Shadows of the Damned preview: Hardly Hell

As the tall, blood-covered Frankenstein doppleganger leapt from a gigantic flame in the middle of a courtyard, I thought to myself, "Man, this guy could really use a bath." The shock set in when the demon reached into his own chest and ripped out its heart, then ate it, causing him to transform into a gigantic beast-man with a grotesque wolf's head. Howling at the moon, he summoned forth a mouthless steed covered in blood and rotting skin. Mounting his hell ride, he then conjured a trident and spear from the ether and set his sights on me.

If there's one thing I can say about the brief 15-minute Shadows of the Damned demo I played this week, it's that the game isn't short on crazy. Also, I wish I got to kill that demon and the disfigured horse he rode in on.
%Gallery-121868% Much like the previous demo we saw at GDC, the sampling was focused on the intertwining of combat and the game's central darkness mechanic. I took on a variety of zombie-type dudes, both inside the life-draining reach of the darkness and while within the protective radius of a "Light Sushi," a large, monkfish-looking creature with a gigantic bulb attached to its head. Its light source helped peel away the shield of darkness most enemies rely on, turning them into the perfect fodder for the shotgun, one of the weapon manifestations of my possessed-torch buddy.

The two companions play off each other in wonderful fashion. The main character, Garcia Hotspur, is a headstrong, macho dude with all of the confidence in the world, and his partner is Johnson, a cheeky British skull attached to a torch shaft, who transforms into Garcia's weapons. Snide banter was liberally exchanged between the two during my play session, and it was, honestly, quite funny. And vulgar.

Another great character I encountered was Christopher, the half-man, half-demon shopkeeper seen above. He's got a long neck, a pale complexion, and a hunger for white gems. When first approaching him, I braced for another vile demon to face down -- but it turns out he's actually a friendly Southern fellow! And entirely awkward to be around! This is the kind of situation so absolutely bizarre and entrancing, that only Grasshopper Manufacture could deliver it.

Suda told me at the event that he's handling most of the major design elements, but he reiterated that Shinji Mikami is overseeing the game's combat. At GDC, Mikami told us that he's here to "make sure the gameplay is right -- make sure it's tight, make sure it's fun" -- and his influence is apparent.

There's some Resident Evil in this third-person shooter, with elements of crowd control and the control scheme that debuted in RE4. Upon stunning enemies, Garcia can employ context-sensitive executions (much like the suplex and other acrobatic takedowns in RE4 and 5), and he has the ability to perform a quick, 180-degree spin to presumably run away from or handle any enemies lurking in his blind spot. Then there's the aiming and shooting, which handle quite like the RE4 system, though Garcia can move and shoot at the same time. Shadows is more reminiscent of Resident Evil than any other Mikami work in terms of combat, but overall I found it to be unquestionably a Grasshopper Manufacture joint. You don't see this level of crazy in any other studio's games.

I do wish I could have seen how being in the darkness physically eats away at Garcia. In the demo, God Mode was enabled, so the time I spent in the darkness (which was quite a bit) had no ill effect on Garcia beyond empowering his enemies. Having God Mode enabled would have made for a cheap boss battle too, but it felt even cheaper that shortly after the creature's positively insane entrance, the screen faded to black and the demo ended. What a tease!

Shadows looks to have the lively punk influence seen in other Suda 51 games, married to a fantastically vibrant and beautiful depiction of Hell. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, the visuals easily surpass what I've seen in Grasshopper's previous games, but it's not all about superficiality here. Beneath its beautiful exterior, Shadows of the Damned oozes charisma.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.