You’ve heard it all before; demons have swept away the princess, and just as the thousand other titles that have used this simple narrative hook before it, the hero grabs his lance (or Johnson in this case) and gives chase. This over used theme comes with a wink and nod however, as there is no naivety here – Shadows of the Damned is utterly self aware.
You may groan at the thought of chasing demons to hell to retrieve your one true love, again, but this cliche is framed in knowing nostalgia. The level progression screen parodies that of the Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series, giving the player a misty eyed remembrance of when games had used this narrative and were much simpler for it. There are many other welcome and delightful homages to game and film throughout including Evil Dead, Ghostbusters, and others. Entire scenes and set pieces are borrowed in some cases.
However, it’s a bit of a shame these winks and nods are one of only a few areas that entertain.
One somewhat unique and interesting twist though is the relationship between Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur and the ‘not-so-helpless-princess’ Paula. Turning such old conventions on their head, the relationship between the two much less that of hero and damsel in distress. On one hand, Paula is sexualised needlessly and Garcia plays the role of rescuer. Yet on the other, Paula consistently stalks Garcia throughout and strikes him down at a moments notice. Johnson (Garcia’s companion and ‘weapon’ as he transforms into the Boner gun (stay with me here)) calls her crazy, yet Garcia revels in it – “that’s why I love her!”. The pair play off each other in this way and it’s hard to tell who is the hunter and who the hunted. Paula’s chaotic ways not just a manifestation of her demon captors, but a staple of her and Garcia’s interaction before and during.
Unlike much of mainstream media that would portray an uncontrollable female role as evil and undesirable, Shadows of the Damned presents a protagonist who would rejoice in it, celebrate it. His devotion to Paula clearly evident regardless the consequences. Sure, the game may be crass and largely banal, but the interplay between lovers here refreshing amongst an industry that beats the drum of the female submissive.