|System: X360, PS3||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|
by Jonathan Marx
April 26, 2010 - The Castlevania series has been enthralling fans around the world since before the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. This action-platformer has always been a premier franchise regardless of era, however, the series has never made the transition to 3D with very much luck. While Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness broke the well-formed Castlevania mold, they weren't able to capture the magic the 2D predecessors had in spades.
With this in mind, Konami has decided to give Castlevania the 3D treatment once again, but they aren't going to let the series get lost in translation. Konami has poured a lot of time and money into the development of Lords of Shadow. They've even taken a measured risk by handing the development reins off to a relatively untested developer, MercurySteam. Of course, Konami is ensuring success by having its legendary ace-in-the-hole, Kojima Productions, oversee the development process.
Still, it makes you wonder why Konami would choose the unknown Spanish developer. Based in Madrid, MercurySteam has only developed a handful of titles; one for PC, one for the mobile market, and one next-gen title, Clive Barker's Jericho, which only found lukewarm critical reception. Despite the apparent neophyte stature of the development studio, anyone who played Jericho will tell you that the game had serious potential, and that specific pitfalls such as constrained level design and less-than-satisfying boss battles held back what otherwise was an impressive next-gen console showing for the fledgling developer.
Perhaps more importantly, Hideo Kojima fully backs the studio. From comments made by Kojima himself, both the game's producer, Dave Cox, and MercurySteam are some of the best talents in the business. From what we've seen so far of gameplay demos and the astoundingly epic announcement trailer (click HERE to check it out), we're sure Kojima is spot on with his assessment.
That excellent trailer points out the attention to detail the team is undertaking and just how pristine the presentation will be. Graphically, the game will feature a host of cinematic cutscenes, but what is most impressive is just how clean the in-engine visuals look. The game will take players from snowy mountain tops to lush jungle environments to lavishly ornate, Gothic edifices. In addition, character and enemy designs look amazing; from werewolves to Gabriel Belmont himself, this game's art direction is inspired.
Producer Dave Cox has also pointed out that the story being told in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is unencumbered by the narratives of past titles. The team felt it important to truly reboot the series, as the canon from the 20+ games in the franchise would likely serve to bog-down rather than ground this entry. Of course, the game is still very much a Castlevania title, so nods to characters, enemies, and some key story elements from before will be included throughout the game.
The story of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow takes place on an Earth that's on the verge of apocalyptic demise. Humankind is threatened not only by hordes of monsters running rampant, but the deceased are unable to make their way to heaven due to a dark oath that blights the land, inhibiting souls from ascension. The protagonist, Gabriel Belmont, member of the Brotherhood of Light, is set on a course to lift this dark spell after his wife, Marie, is eviscerated by one of the monstrosities roaming the land. Poor Marie is stuck in limbo and it is up to Gabriel to harness the power of the Lords of Shadow, by defeating their representative factions and by possessing two mysterious masks of power, the God and Devil Masks, in order to bring her back from death and return the world back to equilibrium.
In order to bring this new story-arc to life, Konami has tapped into some serious voice talent. The development team really felt that actors with true chops were needed to make the brooding, dramatic plot seem natural and engage the player. Four actors, thus far, have been revealed, including Robert Carlyle (Gabriel), Sir Patrick Stewart (Narrator, Zobek the mentor), Natascha McElhone (Marie), and Jason Isaacs (role TBA, of Lucius Malfoy fame). Additionally, Lords of Shadow will use several classic Castlevania musical themes as well as feature a new score by composer Óscar Araujo.
Finally, gameplay will be reminiscent of the God of War franchise, as it will place a heavy emphasis on fast-paced, fluid combat sequences. One aspect of the game that has us particularly interested is the inclusion of Titans as boss characters. These Titans are immense creatures that need to be scaled, similar to Shadow of the Colossus, in order to find their weak spot and bring them down. For more mundane baddies, the use of the combat cross, which has properties similar to the Belmont family whip and Kratos' Blades of Chaos, will be Gabriel's primary weapon. The cross will be upgraded over time, as will Gabriel's secondary weapons that include classic alternatives such as holy water and thrown daggers. However, combat isn't the only aspect of Lords of Shadow. Because this is a Castlevania title, intense platforming will be featured throughout as well. Also, puzzle segments of various kinds will break up the action-heavy gameplay.
Castevania: Lords of Shadow is shaping up nicely. The game is close to going gold, and we've been promised hands-on time with the title at E3 2010. Stay tuned for more info on our updated impressions in mid-June.
CCC Editor / News Director