Shadows of the Damned hands-on
If there was one word to describe EA's forthcoming darkly humorous horror shooter, that would be "bonkers". Admittedly, thanks to Dizzy Rascal and a whole generation of teenagers and clubbers, it's an overused adjective at the moment, but never has it been more aptly attributed to a game than with Shadows of the Damned.
It is, indeed, bonkers. And in a very good way.
The game, which is due out on 24 June for Xbox 360 and PS3, is the result of putting three of Japan's most creative minds together, and therefore has created more buzz than a bee with its phone on vibrate.
Producer Shinji Mikami is the man responsible for no less than the Resident Evil franchise, composer Akira Yamaoka has crafted and sound engineered the Silent Hill games in the past, and Goichi Suda (aka Suda 51) is the mind behind Killer7 and No More Heroes. And it is the latter maverick that we suspect came up with the original idea.
Shadows of the Damned has you play as Garcia Hotspur - a great hero name if ever we've heard one, with just a hint of porn star for good measure - who must descend into Hell in order to rescue his girlfriend from a demon called Fleming. Yep, Fleming. Not Phlegming, which, perhaps, would've been more apt. Maybe Suda 51 isn't a big fan of James Bond or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But it's by no means the weirdest thing you'll encounter during the adventure.
Along the way, you must defeat demons of all shapes and sizes, and solve puzzles whilst battling the denizens of Hades - some of which involve feeding body parts to door locks that look like the heads of babies. No, really.
In addition, spattered throughout, alongside plenty of gore and gizzards, are quips, amusing asides and one or two genuine surprises (such as the demon shopkeeper you happen across). This is a darkly amusing game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and thus strikes it apart from any of the work the triumvirate of games industry veterans may have offered up before.
The gameplay, however, is reassuringly familiar. As a third person shooter, with a lot of emphasis on targeting and gunplay (although the weapons are called things like "boner"), it owes plenty to Mikami's latter day Resident Evils - and that's no bad thing. Plus there are splendid end of level bosses, with fighting styles that have to be assessed and countered.
It also helps tear Shadow of the Damned away from the recently reimagined Splatterhouse, a game it bears certainly similarities to, in plot and concept at least. Thankfully, even from the few levels we've played so far on the Xbox 360 version, it is vastly superior in gameplay terms. And certainly enough for us to salivate over the prospect of playing the full review sample when it appears soon.
Sleeper hit of the year? Most likely... As long as you don't mind a few nightmares.