Remember 2011 for: Shadows of the Damned

As 2011 draws to a close TVGB takes this week to look at some of the best games of the year. No, we’re not going to be the hundredth site to tell you that Portal 2/Skyrim/Batman/Uncharted 3 was the best game to release in the last 365 days, but rather remember some of the titles that, while not necessarily forgotten, won’t be at the forefront of the GOTY nominations. Today we take you back to Today’s pick is Shadows of the Damned.

I’m not going to tell you that Shadows of the Damned’s failure to sell was one of the year’s biggest tragedies, I’m not going to wish a plague upon your house for not picking it up and I’m certainly not about to tell you to head to the shops for a last-minute Christmas treat.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Shadows. I love its humour, its characters, its gameplay and its setting, but I know plenty of people that wouldn’t share those sentiments. It was 2011’s crudest game in more ways than one. It had the jokes to make Duke Nukem blush but also gameplay that, while obviously drawing influence from co-creator Shinji Mikami’s masterful Resident Evil 4, didn’t measure up to that of his previous work on Vanquish from a mechanical perspective.

It was just really a question of how much that mattered to you. It’s a game where you need to test the waters first, because its opening chapter sets the tone and if it doesn’t draw you in, then best back away asap. Shadow’s gameplay was serviceable, but it was its story and cast that would really take you for a wild ride if you let it.

Demon Hunter Garcia ‘F—king’ Hotspur and his trusty talking skull sidekick Johnson (yes that name is very much intended) were a one of a kind pair. No innuendo was too much, no phallic object too rude in their pursuit to save Garcia’s girlfriend, Paula, from the clutches of Flemming, the demon overlord. The game’s first level, which sees Garcia start his long journey through the underworld, proves as much with a rather show-stopping line from the tattoo-covered protagonist: “Just tell me if I have to f—k a horse to open a door.”

Call me immature, sure, but seeing as I’ve just shoved a strawberry into a baby’s mouth to open the last door, that got a belly laugh from me. And so did a lot of the rest of Shadows of the Damned, with its borderline offensive sense of humour. While Mikami is there for the gameplay, you can thank No More Heroes’ Suda 51 for its tone.

It’s the game’s ability to throw the most unexpected events at you that pushes you further into the depths of hell. One moment you’ll be up against an enemy that can do nothing but scream the f-bomb as loud as possible, the next you’ll find yourself inexplicably placed in a side-scrolling 2D shooter to get from point A to B. You might a raise an eyebrow at one or two of the ideas found in here (goats that emit light, for example, are apparently commonplace in the underworld) but if you look to the game for any sort of answer to this nonsense it will seemingly throw its arms up in the air and shout through crazed laughter “Just go with it.”

Another sequence that mixed the game’s humour with its gunplay was the one-off ‘Big Boner’ level, which saw an extended Johnson being fired to take down hulking enemies. When the two key elements of the game mixed like this it made for a brilliantly entertaining time, one free of the pressures of AAA blockbusters, more evoking the simple sense of fun that any video game should provide at its base.

Perhaps, then, the RE4 template was not a perfect fit for Shadows of the Damned, perhaps it would have been better off in another genre completely, or packing the kind of gameplay variety that Uncharted 3 had rather than falling back on its capable yet dull shooting mechanics 75% of the time.

If there is a tragedy about Shadows of the Damned’s retail performance it’s that the game will likely never get a sequel now. And with that hope fades the chance to improve and create a game that could perfectly marry gameplay and story to make one of this generation’s best third person shooters, if not something else. As it stands, what we got was one of 2011’s more unique stories and settings, something that reminded us about how games really could be all about the fun. And that alone makes Shadows worth just a tiny peek.