In a dim lit back alley Garcia Hotspur holds his demon foe in place with a boot against his head, pointing a gun in his face, venting with vitriol about his disdain for the demon race.
Hotspur’s foe responds the best it can as blood spews from its crushed jaw: “How’s Paula? Is she hanging in there?”
Stunned, slow to react, as his enemy cackles with demonical malice, Garcia realises he’s left his beloved girlfriend Paula alone and needs to get back to her.
A thunderous boom from his handgun decimates his rivals’ skull and our tattoo-clad bad-ass speeds into the night to go save his lady.
Back in the relative warmth of a penthouse apartment, Hotspur hears Paula’s desperate cries, and thunders through the alpine decked condominium only to find her cutting the gruesome image of a hanged corpse. Head down. Gone.
With a stiff jolt Paula’s corpse reanimates, eyes glaring into nothingness. Garcia calls to her with the faintest hope that she might still be alive. “Paula?”
His weak cries fall on deaf ears. Hotspur, demon hunter, is reduced to a pitiful mess as he realises she is gone. His vain belief that his lady was still safe is mired in futility.
Before our solemn hero can regain his composure a dark, rusty blooded gash expands from the small of Paula’s back.
In disgust and disbelief Hotspur watches a demon, with skin like a sphinx cat dipped in acid, emerge from beneath the wound and steadily bisect her hanging carrion.
Left with only the burning desire for revenge he raises his handgun, adorned with merciless looking golden skull, and commences his caustic annihilation.
That, was my attempt to surmise the opening scenes of Act 1 from Shadows Of The Damned (SOTD), a new 3rd person shooter from Japanese development house Grasshopper Manufacture.
After the gruesome scenes described above, you are thrust into Hotspur’s boots and given the task to dispose of this demon.
The camera shifts to peer over the right shoulder of our protagonist as his laser sight draws a red dot against the target of choice. Well, I say target of choice. The default aim sensitivity is set off the chart and only the slightest of movements can botch a perfectly sighted shot.
Enemies, like always, have an incredible knack of getting out of the way when there’s a red dot on their foreheads; and the enclosed space in which you have to battle them leaves little room for manoeuvre.
My first few shots go wildly astray and my demon roommate appears desperate for a hug. I bash a few buttons and dodge roll away, hit A to do a 180 degree body/camera spin and I’m back in the hunt.
I know I am going to be rushed to make these shots so I want to make them count. I line up this demon’s forehead and fire. In an instant the colour drains from the screen and my first headshot is grandstanded in glorious slow motion and onlookers bellow in a symbiotic “OOOOOHHHHHH” as red demon brain explodes against the monochrome backdrop.
It is difficult to not think of Resident Evil 4 when playing SOTD; the viewpoint and precision aiming medley are lifted right from it. But when you have the man who directed Res 4, which redefined the survival/third person genre and won numerous game of the year awards, it’s not surprising that they went with what they know best.
Shinji Mikami, executive producer, teamed up with director Goichi Suda (Suda 51) and revered sound designer for the Silent Hill series, Akira Yamaoka for this project. Mikami and Suda 51 had written Killer 7 together and Yamaoka joined Grasshopper Manufacture because he enjoyed the work they had done on that project.
This triumvirate horror game powerhouse has the blood and gore bases well covered, but SOTD has a puerile streak that disarms the violence and leaves you (me) sniggering like a school boy who’s just heard the word ‘booby’ for the first time.
After the dispatching of a few more of those slime ball demons I’m introduced to the head slime ball; a totem-pole headed, six-eyed creep called Flemming. His red eyes peer out of a skull that sits atop a big frame as he unsubtly explains his plans to torture Garcia’s girlfriend. Flemming then pulls Paula’s corpse toward him and hides her away in the dark recesses of his ghoulish trench coat.
Garcia, weirdly chuffed that this malevolent monster has heard of him, pulls off an exploding light shot, which is palmed by Flemming. Flemming falls out of the condo window laughing haughtily about his success with the ladies as the full force of the light shot takes effect.
A demon wormhole opens, taking Flemming and the captive Paula out of reach of Hotspur. Like every good hero though, he goes face first out of the window after his beloved and reaches the wormhole just as its vaporous talons enclose around the earth, banishing him to a demon underworld.
When you land in Flemming’s demon world you’re introduced to your sidekick, a C-3PO sounding floating skull called Johnson. Snigger.
Johnson, a former demon slave has joined forces with Garcia Hotspur in his demon hunter quest and offers sage, yet comedic advice, explaining that the only way to save Paula is to reach Flemming’s castle.
He has the ability to transform into different items and tools but in the opening acts he takes the form of Garcia’s two guns – the ‘Boner’, a handgun, and the ‘Monocussioner’, a shotgun that fires a luminescent green shot.
The opening salvos of SOTD require you to use the guns to dispatch enemies and shoot goat heads to shed light on dark areas. As C-3PO, I mean Johnson, explains: “Doesn’t everyone know that goats are a great source of light?”
The dark/light motif is an important one. The ‘Darkness’ gives fervour to the demon population and drains the life of the player, so finding the goat heads and firing that all important light shot is crucial to navigating the map. The light shot ability is also put to good use when Flemming’s demon minions are coated in this impenetrable Darkness; the special shot being the only way to disarm their armour.
Variations on these themes get trickier as you move further through the game but the learning curve is shallow and you have a handy index that is updated when you encounter new enemies, weapons or things to interact with in game.
Although navigating each area can be a little repetitive, the two boss battles we sampled were exhilarating, long and challenging. I don’t want to give away too much about these but there are some rightly messed up creations which, if you know your horror/slasher films, will be oddly familiar.
There is a twinge of the nonsensical about this game which presents more of a melting pot of ludicrously violent action and trite humour than anything else. Regardless of this, it is done so smoothly and relentlessly that you don’t really have time to think about it.
The combination of Suda 51 and Mikami should not be overlooked considering their combined portfolio of work. Having direction from these industry heavy weights adds gravitas to this project and a hope for a lot more in the final version.
Review was played on xBox 360.
Shadows of The Damned will be released on 21st June in the U.S and 24th June in UK.