Grasshopper Manufacture’s Suda51 is renowned for quirky, out-there games that often have something to say, even if it’s through juvenile humor. As the creator of Capcom’s seminal Resident Evil franchise, Shinji Mikami knows a thing or two about action-horror games. And as evinced by his work on the Silent Hill series, composer Akira Yamaoka is a master of creating a chilling atmosphere.
Shadows of the Damned (PlayStation 3 [previewed], Xbox 360)
A key mechanic that ratchets up the tension is “darkness.” A dark blue haze envelops Hotspur, making it difficult to see and draining his health. The best way to get rid of darkness is to listen for the bleating of a goat, which will lead to a goat head that Hotspur can shoot, “because goats eat everything -- even darkness.” Enemies remain coated in an inky goop that Hotspur must remove with light -- either by hitting them with his Johnson, blowing up light barrels, or using his light gun -- before he can use his regular weapons on them. Johnson can be used as a melee weapon, but he can also turn into a pistol (called “Boner,” because it fires bones, and I wonder why else), a shotgun, and a machine gun. Demons drop red gems that can be used to improve the guns’ attributes (such as clip size and rate of fire), and blue gems will allow Hotspur to upgrade his weapons entirely.
The darkness in Shadows will also introduce puzzle elements -- in the demon-pubes section, a large hand sat on a platform spewing darkness into the area, and the gates were adorned with babies’ heads that required sustenance (in the form of eyeballs and brains) before they would open. The gradually approaching wall of darkness forced Hotspur to be quick, and it included the additional concern of more demons. Enemies will hang out within the darkness, since they’re much stronger there, and in this case, Hotspur had to temporarily endure the darkness to solve the puzzle. He fed the babies in order to open the gates and gain access to a goat head and the staircase that led up to the hand. Once there, he merely shoved his Johnson into its palm in order to stop the darkness from coming out.
So far, Shadows appears to be a fairly conventional third-person shooter with some interesting gameplay conceits (the darkness, Johnson) and a hell of a lot of style. (This is Suda’s first game on the HD platforms, and the Unreal Engine really lets his artistic vision shine through.) I’m curious to see more of its psychological horror elements, like the stuff with Paula, as well as to find out more about the story in general. I can’t comment much on the score, since the noise level at the press event covered up the game’s sound, but I’m sure Yamaoka’s orchestration will bring a lot to the table. The sum of the parts of Shadows of the Damned sounds appealing enough, but I’m hoping the final product will offer more.