 'OMG so randon lolz' hipster cred, it's all experimental jazz and paper cut-out art but to me it just screams, "We couldn't afford/be bothered to make anymore actual game, here's some shit!" I find it difficult to believe that anyone on the development team played these sections and thought, "Yup, this is fantastic gameplay, guys! Now who's for Soggy Biscuit?"
The boss fights are nothing to write home about, basically "Shoot the weak spot" is the order of the day, not inherently bad in itself and the interesting use of the Underworlds' darkness goes some way to making the fights more interesting but all in all they're still very samey. The game is also terribly short, which is guess is appropriate for a game made by Japanese men, making it more appropriate for a rental than a full price purchase. Hell, I know I'd have been annoyed if I'd paid £40 for this game.
Overall, SOTD is jolly good fun, there's some decent shooty fun and plenty of laughs to be had but it is painfully unoriginal; if you've played Resident Evil 4 and want something similar but noticeably worse then go for it and if you haven't then hang your head in shame on your way to a game store. And don't buy SOTD when you're there!