Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

   05/10/2010 at 08:18       Richard Horne       9 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Konami, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Gabriel Belmont, God of War, Third Person Action Adventure

I have to admit to going into Castlevania Lords of Shadow with a certain amount of trepidation. You see I never got on with any of the traditional two-dimensional side-scrolling action-platformers that the series is so noted for. And the fact that there have been so many of them – over 30 games in 24 years if Wikipedia is to be believed – led me to believe that it was a series that simply goes through the motions year after year. Of course there have been one or two notable excursions into the unknown for the franchise, what with the tragic 3D Castlevania on the N64, and more recently, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night on the iPhone. But with Konami’s release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, this really marks new territory for the series and seemed like the perfect point for me to jump back into this much-loved franchise.

Lords of Shadow is a third-person-action-adventure game in the same mould as God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta et al. While less of a button-masher than Sony’s hugely popular God of War series, it’s also far less reliant on exuberant combos and endless pages of special moves likes Bayonetta. It sits nicely in the middle and ultimately finds itself in a very happy medium. It has plenty of depth without being too complicated, but is also easily played and enjoyed by those more than happy to mash on the X and Y buttons. LoS also, funnily enough, takes its cues from The Legend of Zelda games with that now popular rhythmic momentary pause right before an attack hits.

While fully 3D and with lots of well-realised and detailed vistas, LoS is completely linear and constantly funnels you down a very scripted path towards each level’s conclusion. But then while normally that would sound the death knell for a game, in this instance that’s not a criticism as it actually gives the whole game a really satisfying pace and feel. For each peak there’s a subtly delivered trough. For every intense adrenaline-inducing boss battle there’s a sedate and relaxing puzzle. And speaking of boss battles, MercurySteam really went to town with this one and delivered some truly epic Shadow of the Collossuss-esque behemoths.

The first memorable encounter is the giant Ice Titan who has to be climbed upon to be defeated. Find his weak-spots and pick them off one at a time in order to proceed. But thanks to its enormous size and scale this is no mean feat.

I should add at this point that I initially found this boss particularly troubling as the somewhat ambiguous on-screen instructions misled me. “Hold RT to hang on.” it boldly proclaimed every time Gabriel Belmont, the main protagonist, lost his grip and held on for dear life with just the one hand. At which point for almost an hour I kept only holding the right trigger when he relinquished his grip before eventually realising that you simply held down RT for the entire time that the titan thrashes about instead of intermittently squeezing and holding.

But my own misunderstandings aside, the boss battles are generally exciting, action-packed and extremely satisfying. Sure, the old ‘aim for the weak spot’ videogame trope is unabashedly employed with wanton abandon, but LoS is a game that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve. So expect plenty of quick-time events, context sensitive button mashing, clichéd gothic references (eventually) and tired overwrought drama aplenty.

While some may be disappointed by the game’s lack of co-op or multiplayer, they can surely have no cause for concern over the game’s length. With over 12 chapters, each of which is made up of multiple areas, and 4 difficulty levels, it’s not a game you’ll finish in a hurry. And with each chapter also featuring various ‘meta-challenges’, there’s plenty of opportunity for replayability. Example challenges include, completing a certain section with no villager deaths, or defeating a boss within a set time limit.

The addition of the game’s magic system also further enhances its already considerable longevity. This simple but effective system - light magic re-generates health, shadow magic increases your offensive power – means you’re constantly juggling actions on the fly depending on the situation, which adds further depth and subtlety that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect.

While the game’s action remains a departure for the series, initially so to do the games locales. With jungle areas, Lord of the Rings style goblin camps and frozen lakes, the requisite cliché tick boxes have all been crossed and it’s not until the game nears the half-way point that it takes a turn for the gothic with goblins and swamp monsters replaced by vampires, lycans and other such Castlevania-like fodder. But again, the fact that the developer chose to stray away from the series’ most-famous fundamentals, for the main part remains a welcome move.

On a final critical note, I have to mention the fact that my own progress through the game was hindered by an unexpected corruption of my save-game meaning I had to start all over again. Hopefully this is an isolated one-off incident, but you should keep your ear to the ground in case anyone else reports such similar issues.

This is the perfect release window for a game like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. In that quiet lull before the storm that is the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops this is the ideal game to tide you over. But with NinjaTheory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West also released during the same period, deciding which single-player third-person action-adventure you want to spend your money on is a tough call.

And don’t be fooled by the mention of Hideo Kojima on this game’s staff as his involvement appears only to be fleeting at best. But then conversely, that’s not to say LoS isn’t a good game because it’s actually a lot of fun if not entirely un-original.

A well put together title then, that nicks the best bits from lots of other games you love and puts them together in a nicely presented package with plenty to sink your teeth into. As the nights close in, you’ll do well to find a better game to cosy up on the couch with.

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