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Joystiq Top 10 of 2011: Shadows of the Damned


This sojourn in hell inspires the most intense evangelism, and that makes me think nobody in EA's marketing department bothered to play Shadows of the Damned.

Even those who acted as envoys for the game's off-kilter charms, those people who were unpaid but still rewarded, might have gotten stuck on the easy marquee description: "It's the unfathomable oddness of Suda 51, paired with Shinji Mikami sensibility and an Akira Yamaoka soundtrack!"

The summation is accurate (if a bit unfair to the major input from design lead Massimo Guarini, who left Grasshopper Manufacture in 2011), but hardly a detailed message for those unfamiliar with star Japanese designers. At least Shadows of the Damned had no troubles conveying its obvious qualities: a surprising and properly grotesque vision of post-life limbo, a protagonist passionate to a fault and a hilarious skull-on-a-stick to guide him.

Shadows of the Damned also happens to be a taut shooter -- a spicy Resident Evil 4 -- and the tension feels inescapable on higher difficulties. The environment rejects your very presence, expecting you to shoot precisely under pressure as more enemies pour in. Watching the camera race after a head-bound bullet, triggered just as the darkness envelops you, is a thrill that never falters.

The boss fights don't stumble either, and best represent the cleverness beneath the game's cheeky facade. Take the one where you're chased through a twisted street market by "George," a monstrosity with a wheezing harmonica in his belly. The stalls conspire to become a maze and George's unusual, audible diet lets you locate him and begin the hunt -- or is he the one closing in on you? Meanwhile, Akira Yamaoka's screaming score isn't likely to encourage relaxation.

As you can see (and as you've been warned), I also emerged an evangelist from Shadows of the Damned, having been lured in by the artistic glow of that marquee. Now I can't help but take a positive view on something so askew.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2011 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal, impassioned picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far:
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  7. Shadows of the Damned
  8. Dark Souls
  9. Gears of War 3
  10. Mortal Kombat

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