Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

DARK TIMES NEED A DARK HERO

Developer(s): MercurySteam, Kojima Productions
Genre: Action Adventure
Platform(s): PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Compatability (PS3): 250KB Mininum Space | SIXAXIS Motion Sensitive | DUALSHOCK 3 Vibration Function | HD 720p / 1080i / 1080p
Compatability (Xbox 360): 4MB Mininum Space | HDTV 720p / 1080i / 1080p
Rating: 9.4

The second Castlevania title of the year has arrived, but it doesn’t take a fan of the franchise to see that this game is a world apart from its predecessors. Instead of trying to rejuvenate the 2D platforming elements for a modern audience, the game goes out on a limb and instead aims to be a totally different adventure, more akin to recent hack and slash and action adventure titles. This is a risk, especially by relatively inexperienced developer Mercury Steam, but it pays off and the end result is utterly superb.

Castlevania’s storyline has been more or less along the same lines since the series’ beginning in the 1980s; various vampire hunters throughout history fighting to defeat the armies of Dracula and eventually slay the great vampire himself. However, even some loyal fans are ready to admit its plot has begun to run a little thin on the ground, and as such Lords of Shadow does not attempt to be canonical with the other titles and instead starts totally afresh. It still has a Belmont character, whips, gothic castles and vampires (after all, it’s Castlevania), but don’t expect it to fit between any of the other titles in terms of story. The game tells an epic tale of Homeric proportions – Gabriel Belmont, an orphan warrior of the Brotherhood, a Christian order devoted to defending the faith, has tragically lost his wife Marie and is on a mission to kill the three Lords of Shadow and reclaim the pieces of the fabled God Mask, a relic that supposedly gives the wearer the power to bring back the dead. It’s a tale that’s Homeric in nature but also in length, spanning roughly thirty to forty hours, and the pacing of this journey is fantastic – it was evident when I was approaching the end, not just due to the crescendo in scale and action, but also to the exhaustion you feel on the part of Gabriel. As the plot thickens, he is worn down by fatigue, doubt, and recurring evil thoughts, and it was presented so well that it was hard not to share this sense of tiredness with the game’s hero, as if you’d been on the journey with him every step of the way. Though he is a man of few words, the storyline is for the most part told in narration, by the fine voice of a now ‘old and wise’ Sir Patrick Stewart, who also plays a central character, Zobek. Without mentioning any spoilers, there is also a huge twist at the end which is delivered masterfully, followed by a post-credits cutscene which not only opens up for a sequel but will absolutely stun Castlevania players.

The level of detail of Lord of Shadow's graphical textures is great. One of the best of 2010.

The gameplay is what totally sets this title apart from anything else in the series, for while it retains plenty of platforming elements, it is 3-dimentional and the combat is much more in the style of a hack and slash game. In fact, Lords of Shadow’s playing style is like a tribute to the action adventure greats of the last couple of generations: hinting to (but never outright stealing from) such games as God of War, Shadow of the Colossus and Tomb Raider. Tolkenian influences are also rife, especially in the non-castle areas, facing wargs, goblins and trolls that give the game a fantasy edge to complement its gothic architecture and setting. Anyone who has played God of War, Dante’s Inferno or Devil May Cry will be able to sit down and get playing with little trouble, with the standard light/heavy/ranged attack setup, and the ability to buy new combos with money earned from levels completed and puzzles solved. There will be many of these puzzles throughout the game, usually one or two per level, and these begin easy but gradually become incredibly challenging and will truly test anyone looking for a game of wit and cunning.

Bosses, too, are a fundamental part of play and will range from a simple ‘big tough enemy’ to the great Necromancer himself in the form of a 700ft long dragon. Admittedly, some of the earlier bosses can seem somewhat lacklustre and cliché, but as Gabriel delves further into the realm of the dark lords they become more extreme and often much larger in scale. It will be a shame to some, including myself, that the game hasn’t retained quite as many RPG elements as the former games had, and while the Combat Cross whip is upgraded at certain points in the story, you don’t have the ability to find hundreds of unique weapons and armour upgrades as players were formerly able to. It’s clear from the start what kind of character Gabriel is, and you are to follow that path, making the game perhaps more linear that it could be. On the plus side, most of the moves Gabriel can learn are fluid, satisfying, and downright awesome, and combat in general is a very enjoyable experience indeed.

Forests never looked this good.

Gameplay is what makes Lords of Shadow fun, but the soundtrack and visuals are what make it beautiful. After what can be described as a ‘shaky start’ on the first mission, which suffers from a fairly nasty framerate due to heavy rain and lightning effects, the game looks gorgeous. Facial animations live up to the standard of Rockstar’s latest titles, and while many environments are dark and grim, there are plenty of moments in which Gabriel travels through lush forests, coastal cliffsides and icy mountaintops, and some of the views are simply awe-inspiring, taking full advantage of the multiplatform engine. The soundtrack is also one to turn up the volume for, not just having hours of original, exciting melodies but also themes of classic Castlevania tunes making their way into the fold. Of course, Patrick Stewart’s recognisable voice is the most memorable and probably the best delivered dialogue of the game, but Robert Carlyle plays a convincing Gabriel and Natascha McElhone (of ‘The Truman Show’ and ‘Ronin’ fame) lends her voice for Marie. MercurySteam have clearly worked incredibly hard on presentation and the end product is a polished, AAA-standard game.

Once I had finished Lords of Shadow’s long and winding story, all I wanted to do was play it again, and I’m willing to bet many fans of fantasy, hack and slash or general adventure games will feel the same. This is truly one of the best titles to be released this year, and an ideal reboot for the Castlevania franchise.

Reviewed by failboatskipper – December 8, 2010

Graphics
With the exception of the juttery framerate in the first level, Lords of Shadow is simply stunning. The engine holds its own processing fantastic lighting and textures in a huge range of environments.
 
Sound
A tremendous score has been written for the game, with both its own themes and the well-known sounds of older Castlevania songs to please the hardcore audience. A great voice cast has also been hired, the gem amongst them of course being Sir Patrick Stewart.
 
Fun
Lords of Shadow can be challenging at times – very challenging. But it only serves to be more satisfying upon completion, and the sense of adventure is strong throughout.
 
Final Score

 

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Responses

  1. I have to say that this is one of the most fantastic peices of video game journalism I think that I have ever seen. Keep up the great work! Also, it’s hard to go wrong with any game that has Kojima’s hands on it.

  2. one of the best game of all time

  3. One of the surprises of the year. Everyone was thinking about Brotherhood and Black Ops lately, but Lords of Shadow is truly one of the best games for 2010. Hideo Kojima never misses a move.

    Great review Henry.

  4. @vadrummin Thank you so much, you have no idea how much that means.

    • No problem, I’m finding that I’d trust the reviews you write over a lot of other review sites.

  5. we prefer to honor nuumroes other net sites on the net, even though they aren?t linked to us, by linking to them. Beneath are some webpages really worth checking out

  6. nice job on the exposure for the panorama, I like the underexposure of the city to bring out the vibrance of the sunset.I’ve found that Photoshop has come a long, long way in its ability to process panoramas properly. I used to have to kludge together panoramas in canon’s free software but CS4 is amazing in its lack of ghosting/duplication and its handling of distortion


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