by Bane Williams
previewed on X360
It's been a rough time for the Castlevania franchise. Whilst one of the oldest still-running franchises in the history of gaming (beaten only by Mario and Zelda) its performance outside of the DS has been slowly going down-hill. Most of this comes from the difficulty Konami has had in attempting to turn a primarily 2D franchise into 3D. No 3D Castlevania has ever hit a large measure of success, and it's no wonder why. From bad visuals, extremely hard to handle controls, grating soundtracks and a lack of exploration elements, they've all been poor attempts to translate the series into 3D.
Enter Lords of Shadow. A game developed by MercurySteam, under Konami, without any ties to Castlevania at all. But it was 3D, and it played well. It had all the action and adventure elements that were a core of the game series and, perhaps most importantly, it looked good. Konami, realising this game was exactly what they needed to reboot the dying franchise, immediately took about designing what is possibly the most anticipated Castlevania since Symphony of the Night.
Konami has thrown a lot of money at this game and it is instantly recognisable. Firstly, Kojima Productions (of Metal Gear Solid fame) has been called in to help with some of the design elements in the game, but if you are worried about 45 minute cut-scenes interrupting your adventure, don't. Kojima has already stated that this studio has no involvement in the storyline of the game.
Rebooting the series
You take on the role of Gabriel Belmont, who saw his beloved killed by a werewolf. Fuelled by rage, you set out to take revenge for your beloved and in doing so you find out that an artefact exists with the unique power to bring her back from the dead. This is where you mission truly lies, as you must head for the castle in which the artefact – a mask – resides, and wrest it from whatever evil holds it.
Whilst the basic premise might seem fairly straightforward, the journey certainly isn't. Unlike previous Castlevania games, where you were primarily located inside of a castle, in this game much of the initial action takes place outside of it. Although you eventually end up inside a giant castle, first Gabriel must survive the trials and tribulations along the way.
Gameplay is heavily stylized, with combat being a mixture between God of War and Shadows of the Colossus. One minute you will be fighting a horde of small creatures, the next minute a giant Ice Golem twenty times your size erupts from the ice and you must find a way to deal with him. Attack wise, Gabriel has his trusty Combat Cross, a weapon which can transform into a chain whip and can be imbued with several elements, in true Castlevania fashion.
The game features a fixed camera angle, allowing combat to be dealt with without the need for controlling a camera. So far the camera looks to be placed extremely well, with backgrounds and details made to fit around those constraints. However there is some concern as to whether it will hold up in the more adventure-based elements of the game.
As stated before, Castlevania: Lords of Shadows looks great. There are many locations that are extremely eye pleasing, such as the giant ice fields located near the start of the game. Also the characters are very well detailed, and it is good to see Castlevania: Lords of Shadow take a step away from the Anime style of its previous games.
MercurySteam have been known to create extremely detailed backgrounds, with an emphasis on Gothic architecture (Clive Barker's: Jericho). As such, it is hardly surprising to see that same amount of detail and love being put into the various churches, castles and other medieval settings throughout the game.
The game has a brilliant sense of scale and setting, and the music does nothing but help. Performed by a full Orchestra, there is no time where the game doesn't feel suitably epic. The game has a stunning voice over cast too - most notably are the works of Sir Patrick Stewart, Jason Isaacs, Robert Carlyle and Natasha McElhone, who all bring the entire world and lore to life.
It is not known whether or not Dracula will be making an appearance in the game. However, the latest trailer has an angry sounding Jason Isaacs cursing the entire Belmont line, which is a fairly good indication. It is also unknown whether or not the game will be entirely linear, or have a great deal of exploration involved, similar to its predecessors.
A lot to live up to
With such a long running series, each and every new game release must try extremely hard to live up to the fans' expectations while providing an engaging experience. Will Castlevania: Lords of Shadow succeed in being the first 3D Castlevania to really be a hit with its core fan base? If its production design and value has anything to go by, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will be an absolute hit.