Another wonderful edition of the backlog, the feature where we visit games from ours stacks of shame, is upon us. This week's article comes in the form of Shadow's of the Damned. If you missed last week, check out Jeremy's look at Syndicateright here.
This week's edition of The Backlog will be short, as I've been too busy with new releases recently to provide a good look at something I've been meaning to get to, however, I did want to cover something I played over the summer: Grasshopper Manufacture's wild and disgusting road-comedy Shadows of the Damned (spoiler warning).
I say "road-comedy" because Damned feels like it should be addressed on its content and not its mechanics, which involve 3rd person shooting and a few “slot the Macguffin into the right place” puzzles. That stuff works well enough, but it's the writing and characters that provide the primary attraction to the game, and even then, I'm torn about whether or not it merits a stamp of approval. If nothing else, Shadows of the Damned seems to exemplify what happens when absolutely nothing is left on the cutting room floor. Every line of dialogue, character motivation, potential subtext and artistic concept, no matter how confusing and/or surprising, is blended together in a gleeful mix of, “F*** you, players! This either means everything or absolutely nothing at all, and you'll never figure it out.”
If I'm being reductive, I could say that Damned feels like “Don Quixote” as directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Geoffrey Chaucer. It's replete with buddy drama, grindhouse aesthetics, and near endless dick jokes- which range from stultifyingly obvious to incredibly sophisticated. At one moment, the game is softly meditating on why everything in Hell seems constructed of phallic imagery, and in the next, protagonist Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur is standing atop a skyscraper, gunning down giant demons as he shouts, “Taste my big boner!” As stupid, violent, and base as the game gets, it never fails to tie all of that back to the theme of masculine lust. It's pervasiveness, to say nothing of its perversity, points out just how consuming sexual politics are for male audiences, and this is all before we discuss Garcia's lady-love Paula, and her constant oscillation (in Garcia's fevered mind) between helpless victim and raging harpy.
But the thing is, just when I think I'm closing in on what Damned is really about, it throws a baffling curve my way, just because. The final scene contains my favorite mix of thematic mystery and bizarre nonsense. After the dust has settled, with Paula rescued and the evil demon Fleming defeated, Garcia and his girlfriend sit down to what is ostensibly a pre-coital dinner of caprese salad and hamburgers. Odd culinary choices noted, Paula soon reveals that the burgers may not have been provided by the local supermarket, but the remnants of Garcia's most recent victims. Tense conversation follows, as Paula reverts to her state as an unhinged shrew and Garcia detects that the hallucinations of the Underworld may not have entirely left him. Is his girlfriend insane, is she demon-possessed, or is Garcia projecting this mania onto her through his own lustful fantasies?
What I hate about Shadows of the Damned is that it's never clear enough to to even acknowledge these questions or what their answers might be, but what I love about it is that it never doubts or cast aspersions on the player's instincts to try and find them.
How did you interpret Shadows of the Damned's brand of insanity? Have you played it? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to come back next week for another installment of ... The Backlog!