|System: PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: MercurySteam||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 5, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
What makes this Castlevania more of an adventure game comes down to some specifics with the games mechanics. First up is the combat; probably the biggest bone of contention among skeptics. Lords of Shadows battles will feel awfully familiar with anyone whos played a recent combo-based action game (I might point out that the first PS2 Castlevania, Lament of Innocence, utilized a very similar design, however).
Experience earned can be used to buy new combo moves and special abilities (for your dual light and dark magic systems), so if youre expecting any of Symphonys action-RPG elements, or, say, the ability to equip new weapons or armor, youre probably going to be disappointed; add in some quicktime-style killing moves and it seems like Gabriel might be gunning for Kratos job. Theres more going on here than just action, though. The aforementioned exploration element is a mix between Uncharted and Tomb Raider, and allows you some moments of relative quiet in between sessions of killing everything in sight. Theres plenty of combat to go around, but it often occurs within the natural parameters of exploring your surroundings rather than just locking you in a room full of beasties until youve slain and hewn your way free. Even mounting beasts, an action-design move ripped from God of War III and Dantes Inferno, has been largely re-appropriated to more than just using a giant monster to crush your foes. Wargs can leap over distances Gabriel cant; trolls and warthogs can smash through barriers; giant spiders can rip open doors and create passages with their silk web. Although it isnt true MetroidVania-style design, there are also a number of blocked passages and out-of-reach items that you cant access until youve upgraded your equipment (again, think Lament of Innocence); thankfully, the game lets you return to previous levels from the world map at your leisure. The games puzzles are integrated organically into its overall pacing as well; the first chapters handhold may be somewhat misleading, but as you progress, traps and mechanisms are explained less and less, with the developers only offering vague hints at how to move forward, if they offer any at all. All of this adds up to a drawn-out feel thats more deliberate than the breakneck speed of an action game.
The games presentation doesnt hurt, either. Its a rare event when Konami releases a big-budget entry in a long-running signature franchise like this one, and they really went all out with Lords of Shadow. Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart round out a solid voice cast, though Patrick Stewarts omniscient, between-level narration far outshadows Gabriels laconic responses. True to form, the narrative in the game is sparsely expounded on, but what is present isnt bad, thanks to an underlying mystery unfolding in the background. No one plays Castlevania for its story anyway, but recruiting the caliber of talent they did for the game speaks volumes to tremendous amount of effort the developers have put into this project. As if that werent enough, Lords of Shadow is one of the most flat-out gorgeous games of this console generation, right up there with Uncharted 2 and the just-released Enslaved. Aside from the sheer scope, environmental effects, lighting, varied level design, and beautiful character and enemy models show an astounding amount of detail, rich with color and depth; perhaps this was Kojimas influence. Everywhere there are little touches, like frogs hopping a marshy swamp area, or the precise way that, say, a bloody stump looks and moves after being chopped off by an evil butcher. Theres even the occasional moment where the engine looks pretty close to CG, and the action seems to run at a constant 60 FPS. Not bad, coming from the developer responsible for American McGees Scrapland and Clive Barkers Jericho.
If youre still on the fence about Lords of Shadow, the one thing you have to decide on is whether or not youre adverse to change. This isnt Castlevania like youre used to, and at times may feel more like Lords of the Rings or Soul Reaver. The core Castlevania bits appear gradually, but the series feel is there, even if youre not always in a castle (as are the prerequisite ghosts, werewolves, vampires, imps, goblins, possessed toys, zombies, wargs, trolls, dullahan, and harpy-types, to name a few). Lords of Shadow borrows liberally from other series, including a couple of truly awesome Shadow of the Colossus-style boss fights, but the end result is good enough that the overlap shouldnt matterafter all, Symphony stole its design from Metroid anyway. The point is, if youve got an open mind, theres a lot to like here. If the game is a success, which it should be, hopefully there will be more non-linear elements in the next game. I would also love to see more huge boss monsters and some lite-RPG elements, like the option to use different weapons. And while were at it, the dev team could figure out a way to canonize this new world; supposedly Lords of Shadow isnt proper Castlevania, despite taking place about fifty years prior to the Lament of Innocences Belmont origin tale. Still, if this is a glimpse into the future of Castlevania, I dont see a whole lot of reasons we should complain.
CCC Freelance Writer