Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Castlevania games have been a mixed bag in the past – with some being on the verge of greatness, and others….not so much. Is Lords of Shadow the reboot this series needs to make it matter once again? Or will it be like the Count’s bite, draining the remaining life from a dying name?

Story: You play as Gabriel Belmont, member of the Brotherhood of Light – and recently widowed. The world is in chaos, and the last remaining bastions of man have to fight constantly against the forces of the dark. Gabriel’s wife was just murdered – and although you don’t know who did it in the beginning, he assumes it was a servant of evil.

You need to kill the Lords of Shadow to gain their powers, and save the world, save the Brotherhood, and bring your wife back to life. It’s all fairly standard stuff, with the predictable twists and turns – however it tells it fairly well.

Gameplay: The combat in LoS feels satisfying – provided you play long enough to get the Shadow Magic upgrade. Let me explain: for the first 3 – 4 hours, the combat is extremely bland. You’ll mash your direct and wide attack buttons almost mindlessly, as there’s little else to do. The combos you can unlock are banal at best, and you’ll rarely find yourself trying to use one because you’ll be getting hit from behind.

Once you gain Shadow magic however, things change dramatically. Yes, the combat is still about button mashing, but now you have the added option of activating Shadow magic to deal significantly more damage, or Light magic to increase your health. That single dynamic makes the combat seem more strategic, and makes it a good deal more fun. It’s just not good having to wait so long for that “fun” moment to happen.

There is a lot of Prince of Persia style traversal that happens in LoS as well – however at it’s best, it’s decent. More often though, it’s much worse than that. The fixed camera provides MUCH frustration, and will lead to many deaths as you blindly try to figure where you’re supposed to be jumping from.

There are other gameplay mechanics LoS uses, but they feel like gimmicks to artificially extend the life of the game. things like “hold the right trigger, and spin the left stick slowly to open a door while being attacked” are used extensively, and are very annoying. There are also puzzles, and while some are pretty good with their design, I don’t want to have to do another stupid mirror puzzle for a long time. The difficulty of the puzzles is increased by the badly placed fixed camers.

Sound: The music and ambient sounds are really good in LoS – they dramatically set the mood most times. Add that to the fact that Patrick Stewart is a voice actor (that doesn’t get killed in the first five minutes), and you have the recipe for a really good sound review. However, like the other areas of LoS, something comes along to throw a wrench into that. While Gabriel sounds human in cut scenes, during any time you’re playing him, he sounds like a grunting retard.

I made the comment on twitter that he reminded me of Kratos, but Kratos was honest about it. In GoW, they always portrayed him as someone barely capable of a lot of speech. Gabriel goes from a normal speaking person, and devolves into a caveman – so much so that is takes you totally out of the immersion.

Graphics: Plain and simple, Lords of Shadow looks GOOD. Yes, there are texture pop-outs that happen. Yes, there is some tearing and slow-down ( that I didn’t notice on the PS3 version – only the 360 🙁 ). Those things don’t, however, take anything away from the gorgeous art style and majestic set pieces that LoS features.

On top of that, the character designs are quite nice, and pretty varied. Add that to the variety and diversity of enemies, and this is one area that they didn’t get wrong at all. You play through many different kinds of environment too, so one doesn’t ever get to feel stale, or over done.

Final Thoughts: LoS is more of a reboot/re-imagining of the Castlevania series, and it’s NOT horrible. That being said, it’s also not great – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow falls somewhere in the middle to above average. The game takes 26ish hours to finish, and there’s quite a bit to do, but a lot of that length could have been trimmed and stupid parts removed. That would have more than likely given it a higher score all around.

If you hoped this would be the savior to the Castlevania name, well keep hoping.

In the end, I give Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a 3 out of 5 Michelas. (3 Michelas? What does this mean?) 3 Michelas is like drinking 3 of your favorite drinks, you feel relaxed, happy and ready to socialize. Not quite at the peak of your buzz, but definitely feeling good.

MSRP: $59.99
Platforms: XBOX 360, Playstation 3
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Mercury Steam
Played on: XBOX 360 and Playstation 3