Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a reboot of the classic Gothic-inspired side-scrolling beat-em-up Castlevania series - it takes the same Gothic inspirations and puts it in a 3D world ala Devil May Cry
or God of War.
What this means is - like in almost every instance of these games - invisible walls and fixed camera angles. Unsurprisingly, theyíre LOSís biggest misstep - both hinder the gameís awesome puzzles by encouraging you to spend half your time in-game running and jumping into things just outside the cameraís vision to see if thereís anything worth finding.
Hell, near the end of the game the camera angle literally doesnít show you where youíre supposed to go - you stumble into the correct area by chance (or not, if you follow my fool proof Ďjump into wallsí tactic).
Itís annoying, because itís little things like the camera angles which will prevent people from enjoying one of the better stories out this year. You play Gabriel Belmont - heís just lost his wife and heís on a quest for vengeance - and to resurrect her. Because thatís what you do when youíre a man giant.
During his quest, Gabriel finds himself venturing into lands not tended by God any longer - instead the Old Gods reign. It wouldnít be Gothic without a particularly Christian bent to the religion - still, itís nice to see the writers acknowledge other religions to an extent.
Gradually he encounters more elements of a world he hasnít really experienced before - despite the fact heís the one chosen to rock the Brotherhood of the Lightís cross/chain combo weapon.
The whole story is laid out like a book - from the narrated preface to each level, read by Patrick Stewart, to the one sentence scene descriptions displayed when you pause the game. Itís fantastically
written, and awesomely voiced - Stewart has previous experience with voice-acting, but Robert Carlyle as Gabriel does outstanding work (except for the grunting - the grunting was a little over the top) as well.
The fighting is fantastic - itís hard enough to be a challenge and easy enough to be completed. Even on normal mode I broke a sweat (figuratively) on a few fights - the game has a tendency to put you through some tough fights just before it lines you up with even tougher ones - and if you have to restart at a checkpoint it will only give you half health, so you canít just milk the checkpoints for free health.
Combat is mostly the same as your DMC types - instead of light and heavy attacks, you have direct and area attacks. Direct attacks allow Gabriel to whip his cross directly at his enemy, dealing damage to one opponent at a time. Area attacks spin the cross on the chain around him, knocking out multiple enemies. Naturally the key to success in battle is judicious use of the block button and intelligent use of combos.
Quick Time Events exist in Castlevania, but they might be the best yet. Like God of War 3 QTEs buttons are bound to areas of the screen - the Y QTE is at the top, the B is on the right and so on. These only apply to button masher QTEs - where you have to smash the same button over and over - when you have the traditional Ďpress this button quicklyí instead of a specific button you see the cue and you hit any button, meaning you can watch the action on screen.
Obviously the combat is heavily inspired by the other games in its genre - the better games at least. Devil May Cry or God of War isnít the only source of inspiration though - LOS takes cues from the likes of Prince of Persia, Lord of the Rings and, well letís just say the last couple of levels are very... Xen.
As always, itís how these influences are used which determines whether the game comes off as derivative or homage - fortunately LOS comes across as an homage thanks to a heavy use of self-referential humour - the boys at MercurySteam know theyíre committing light larceny, and they wink at you as they do it with Portal meme references.
One thing the team might learn is when to and when not to use their killer sense of humour - a reference to cake not being a lie during platforming downtime, or saying the portals are powered by ĎAperture Magicí while the player works out puzzles is good, appropriate. Dropping a Star Wars line into the middle of the end gameís climactic reveal - while the characters on screen grimace in pain... you could have timed that one better.
One thing which is worth noting with Castlevania - itís definitely a game you should install. The load times arenít terrible, but without an install there can be some slowdown with frames during high action sequences. Itís not game breaking when it does it, but it does look a little ugly, and the game deserves better.
The atmosphere created by the Gothic imagery, the epic soundtrack and the excellent voice acting is definitely worth enjoying in all its glory.
Oh and itís long as well. By about the three quarter stage I was beginning to feel like the game was being needlessly drawn out - I was 15 hours into a game in a genre which typically doesnít last more than 10 hours and the end wasnít in sight.
This would have been a much bigger problem if the game didnít build up to an absolutely epic ending, but it doesnít mean they couldnít have trimmed the game in some areas. At first I thought the Chupacabra sequences could have been cut - an impish little mischief maker appears and steals all your magic, meaning you canít progress until you find him.
Dropping the Chupacabra would rob the game of its best feature however - the actually challenging puzzles. While many games these days feature puzzles simple enough for wet paper to solve, Castlevania actually puts some effort in - and the Chupacabra sequences are an excellent example.
Stealing God of War 3ís slightly adjustable camera and a little more imagination with scene dressing could have eliminated my only gripes with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - the fixed camera and invisible walls. Still, with satisfying combat and great puzzles the journey to the end of Castlevania is absolutely worth it - and the destination is spine-chillingly awesome.