Back to 2011 and Shadows of the Damned’s Hotboner
Shadows of the Damned main character Garcia Hotspur was the definition of cool in 2011. It was the peak period of Sons of Anarchy, with Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys still tearing it apart. Garcia had an amazing name, a leather jacket, a motorbike, tattoos, and he was breaking down the door to Hell to get his girlfriend back. It’s no coincidence that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was released in 2011 as well, as Johnny Blaze and Garcia could have been twins. Of course, the wind is moving forward ten years and our idea of ââcool has gone completely away, but Garcia Hotspur could have been the poster child of 2010’s machismo.
Then there were the sexual innuendos. Well, we’re saying innuendos, but it was so choppy on the face that it was probably just classified as rude. “Your bullets have no … penetration”, said the main villain, Fleming. Then there was Garcia’s demonic sidekick, Johnson. You have to ride it like a motorcycle (“hur hur, riding Johnson”), use it like a torch, or – more often than not – manhandle it like a gun. Shadows of the Damned managed to hide the fact that it only had three relatively generic weapons by giving them names like “Hotboner”.
Never before have so many intelligent and capable people done something so youthful. You expect it from Suda51, the executive director of No More Heroes, who was going to do Deadly premonition. But you might not have expected it from Shinji Mikami, the ancestor of resident Evil, who would act as the Creative Director on Shadows of the Damned. Eyebrows are also raised on sound director Akira Yamaoka, who got our nerves on edge with the Silent Hill soundtrack, but produces some thirty different musical genres on that soundtrack alone.
They’ve come together to produce a game that wears its rude, rude, and stupid heart on its sleeve. Take the critical character called One-Eyed William, for example, who wasn’t included because Suda loved the Goonies. You replenished your health by drinking hot absinthe and sake (available from vending machines in Hell, of course). Mini-games dot the countryside, playing you through sections as a 2D side-scrolling shooter.
You suspect that Shadows of the Damned wouldn’t pass the green light these days, for a multitude of reasons. It’s too original an IP address to launch a franchise, and you think the big studios would sniff at the prospect of betting on it. It doesn’t feel tested in oblivion, with its angler fish, goat gates and howling baby heads.
But above all – and this is from someone who loves Shadows of the Damned from the bottom of their heart – he has a deeply ugly side. He plays his damsel plot far too straight, with you chasing hell to find your partner, Paula. Although she gets last-minute redemption and an alternate identity in the form of the Unbreakable Huntress, there is no attempt to give her a character. It’s the soccer ball that you and Fleming the main villain throw at each other – it’s just that this soccer ball is dressed in lingerie. Plus, she is tortured multiple times for the joy of Fleming, who reduces her to a torso and a head, with all the jokes you’d expect. Once Fleming shoved quadriplegic Paula into her coat with a soft moan, we couldn’t help but physically shudder.
Yeah, Shadows of the Damned wouldn’t be done these days. But there are a lot of sad things about this statement. By all accounts, it went through development hell, as the studios tried to contort it into Western forms, but that doesn’t really show in the final product. It’s still deeply strange, and very, very Suda51.
There are the characters you meet, who have an impressive contrast between their looks and their sound. Christopher, a terrifying goat-demon thing that acts as the in-game store, is a towering monstrosity who speaks with a soft Cockney accent. âHeidi ho! Is his greeting whenever you are near. We love the way enemies appear in a shower of gems and crystals, like you’re playing a match-3. It completely undermines the Dante’s Hell visuals, where everything is horrible and dark, but you feel like it’s someone having fun.
Playing it now, Shadows of the Damned hasn’t aged very well. It clearly rides on the 2005 Resident Evil 4 vague (this will be the influence of Shinji Mikami), where each game was a lightly weighted action game. You can get stuck in corners with demons scratching your face and you won’t be able to see anything. Garcia is not particularly fast and you will pass through areas that must be walked through. Graphically, it’s also a bit rough, as the characters all have that wide-eyed sex doll look, which – we guess – is what they were after.
But even playing it now, ideas are oozing out of your Xbox. Shadows of the Damned plays with a concept called Darkness, where you are sometimes immersed in a blackened alternate reality where enemies are tougher and take damage to you over time. You don’t want to stay in this reality for long, so puzzles emerge. You use your light bullets to shoot gargoyle goats, which destroy Darkness, but spotting and finding them becomes a challenge. You might have temporary shelters, like the angler we mentioned, that you need to follow. And the bosses – so many bosses – play with the Darkness, causing you to panic as your health crumbles.
In general, bosses in Shadows of the Damned are crowd-pleaser. They’re giant goats (there’s no shortage of goats), human-headed fountains, Frankensteins charging around open-air markets and more, and they’re all memorable. Kill them and they’ll cover you with gems, which means you’ll have the chance to fight the leveling system, which is also fabulous. The guns, while being just a vanilla pistol, shotgun, and automatic rifle, are taken in fantastic directions.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Shadows of the Damned made a mouthful of bread. Only 24,000 units were sold in the first week, both on PS3 and Xbox 360. There had to be a reason why this kind of sub-AAA game isn’t being made anymore. But it’s so full of ideas, so ready to go against the cultural trend, that it’s a shame there aren’t more like it.
Sometimes, when you’re fed up with the umpteenth AK47 or rocket launcher in a game, you just want to wield a Hotboner.
Do you have any Shadows of the Damned memories that are safe for the job? Did you share some love for this flawed masterpiece? Let us know in the “Comments” section. And if you haven’t played Shadows of the Damned yet, you might just be struggling now. It has been digitally removed from the list Xbox Store back in February 2021, so your best bet now would be a physical copy of people like Amazon so you can play it through backward compatibility on Xbox One and Xbox Series X | S.