Shadows of the Damned, the supergroup collaboration of Suda51, Shinji Mikami and Akira Yamaoka, brings about an action-adventure game involving the classic damsel in distress rescue mission. Yet, this is a Grasshopper Manufacture product, so we’re expecting the unexpected and definitely not something that the mass market will appreciate at first glance.
What We Already Know: Just like Dante's Inferno, SotD is a rescue through hell. Hero Garcia Hotspur is aided by Johnson, a shape-shifting former demon that can turn into a number of objects, including a lethal club, an illuminating torch, or one of several firearms.
The exploration caters to Shinji's Mikimi's Resident Evil pedigree for puzzles. Much of it involves dealing with the darkness that can harm Garcia and the player finding ways to move the darkness away.
What We’re Seeing Now: The main gameplay element I came away with from this latest hands-on session was how many different ways Garcia will have to eliminate the darkness, even if some of those situations are only temporary. One example involves lamps, which look like antiquated versions of heating lamps you see in patio areas in restaurants. I’d use Johnson to light the lamp, but I would also need to take out specific enemies in order to get rid of the darkness permanently from that area. Otherwise, the darkness would come back in less than a minute, and I would have to repeat the process all over again.
I also came across a rather endearing creature that looked like a deepsea fish out of water. Called the Sushi Lamp, this hovering landfish has a bulb that illuminates the darkness, giving Garcia safe passage along the limited area that the Sushi Lamp is willing to go.
One of the other weapons we didn't have a chance to highlight before was the Monocussioner, the game’s obligatory shotgun that complements the handgun known as the Boner and the machine gun called the Teether. This additional time with Shadows' combat also got me up close with enemies multiple times. It was a good time to try out Johnson as a fiery, swingable torch. Holding down a button charges him up for an effective blow that can take out multiple enemies at once. For those creatures that manage to get too close to Garcia, a button prompt often appears, giving our hero an opportunity for a satisfying elbow counter
We also took the time to study the game's upgrade system. It's nothing too surprising: attributes like the rate of fire, size, and enemy stun time can enhance the Light Shot; damage, reload speed, and capacity improves other weapons; and the Torch's clubbing ability can be upgraded with a faster charge up speed.
Contributing to the game's 'M' rating is, of all things, Garcia's mode of healing. He drinks alcohol, a lot of alcohol. We're talking sake, tequila, and absinthe just to name a few.
Suda’s anything-goes approach was equally evident when I met Christopher, a half human, half demon. Sporting a ring behind him not unlike the Japanese Shinto god of thunder, Raijin, Christopher is an unusual underworlder for having a hick accent and a Gregory House wisecracking attitude. But he is useful in eating the gems you find throughout the game, which he compensates in kind by giving you ammo.
I also got to play through a brief deviation from the standard exploration and combat with a sequence involving a tower. The object here was to break a series of crystals that lined the inner walls. Break enough crystals, and some of the darkness leaves from the top of the tower. By using both analog sticks, I guided Garcia throughout the circumference of the structure as well as pulled him upward when there was room to move. While filled with demons, I didn't feel any sense of threat, and as a result, didn’t feel the compulsion to kill them; I just wanted to get to the top. That did leave me wondering why there was not a sense of challenge with this area.
Before I had the chance to ponder this further, I found myself in the chapter’s main boss fight. It started as a cutscene involving an opponent inspired by Frankenstein although that certainly wasn’t its final form. And when I was about to take him on, the demo ended, but not before the dialogue continued with its bizarre and amusing script of good versus evil trash talking; something to the effect of a cat fornicating with a harmonica.
Did I also mention that the game has a progress map reminiscent of that old school style from games like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Castlevania? Not that is indicative of other possible ways Shadows of the Damned will cater to older players, but it is a nice touch.