Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shadows of the Damned

As part of my "No, really, there's nothing to play until August?" attempt to find, well, stuff to play until August, I got this for some trade-in credit at The Exchange. The Giant Bomb "Quick Look" sold me (amazing how watching someone play a game for a bit will give you the insight you want into it) and I decided it was worth, well, no real money. The game, if you have not caught wind of it yet (easy enough to do considering no marketing behind it whatsoever) comes down to - and am taking this cue too from Giant Bomb - a world of John Constantine meets El Mariachi set in a Rodriguez Grindhouse film. It's a third person shooter from the guys who brought us stuff like "No More Heroes" and "Killer 7" in which our protagonist - Garcia Fucking Hotspur (yes, always with the fucking in there) see's his lover, Paula, murdered and her soul stolen by agents of the Underworld. Combined with his sidekick Johnson - a floating skull who's an escapee from the Underworld - Garcia kicks ass through the Underworld making loads of sexual references and Boner jokes, posturing and taunting through a thick and somewhat cheesy Mexican accent, and in general dealing with fucked up shit.

And I loved it. Well, okay, I really really liked it, as I'll breakdown here. The thing about this game, as it goes with most these Suda 51 joints, is more or less the random crazy that comes with it. The main demon, Fleming, has three skulls stacked on top of each other for a head? Alright. Locked doors are accessible once you give the crying baby demon that is attached to it a strawberry or eyeball to eat? Sure. There's a "light and dark" mechanic whereas the darkness continues to suck the life out of you until you use your "light shot" on a goat's head on the wall to keep it at bay? Fuck it, I'm in. Your gun's name is the Boner anyway since it's formed by your buddy Johnson for god's sakes, if you're on board with that from the get-go, might as well give the rest a try. That remainder includes some fucking gruesome imagery, as well a bit of psychological horror, and a very apparent self-awar attitude. One level involves running from the flesh-hungry form of your Paula chasing you into a cabin in the woods where there's something terrible in the basement. This game knows its influences and its sense of "HA! Bad pun!" humor and revels in them, and it makes the essence of the game very endearing in its craziness and referential manner.

The problem with this game though, is that all the fun stuff is wrapped up in a pretty mediocre third-person shooter. The targeting is twitchy, sometimes the camera gets too up in your face - especially since some of these enemies are pretty damn fast - and it becomes difficult to see freaking anything. The variations of gun Johnson takes up - large barreled pistol, shotgun, and machine gun - have some cool alt-fire stuff going on, but in of themselves are pretty standard. There are some genuinely enjoyable puzzle designs in here, particularly using the light and dark mechanics, but then, and most of the boss fights, boil down to "find and shoot the shiny button" and running around a lot trying to duck things out to rip your head off. There's some really off-the-wall gameplay deviations in the Act 4 section that are nice, but even then they go to well with that stuff probably too soon or too often and lose their novelty quick. For all the greatness I think the environment, characters, and atmosphere reach, I think the actual gameplay is not necessarily "generic" but rough and kind of brings the experience down.

If there's a rub to this game at all, I think that it really is one of those titles that calls in the "what is a game worth?" question. I really liked this game, despite its frustrations. I'll take an okay shooter with great atmosphere like this over a shooter first experience with almost no personality (like a Gears) any time. But the lackluster mechanics have left me unwilling to deal with them again for a replay, especially when you tab on that this game is pretty Platinum Trophy/Gamer Score unfriendly (They don't give you credit for lower difficulty level trophies/achievements when you beat it on a higher one. You want full credit, you're playing this three times through buddy). If I had paid actual money and full $60 of it at that for it, I'd be kind of let down. As is, I think this kind of game is the perfect "wait six months for it to hit half price" item, the addition rub being that with next to no notable releases until late August, impatience may set in on some gaming thumbs.

I'll say this, the day if/when a sequel comes out, I'll be overjoyed that it did and highly anticipate playing it. The whiff I catch on how much the gameplay is "fixed" though, will be the deciding factor on when I get it. For some though, what I've said here and review sites have posted, that might be fully worth the whole sixty clams, and that's great, but some may have mixed feelings like I did about the gameplay and feel a little anxious about that price. I have a feeling this could be this year's "Darksiders" though, a game with great atmosphere and okay enough gameplay that gets it enough "cult" praise to get enough people on board for another. Of course, Darksiders sold well out the gate, so I guess we'll see how this does when NPD's hit.

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