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2 Reviews

Shadows of the Damned

A little bit half-cocked

How much do you like dick jokes? That's the question you need to ask yourself when you stumble across Shadows of The Damned, gleaming on a shop shelf. If the mere concept of willies has you collapsing into fits of giggles, you'll spend hours in Shadows hooting and guffawing as Garcia 'F-bomb' Hotspur and his right-hand-manhood Johnson rack up knob gag after knob gag. If Freud were alive today, he'd have a field day.

Fortunately, this isn't the sort of obnoxious frat boy 'comedy' you'd find on a straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel. This may have Unreal Engine doing the maths and a Western art style, but it's still very much a Japanese production. It's this that gives the relentless innuendo a quirky charm. It's wanting to discover what ludicrous gag the writers will come up with next that carries you through the bulk of Shadows.

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And occasionally you will need to be carried. SotD is by no means a lengthy game, nor a bad one, but it sags in the middle like a sausage dog. Mechanically, blasting the heads off the various demon enemies in the game is awfully satisfying. The pistol - called the Boner and later the Super Boner - is crisp and precise, allowing you to one-shot a bad guy's skull so that it explodes like a firework full of offal. Equip the shotgun clone and a single thumping blast turns the standard enemy into chunks.

Managing the light and dark is also more tactical than just stripping enemies of their darkness before you plug them and it's regularly used for slower-paced puzzles as well as combat. Don't expect Portal 2 levels of sophistication, but there are certainly rules to Shadows' universe that you'll need to get to grips with.

The problem is, around Act 3 it all starts to get repetitive. The weapon upgrades you've received aren't substantively different enough from their default forms and while new flavours of enemy turn up from time to time, they're almost as quickly dealt with as the standard nasties. It's only really the bizarre banter between Hotspur and Johnson, that's propping your eyelids up.

Then in Act Four the game unceremoniously dumps a load of new mechanics on you, like it's just found the last page of its own design document down the back of the sofa. There's turret shooting, bookshelf shifting and, most conspicuously, on three separate occasions the game transforms itself into a papercraft-style side scrolling shooter. In terms of pacing, this kind of variety should be sprinkled liberally across the campaign, not lumped at the end like a cartoon elephant on a seesaw.

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Still, even at its lowest ebb, it's difficult to hate this game. The action might be repetitive, but the environments are always a far more inspiring depiction of Hell than, say, Dante's Inferno's more literal interpretation. Shadows' version has a pub, for a start. Similarly the character design, particularly the chief antagonists, is brilliant - lord of the underworld Fleming manages to look both menacing and ridiculous at the same time, which is no small achievement.

An unexpected highlight comes in the form of occasional storybooks containing filthy fables that are dotted around the game. They're tied to the main plot, fleshing out some of hell's more characterful denizens, and our heroes' commentaries as they flick through the pages contain some of the funniest lines in the game.

And then, like that, it's all over. Shadows will probably take you no more than eight hours to knock on the head and after that, there's nothing else to do. No multiplayer, no score chasing Horde-clone; there isn't even a chapter select. It's no wonder you're forced to complete the game three times to get all three difficulty level achievements.

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