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“It was a nice thought, G.”

I rented Shadows of the Damned and finished it on Wednesday. I kinda knew nothing about the game – all I’d watched was the Two Best Friends Play video of it, and didn’t think much about it. Saw it for rental and thought “why not.” It’s the perfect game for a five day rental!

Garcia F. Hotspur is a demon hunter. The demon overlord Fleming kidnaps his nondescript love interest, so with the help of Johnson, his talking British skull / gun / torch / motorbike / snarky sidekick, he sets out to Fleming’s castle to get her back.
Am I actually talking about a video game’s story in my review? Heavens above! Not that you can really call it much of a story. When I say “he sets out to Fleming’s castle,” I mean the characters basically romp through a series of increasingly disjointed locations with no bearing on geography or sense. There’s a lot of dialogue and a fair amount of movie scenes, but there’s not a lot of actual story going on.
Not that I’m complaining.

The gameplay can be lazily summarised as a cross between the over-the-shoulder shooting-dudes gameplay of Resident Evil 4 with the free-movement controls and weapon-swapping gimmick of Devil May Cry. You’ve got three guns and a Light Shot which freezes enemies, as well as interacts with certain environmental objects, and along the way you gain new techniques for your various guns, from explosive sticky bombs to explosive bowling balls. You also collect red gems to upgrade the strength and capacity of your various weapons, collect white gems to buy stuff, and other such activities expected of a modern video game. The core gameplay is entertaining, though it’s not going to turn any heads.

The atmosphere is where the heart and soul of the game lies. It’s outlandish, it’s crude, it’s absurd and it’s grotesque, and the whole thing is played for dumb laughs. The interplay between Garcia and Johnson is very entertaining and gives the game a lot of character. I’d dare say it’s the one game where I wish there was more dialogue during gameplay.
Garcia getting to explore the topsy-turvy realm of the demons and having all its quirks and oddities explained is fun to listen to. You can interact with signposts and billboards to have the characters converse about the subject, which not only serves as a nice way of expositing some world-building, but always pays off with some crass joke. The simple fact that Shadows of the Damned laces its information with some lowbrow humour on the side makes me more keen to pay attention to the gameplay-relevant information being spewed at me, but also to seek out the optional signboards that provide flavour about the surroundings.
Heck, playing the game just to see what ridiculous shit they’ll throw at you next is an amusing incentive to keep playing. Act 4 drops you in a 2D side-scrolling shmup with paper cut-out style graphics for a few levels, for no reason whatsoever. Act 3 has a level that contains a hilariously obvious homage to The Evil Dead, and a later level has you sniping down giant monsters with a… “Big Boner.” I can’t remember for the life of me why the characters go there or do that in the first place, but it got a giggle out of me, at least.

The game is kinda rough around the edges, though. Most of it is just minor faults such as sloppy animation and poor collision detection. Act 3 has a level where Paula (the love interest) is constantly drowned, but in one scene of her thrashing in the water, you can actually see a spare model of her floating in the distance in a ‘T’ position, which then snaps into the drowning animation once the first one has served its purpose. It can be kind of amusing in a B-movie manner at times, but sometimes it’s just a little embarrassing. The overall style of the game is just really neato, so it just blemishes the package a little when you see things like that.
There’s minor errors, and then there are glitches that force you to exit to the title screen and reload your save. I encountered a glitch in the As Evil As Dead chapter where in the midst of fighting a monster, I lost all control outside of moving and rotating the camera. Garcia’s animations played is slow-motion, and the sole remaining monster would constantly follow me, but never attack – it would approach, and then begin strafing when within attack range. I thought it was a crummy attempt at a psychological scare ala Eternal Darkness, but no, I had to restart from the last checkpoint.
Another problem occurs towards the end of the game – you have a giant demon attacking you, and you need to release a smaller one so it’ll spawn some darkness, killing the large one. If you kill the small one, it never respawns, and your only option is to get yourself killed or reload the checkpoint. A minor problem, but it’s a dumb little thing that should’ve been detected in testing, surely.

The endgame gets a bit tiresome due to some obnoxious enemies, monotonous boss fights and a dire lack of amusing interplay, mind you. I’ll be quite honest – the personality is what makes the game. If the game was played totally dry and serious with none of the highlighted absurdities, it wouldn’t be anything special. So when the final stretch of the game has a disappointing lack of banter between Johnson and Garcia, it’s a bit of a drag, y’know? I could listen to the two yammer all day. The ending is a bit of a change from the rather grimly comedic nature of the game, but it’s reasonably satisfying.
Sadly, despite being neatly organized into acts and chapters, the game has no level select feature. What the hell? I wondered if the upgrades made it awkward for them to implement a level select, as you could hop into a late level with the strength of your weapons at the lowest possible level, but even Bionic Commando had a level select and it just said “upgrades? Screw ’em! Have fun having barely any ammo, assholes!” A level select would allow you to forego the monotony of playing all the levels again just to reach a certain segment, but also so you can easily show off the best parts of the game to people. That’s practically the only reason my brother held onto Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Gather your friends, have a few laughs, and then show them The Great Mighty Poo as a conversation piece.

It got me wondering. given the gaming industry taking a lot of inspiration from films these days what with their long story scenes and cinematic looks and all, it kinda feels like some games tell the gamer “you’re going to enjoy this the way I tell you to!” It feels like Shadows of the Damned wants you to experience it as a movie, watching it from beginning to end, no fast-forwarding. You can’t skip any of the movie scenes, and there’s no level select. It feels like the kind of person who, when you’re watching The Matrix, shouts “no, we can’t fast forward to the fight scenes! We are going to soak in this totally layered and symbolism-filled storyline and you are going to like it.

The game does have three difficulty settings and one secret difficulty, so there’s some degree of replay value, albeit a limited one. Admittedly it’s the lack of proper replay value that dampened my enthusiasm for the game a little. The actual core game is decent enough, if nothing remarkable, but the totally outlandish environments, the over-the-top brutality and the lowbrow humour is what really grabbed my fancy. Despite being crass for the sake of being crass (not that that’s a bad thing! … most of the time), it’s actually got a nicely intriguing little world going on. If I were to revisit the game, I’d be more interested in replaying the memorable moments throughout the game rather than wade through it from the start. I totally enjoyed the game (despite some obnoxious boss battles), but even when starting a second file it was a bit of a grind just getting to the Evil Dead chapter again.

Fun, intriguing game, though I’d suggest renting it first. I like short games, but plonking down £40 for a 7-hour game with limited replay value isn’t great.

I watched Cast Away on Thursday. For the life of me, I can’t remember what made me pick up the movie. I think I’d just heard an offhand comment about how for the entire time the character is stranded, there’s no music whatsoever, and that stylistic choice must’ve intrigued me, I guess. Either that, or I’d just finished reading The Island of Dr. Moreau and thus wanted to watch something about dudes getting stranded on islands. Who knows. Point is, I was very surprised at how engaging the movie was!

So, Tom Hanks crashes on an island for four years and has to survive. He talks to a volleyball. It’s a difficult movie to proper summarise without it sounding like some farcical comedy (though that would be pretty funny), but it’s surprisingly engaging, and I found it positively heart wrenching at times. The very minimalist vibe of the film really makes it stand out – there’s absolutely no music for the entire time the protagonist is on the island, and very little dialogue outside of Tom Hanks cursing loudly or shouting at his volleyball, and it works remarkably well.
It kinda made me realise how a lot of movies let the music do the talking instead (if that makes any sense), and sometimes it can kind of limit your imagination a little. Like, you see a character looking sad, and there’s sad music welling up, and you’re like, “oh, he’s this sad.” It’s like an audio measuring scale of just how sad a dude can be. But Cast Away, once he’s on the island, there’s absolutely no music, and it really assists in getting you engaged in the story. You really envision yourself on that island and just how soul-crushingly lonely the whole experience must be. It kinda takes you out of the experience a little when the soaring sad strings return when his volleyball friend is lost at sea, though given how he’s crying his eyes out over a face on an inanimate object, it probably helped cast a better tone. Tom Hanks sounds hilarious when he cries.

Today’s observation: For the past three days, I’ve consistently found a spider in my trousers each morning. Not when I’m wearing them, mercifully.


  1. MightyKombat wrote:


    Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink
  2. Ragey wrote:

    Oh boo hoo. At least spiders are relatively courteous guests – they don’t raise a ruckus or go out of their way to bug you.

    Moths, on the other hand, are total gatecrashers – they loiter on your windows in groups, and then they just invite themselves in and bash their heads violently against every light source available. I’ll take the trouser-spider anyday. At least it knows when to clear off.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  3. MightyKombat wrote:

    Oh fuck moths. They just won’t go away.

    And big flies with the constant BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZz and their inability to notice an open fucking window.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink