Hunting through levels to find keys that unlock gates to new areas, running and rolling to avoid enemies that can only be killed by attacking the weak spot on their back and stopping in the heat of a battle to top-up your energy with a health pack. These are all video game clichés and they're just a few of the overused gameplay mechanics that appear in Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned. Gamers can complain about tired ideas all they want, in a game set in an ordinary, grey world but what Shadows of the Damned does a great job of proving, is that it's not so much the gameplay mechanics, but the way they're showcased that makes a game. This is how Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami have managed to turn what would otherwise be nothing but a 'fun' title, into something more like a masterpiece.
In Shadows of the Damned, locks are presented as the faces of demon babies and keys, the food of a balanced diet; brains, eyeballs and strawberries, while save points take the form of turds dropped by a one-eyed bird like creature and health packs are in the shape of alcoholic drinks which, in the words of the game's witty sidekick demon, Johnson, 'un-kill' the player, instead of dooming them to a lifetime of kidney problems.
It may take the player a fair few minutes before they learn to look beyond the game's illusion of originality and nobody would blame you if you managed to play through the entire game, before realising that it's not much more than a generic third person shooter (or action thriller, depending on how you see it), with a coat of hellish polish and a touch of Suda 51's signature 'punk-rock' style. This may sound like a bad thing, but the fact that Grasshopper Manufacture managed to pull this off shows nothing but raw talent from the team behind the game. I've not finished it yet, but I am a good few hours into Garcia Hotspur's road movie and, so far, the lick of paint disguising the familiar elements of the game is doing a good job of keeping me interested as I fight slow moving demons and run around closed off arenas to defeat enemies that might look and sound like giant, swearing birds, but act no more out of the ordinary than a typical video game boss.
The novelty of a shoving a strawberry into the mouth of a baby's head, while hearing Mexican hero, Garcia Hotspur, shout expletives isn't the only thing the game has going for it, though. Cheesy, but hilarious, dialogue, the likeability of the game's protagonist and his British sidekick and an intruiguing lightness/darkness mechanic seem to have the power to keep anybody interested, even if they do discover the truth behind the game's so called 'originality', before the story is over.
If the game continues to entertain and the novelty of phallic jokes doesn't dry up anytime soon, Shadows of the Damned could end up being a contender for my personal GOTY 2011.
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