It becomes clear within just the first hour or so of Shadows of the Damned that Suda 51’s latest shooter is trying very, very hard to stand out from the other console-shooters that litter the market. It’s constantly trying to be both ‘quirky’ and ‘edgy’ - though the air-quotes that appear in our heads when we say that are a testament to how well this has been achieved.
You see, while Shadows of the Damned tries very hard to not be ‘just another Gears-esque shooter’, it’s held back by one thing – that it is just another Gears-esque shooter. You run down linear corridors, completing puzzles that barely delay you long enough for you to recognise them as such and amass a bodycount in the thousands. Short cutscenes seem to appear every ten steps or so to fill you in on more of the story, though little of it is developed enough to actually warrant listening through.
To whit; the story concerns a demon hunter called Garcia Hotspur, who ventures into the underworld to save his beloved Paula from the King of Demons – a guy called Fleming, who has six eyes and a penchant for alternating between rape innuendoes and unsubtle phallic imagery.
The name is Hotspur. Tottenham Garcia Hotspur
‘You don’t have enough penetration,’ Fleming says as he shrugs off Garcia’s bullets and bends Paula over before him as part of the opening sequence. It’s a remark that seems to sum up Shadows’ entire tone and story; creepy, but not in a way that’s actually drawn from a sophisticated script. Like all the baddies in Shadows, Fleming is certainly horrible, but in an easy and obvious way that makes the game feel crass and immature.
The same is true for what elements of the story are told through the world design too. Garcia’s romp through the underworld is full of twists and anachronisms which, though trying to be witty or tongue in cheek, usually end up either falling flat or being outright confusing. Healing potions are replaced with alcohol, for example, and the only explanation given to players is when Garcia’s demonic accomplice explains that, while booze can kill you in the mortal world, it can unkill you in Hell. It’s a lazy and transparent excuse, utterly failing to disguise another attempt to be edgy by having a main character that downs tequila and swears after every battle.
It's harder to spot the rationale behind other instances, however. Strawberries are a recurring motif in Shadows of the Damned, for example, with Garcia having to collect the arbitrarily hidden fruits so that he can feed them to the demon-baby heads that act as locks on in-game doors. Why do some demon-babies want strawberries, and why do you have to collect them and feed them to doors to progress? Strawberries are a demonic treat, explains the in-game encyclopaedia; a joke played on mortals by Fleming who has hidden from mankind that strawberries are made from ground-up tongues.
Granted, it’s a tale which rounds out Fleming’s character in the most tiny and inconsistent way, but as these types of event become more common throughout the game it feels more like it’s a case of the developers being bizarre for the sake of it.
And, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that zaniness – not when it serves a purpose or it's backed by similarly inventive and unusual gameplay. The problem is that, as far as Shadows of the Damned is concerned, neither of these criteria are met.