New horror action game Shadows Of The Damned certainly has an impressive pedigree. The Electronic Arts-published title, first unveiled at last year's Tokyo Game Show, is being developed by Goichi Suda's (Suda51) Grasshopper Manufacture studio in collaboration with Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil series. The team has harnessed the Unreal 3 Engine to power the game and enlisted Silent Hill sound designer Akira Yamaoka to handle the audio. It's pretty much a dream team in action games development, and what they have produced is essentially a mix of blood-soaked, House of Horror spookiness and Uncharted-style blockbuster action. DS had some hands-on time with the game to see if it's shaping up to be a dream proposition, or a total nightmare.
At its heart, Shadows Of The Damned is essentially a third-person shooter with action and light puzzle elements, perhaps more similar to Uncharted than Gears Of War. Hotspur wields a gun and a melee staff, which is a skull on a stick that also acts as his wise-cracking guide/companion. The stick can additionally be used as a melee weapon, with the attack button able to be held down for a period of time to unleash a more powerful assault. The gunplay appears pretty solid, with the shots having a pleasant thwack, leading to enemies being gradually dismembered amid fountains of blood and gore. Red gems can be collected to access the game's upgrade system. Hotspur's gun can be levelled up during the campaign, transforming it into the Teether, a machine gun that fires teeth, and a heavy weapon that shoots skulls.
After fighting through some early sections against zombified monsters (looking not too dissimilar to the enemies in recent first-person shooter Singularity), we entered a garish open space, triggering a cut scene. A woman dressed in bondage gear kitted out with a variety of weapons was dancing rather oddly on a balcony at the other end of the courtyard. She continued gyrating, confusing our hero, before a giant snarling mini-boss emerged, guarding a big door below a sign proclaiming ominously, "Welcome to Hell". Fighting the boss involved the usual technique of pummelling a glowing section of his body, designating a weak point (when will these baddies learn?). However, the slight twist was that it was necessary to dazzle the monster with a light shot in order to get the chance to dole out some punishment. After downing the foe, we took the plunge and entered the dark underworld.
Moving further into the demonic city brought more enemies to fight, but also a variety of the game's environmental puzzles. Again, Shadows Of The Damned doesn't tread into particularly revolutionary territory with its puzzles, instead sticking to pretty tried and tested techniques. A central courtyard area featured a range of gates with ugly-faced demons as locks, each requiring a different object before they would open - a brain, an eye, and, rather bizarrely, a strawberry. This meant moving around the space to find the right object for each gate, before stuffing it into the mouth of the hungry lock.
Shadows Of The Damned is an 18-rated game and there are certainly lashings of gore and horror, but it is more akin to an end-of-the-pier House of Horror than the claustrophobic terror of Resident Evil. Graphically, everything is polished and the art direction is distinctive, but everything has a theatrical edge, with monsters and bloody piles of limbs amped up to the maximum. It's unclear, though, whether the game has its tongue firmly in its cheek, or is just comically naive. The jokey dialogue is camp and a bit ridiculous on first look, meaning the humour could become a bit tiresome after a while. For example, after the demon emerged from the version of Paula, the skull-stick companion quipped: "Demons are just like men, they all want to get inside the women."
Shadows Of The Damned will be released on June 7 in North American and June 10 in Europe for PlayStation 3and Xbox 360.