by Bane Williams
reviewed on X360
The Castlevania series of games has an impressive heritage spanning well over two decades. It is one of the longest running franchises in existence, beaten only by that of Mario and Zelda. The advent of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow marks the series sixth venture into 3D space, with the other five being generally ill-received. This begs the question – will Lords of Shadow suffer the same fate? The answer is, quite thankfully, a resounding ‘no’.
Lords of Shadow represents a departure from the original series canon and launches into its own version of history and events. This allows players who are perhaps unfamiliar with the history and characters of Castlevania entry into the game without feeling like they’ve been thrown in the deep end. Mercury Steam, with the help of Kojima Productions, have developed a game that is extremely easy to pick up and play despite having experience with Castlevania, or even the Action Adventure genre in general.
The game, set in 1047, puts you in the role of one Gabriel Belmont, a holy knight in the service of the ‘Brotherhood of Light’. Gabriel is a terribly broody character… which is to be expected, as he only recently suffered through the bloody and violent murder of his wife. He is sent on a mission to investigate a rift that is causing the souls of the deceased to be unable to leave this world, including that of his dear wife.
This marks the beginning of a massively overwhelming plot that at its core boils down to a simple battle between good vs. evil. The story doesn’t only focus on an external battle however, but also an internal one… with Gabriel himself attempting to overthrow the shroud of darkness that covers his own heart. He is helped along the way by a host of characters, including fellow Brotherhood member Zobek, who chronicles every move Gabriel makes.
Not the same ol’ Castlevania
The game itself initially plays fairly straightforward, with basic Action Adventure controls that we have all come to be familiar with over the years. Combat is based on a combo system, with one button dealing with direct attacks and the other dishing out area of effect. Regulars to the Castlevania franchise will find themselves easily at home with the game’s control system and mechanics.
As the game progresses, the differences from a core Castlevania product become rapidly clear. The game is not very open-ended and has an air of forced linearity behind it. While there is no ‘levelling’ system in the game, Gabriel does gather experience points which can be consumed to purchase new skills and moves. Finally, although sub-weapons do make a return, they are of limited stock and must be replenished from drops scattered around the world, or via enemies.
Various sections of the game have puzzles forced upon Gabriel to complete before continuing, although there is a function for people who don’t enjoy them to skip them completely (while losing the experience award associated). The puzzles are extremely varied, from ‘light beam on mirror’ style puzzles, to strange versions of chess and more.
Also new to the game are titans, golems of terrifying power and amazing size. These must be fought differently to the other enemies of the game, as Gabriel often has to climb over the monster in order to deal devastating blows to the enemy’s numerous weak points. While cinematic in nature and jaw-dropping brilliant graphically, they are rarely face paced enough to present a serious challenge to the average gamer.
Titan fights aren’t the only graphically superior aspect of the game. An incredulous amount of detail is placed into both the characters, enemies and the world. Several times during my play through I had to stop and gaze in awe at the magnificence of my surroundings. It did well to add a feeling of oppression and hopelessness to the game that matched its already ominous tones.
The camera is fixed for the duration of the entire game. While later on this can prove incredibly frustrating (especially in combat, where enemies can often be obscured by an obnoxiously positioned camera), it adds to the cinematic feel of the game in ways that almost no other game has managed to capture… drawing attention to some of the amazing set pieces that litter the games landscape.
Sound, Visual, Combat and Story – action-adventure gamers wet dream.
Platforming a little bland, forced camera occasionally impedes action.