Shadows Of The Damned ought to be called Resident Evil 4: Dead By Dawn. The new actioner from Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami feels like the unholy spawn of the beloved shooter and Sam Raimi’s hyperkinetic Evil Dead 2.
The plot follows Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur (voiced, unfortunately, by the ubiquitous Steven Blum) on a trip to the underworld to rescue his girlfriend from the archfiend Fleming. Hotspur’s personal hell involves repeatedly witnessing his lover’s gory dismemberment, but he isn’t discouraged. In his Sisyphean pursuit, he shoots through an army of Fleming’s undead minions, pausing to quaff booze (absinthe recovers health) and collect the occasional strawberry.
Suda 51 has a reputation for crafting wacked-out games. Visually, Shadows Of The Damned feels sober compared to his strangest. Unlike Killer7 and No More Heroes, it’s going for visual realism, or something like it. Every so often, a lo-fi aesthetic ripples underneath its high-def Hades. A jagged burst of Battlezone-style wire-frame accompanies most weapon changes. But for the most part, Shadows Of The Damned is all about drawing a vivid, bloody portrait of hell.
Oddball moments fortunately outweigh the serious. During his quest, Hotspur dials a hellish phone-sex line, plays pachinko, argues in favor of a good Caprese salad, and transforms into 2-D for a recurring series of retro shooting levels. There’s also enough dick-joke juvenilia to make Duke Nukem blush, but the bawdiness doesn’t feel so exclusionary.
Gunplay here is a satisfying elaboration on the over-the-shoulder shooting that made Resident Evil 4 so great, though Hotspur can actually move around when his gun is drawn. His firearm doubles as a sidekick—a hoity-toity skull named Johnson who cracks wise and morphs between a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and at one point, a huge, phallic cannon.
Puzzle-solving plays a vital role. Frequently, Hotspur is swept into darkness—a crippling alternate reality that can sap his life. Sorting out the murk might mean illuminating the world by shooting one of the laughing goat heads mounted on hell’s walls, or blasting enemies with a shot of light to purge their darkness.
Last year, Mikami fired a blank with Vanquish—a highly polished shooter wrapped in a dopey, unambitious science-fiction world. Shadows Of The Damned brings out the best of both creators. Suda 51’s warped, pop-culture-obsessed vision and Mikami’s sure-fire action make a heck of a match.