Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

While this game is my first venture into the mysterious world that is Castlevania, I had high expectations, as I know the franchise has a long lineage and successful history.  What unfolded in the twenty hours of gaming I had with the Lords of Shadow, not even I could have foreseen.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Screenshot
Developer: MercurySteam, Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Platform(s): Playstation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Players: 1
Genre: Action-Adventure
Release Date: (AUS) October 19th 2010, (EU) October 7th 2010, (JP) December 16th 2010, (NA) October 5th 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow tells a touching tale of love.  Our hero, Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood, undertakes a journey through various amazing environments to slay the 3 Lords of Shadow and reform the Death Mask to resurrect his beloved deceased wife Marie.  Prima facie, one might draw the conclusion that Castlevania is a clone of other more successful hack-and-slash games.  While Castlevania utilises aspects from each of these games,  I believe it brings its own intriguing take on the hack-and-slash genre.

Gabriel Belmont’s story is told over 50 unique levels that range from platforming, combat and puzzle solving.  The Castlevania experience is much undertaking a wonderful journey in a fantasy novel as each chapter begins with Patrick Stewart, voice of Gabriel’s fellow Brotherhood member Zobek, providing a poetic description of what you can expect in the upcoming level.  This unique touch is refreshing in contrast to most games that merely stick to a screen with a flashing “loading” icon.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Screenshot
Much like the other hack-and-slash games of today, Castlevania’s action revolves primarily around the “Combat Cross” which has the ability to perform a standard and heavy attack.  Throughout the game, Gabriel gains experience from slaying enemies and through brutal combos attack earning “experience points” that you can use to purchase new combos to wreak havoc on the various monsters you encounter.  As well as the Combat Cross, you can also collect a wide variety of disposable weapons such as Daggers, Holy Water and Fairies that add a long range attack to Gabriel’s repertoire. Unlike other titles of similar genre, there are no actual weapon upgrades apart from hidden packages that increase the capacity of your secondary weapons.

The combat mechanics are definitely nothing revolutionary but all 3 elements, namely your magic, powers and disposable weapons combine well.  As with all hack-and-slash games Castlevania: Lords of Shadow encourages the player to string combos together without being hit.  Gabriel has a “focus meter” that rewards you for performing blocks synchronised to the enemy’s attack and consistent combo attacks.  Once the meter is filled, each subsequent hit dispense neutral essence.  The neutral essence can be absorbed by the player into either Dark or Light magic.  Light magic allows the player to regain health with each successful hit on an enemy whereas Dark magic gives the player extra damage per each hit.  While later sections in the game provide a challenge where you must switch between both magic types in order to defeat bosses, I feel that the game didn’t fully utilise the depth that magic would have provided to Lords of Shadow’s combat system.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Screenshot
Having played a variety of hack-and-slash games, I find that the most important aspect is difficulty.  Often games are either too hard or too easy, but I found that Castlevania manages to provide an experience that is not crushingly difficult but still provides a challenge sufficient to test your skills.  After completing each level, you will be able to undertake a level specific “trial” with set conditions that you must reach adding an incentive to replay an already captivating game.

While I am an advocate of the gameplay over graphics argument, even I can’t help but admire how stunning the in-game graphics turned out to be.  There were several times when you simply can’t help but stare at the awe inspiring castles lingering in the background or the breathtaking mountains that you find yourself atop of.  Strangely enough, the in-game graphics managed to redefine what I believed possible on the PlayStation 3, but the cutscenes leave a little to be desired as they look dated and out of place.

An area that one may generally overlook is the soundtrack. In Castlevania you’ll have a hard time not paying attention the epic melodies that play throughout your journey.  Each piece fits the setting perfectly blending ambience with the overall feel and atmosphere.

The dreaded QTE (quick-time event) is plaguing games at an increasingly alarming rate, which is evidenced by Heavy Rain, a game that one could argue was one long QTE.  While Castlevania certainly has its fair share of QTEs, they are handled quite well as one merely has to ensure they press a button when the circles are within each other.  This approach is refreshing as it allows the gamer to focus on the action as opposed to waiting with sweaty fingers to press the right button which does tend to detract from the actual game.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Screenshot
As with all hack-and-slash games, there are some flaws evident in an otherwise well put together action adventure.  The most irritating thing for me was the aimless platforming. When you are on the ground, it is obvious where to start platforming but there are moments when you are left wondering where the next step is.  In addition to the weak platforming sections, the entire game is plagued by a horrible fixed camera angle that would switch at the most unpredictable time which can sometimes lead to unnecessary damage in battle.

Although this is not necessarily a flaw in the game, there are certain parts in the game where a mysterious being known as the “chupacabra” pops up unexpectedly and take all your magic and relics.  These creatures are extremely irritating and quite often ruin the general flow of the game, however it should be noted that it is not an actual flaw in the game, merely my own gripe with this stupid thing!

Overall, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a game that may or may not be to the taste of diehard Castlevania fans.  However Castlevania fan or not, this game is an excellent display of how great individual elements combine to make an even greater experience. For any gamer that is looking to slay a few dragons and undertake a quest to resurrect lost love.

8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.