Halloween is too much fun to contain in a single day so, throughout the month of October, First-Person Perspective will focus exclusively on spooky, scary or otherwise holiday-related games.
Instead of ending at four weeks, one last column has risen from the grave, shaking off loose dirt and letting loose the earth-rending bellow of, “OKTERROR BONUS ROUND!”
I’m not a religious guy, but when I hear “Hell” my first thoughts aren’t pleasant ones. Like most people, the Abrahamic concept of a place where bad people go to be eternally punished conjures up Dante-inspired images of fire, brimstone and general unhappiness. These kind of associations have made hell into a horror staple, offering up a handy shortcut to all of the misery and terror humanity’s collective consciousness has managed to dream up.
Shadows of the Damned, Grasshopper Manufacture’s highly underrated 2011 action/horror title, sticks pretty closely to stereotypical ideas of hell yet manages to take players on a journey of pain and suffering that never becomes scary or depressing. This is likely the result of the supergroup of videogame creatives assembled to develop Shadows and their status as veterans of horror and comedy videogame development. Though directed by the relatively unknown Massimo Guarini, the game is heavily influenced by its other development leads, Goichi “Suda 51” Suda, Shinji Mikami and composer Akira Yamaoka.
Shadows’ horror comedy mash-up works as a tone that is unique to videogames while also serving as an effective homage. The creative influence of Suda and Mikami, developers with resumes that include titles as creepy as Resident Evil and killer7 and as goofy as God Hand and No More Heroes, come together in Shadows of the Damned to create the best horror comedy videogames have seen yet. While its setting is a menacing version of hell and its gruesome enemies designed as nightmarishly demonic, Shadows is also a game that elicits more giggles than shrieks. Its unsettling baby-headed gates can be opened by being fed brains and eyeballs, but strawberries are also acceptable to the infernal toddlers; ghastly hordes may chase protagonist Garcia Hotspur (seriously, Garcia Hotspur) through dimly lit swamps and woods, but they are dispatched through teeth-firing guns and a phallic skeleton pistol dubbed “The Boner.” The whole atmosphere is one of uneasy lightness where the sub-sophomoric jokes — Shadows has never met a genital-based pun it doesn’t like — hit all the harder because they’re a form of comedy that is always interspersed between truly effective scenes of horror. Yamaoka, who has provided incredible scores for most of the Silent Hill series, furthers the mood established by Suda, Mikami and Guarini with a soundtrack that moves deftly from eerie horror motifs to upbeat electronic melodies and moody flamenco guitar tunes.
Shadows’ horror comedy mash-up works as a tone that is unique to videogames while also serving as an effective homage. Shades of Sam Raimi’s excellent Evil Dead series (the aptly named As Evil as Dead chapter sees Garcia chased by a hyperspeed first-person camera and hide in a cabin with an ominous trapdroor in its corner) and the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino vampire movie From Dusk Till Dawn (Yamaoka’s Latin-inflected score, a tough-as-nails protagonist, the omnipresent sex jokes and an aesthetic drenched in grindhouse homage) act as nods to horror comedy milestones.
This marginal genre is a refreshing place for games to find inspiration.
I’m not a fan of the slasher and “torture porn” genres that influence videogames as disparate as Heavy Rain and Manhunt, but have a lot of love for horror movies where jokes come as frequently as scares. Films like the aforementioned Evil Dead movies (and Raimi’s more recent Drag Me to Hell) provide audiences with a mix of seemingly incompatible elements — terror and laughter — that keep horror from being too soul-crushing and comedy from being too banal.
Shadows of the Damned takes note of this combination to wonderful effect. If I have one wish this Halloween (that’s how it works, right?), it’s for more players to give it a chance and experience what will probably be funniest game about eternal suffering they’ve ever played.