Shadows of the Damned (360, PS3)

For me Shadows of the Damned achieved a sublime mix of creative talent. If I were to compare it to the classics I would see it as a mix of Shakespeare, Mozart and Da Vinci coming together for a production. To my Japanese centric mind, with a propensity for horror and narrative, the pool of creative talent EA pulled together was breath taking. Suda 51 brought his spin to the story, with Shinji Mikami handling game play and Akira Yamaoka on drums… I mean writing the score. Honestly there is nothing in this mix that could possibly go wrong. Right? Well, in theory yes, but as I proved one time when I made ramen with a beer and cheese, sometimes the whole can be far less than the sum of its parts.

Meet Garcia 'Fucking' Hotspur and his faithful friend Johnson, the talking and conveniently transforming skull.

I will confess before I begin that absolutely Shadows of the Damned IS better than beer-ramen with cheese topping, both in flavour and overall experience. Every member of the Japanese trio that had me so excited certainly delivers on their promise, with the outlandish plot, supported by solid gameplay and music that is both evocative and unique. But it is hard to ignore the feeling that none of the group are on top form. That, similar to the England football team, each of them was brought in at the top of their game and then became unable to produce their best performance.

To shed a little clarity for those unfamiliar with Shadow of the Damned it is a grind house inspired trip to the Underworld with the fantastically named Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur (not sure if that is his real middle name but he seems to like to). Garcia is a demon hunter out to liberate his girlfriend, Paula, who had been captured by the king of the Underworld, Fleming, who is repeatedly killing her to teach Garcia a lesson for killing all of his minions. This may not sound too odd when I explain it, but I promise it is with all of the odd flourishes that Suda 51 is famed for making an appearance to make you utter befuddled and amused sounds constantly.

A light and dark mechanic allows somethings to only be hurt when in shadow, unfortunately this also hurts Garcia.

Supporting Suda’s story is more than slightly familiar game play, as Mikami reverts to his Resident Evil 4 roots, and a score that thanks to Yamaoka oscillates between appropriately odd and out right peculiar.

It should all add up to my dream title, but the amalgamation just never quiet meshes. Every time the team comes close to the harmonious chorus I long for it goes wrong. There is always a distraction from total enjoyment; a strange music choice here or a loose camera movement there; there is always something elusively that stays just outside my perception, distracting from my enjoyment. Perhaps it was that each of the creative minds involved work better when not constrained by others creative diversions, truly a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Here is the girlfriend, Paula, being killed by Fleming hundreds of times seems to be taking it toll.

Of course there could be dozens of reasons Shadows of the Damned not reaching the lofty heights I had hoped for. A troubled development, difficulties in any number of areas, time restraints or simple lack of inspiration could have all contributed to the game’s underperformance. None of this changes the end result however, which is that Shadows of the Damned does not meet my (unreasonably?) high expectation. None of this is not to say I don’t like it, just where I was expecting a cheese board with a nice red wine I instead received a hearty ploughman’s with a pint of Stella, and I am not that keen on Stella.

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