Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review
Lord of keeping stale concepts fresh


Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow is a good game.

Now take a few minutes to let that fact sink in.

Oh, I guess you're wondering what's going on. Well, what's going on is that this game gets a lot of shit thrown at it for almost no reason whatsoever. From "it's not a real Castlevania game" to "it's a God Of War/Shadow Of The Colossus ripoff", like any of that actually matters when the game itself is reasonably well constructed and is fun to play through. Honestly, the gaming community wouldn't know a good game if it hit them right upside the head, otherwise, I wouldn't feel like such an outcast for liking Vampire Rain and hating Metroid Prime: Hunters. But whatever, who cares to read a rant regarding my disdain for the general gaming populace, when clearly, this is supposed to be me reviewing Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow?

I will admit, it doesn't have that good of a story. It starts out the same way Dante's Inferno did, in which our main character, Gabriel Belmont, wants to revive his dead wife, but to do this, he has to go to some spirit realm or whatever. However, while Dante had to journey through the nine circles of hell and repent for his sins in order to revive his dead wife, Gabriel has to bring salvation to the world by putting together the God Mask and use the power to revive his dead wife, because evil is taking over and God doesn't give a shit.

It's a good concept, no doubt about it, but in practice, it's... meh. I don't know what it is that turns me away from every cutscene. Could it be that, within this one premise, there are some sidestories that come across as rushed and shitty? Perhaps. I, for one, don't care about this mute guide of mine who communicates with telekinetic superpowers, especially since she dies at the end of the chapter she was introduced in – the second one. It's a nice thought, but can we at least keep them alive for the remainder of the game? I don't know, I thought it would've been a great idea!

At first glace, the graphics look phenomenal. The colors are all used appropriately to convey the correct atmosphere for each area and in the context of the storyline (like a serene forest, or some dark and depressing woods), and the textures make everything – from the environments to the characters – look so detailed that it's photo realistic. You then look a little closer and notice some rough edges around textures, especially for the character models... maybe my eyes are a bit screwy, but a fair amount of these textures just don't look right. Then again, if you sit back, it doesn't seem so bad, though noticeable for characters (especially faces and hair).

The soundtrack manages to provide the correct ambience, conveying the correct moods like a heavier symphonic track for boss battles, or more subtle pieces for the quieter parts. Unfortunately, it's nothing that's going to stick or even draw you in much. It's just an ambient soundtrack, there to create the right atmosphere, but really, it just comes across as background noise... except the boss tracks, those are good and just LOVE to stick inside your brain – how can it not, though? It's even more epic than the track that accompanies the second boss in God Of War, and that shit was filled to the brim with epic sauce. Oh, and there are a couple of remixes of the old tracks, and they're pretty well done, too (course, some have complained that there aren't enough remixes; personally, I think developers shouldn't need to rely on old tracks, so that complaint is just retarded).

The voice acting is generally good. Gabriel and his guide/game's narrator, Zobek, have *bleep*ing excellent voices (though Patrick Stewart, the guy behind Zobek, is commonly acknowledged as an excellent voice actor), but the side characters that last for maybe a few levels just don't seem to do as well. Granted that they all do good, they don't really sound right. It sounds a bit... forced? It's tough to explain as they do a reasonable job of vocalising for the characters; it's just... *bleep* it, they're good, but not great. Besides, they're side characters that Gabriel interracts with, and we all know that if the main character has a damn good voice, then who gives a shit?

Course, you can't have a good game without good gameplay now, can you? Well, you probably could – racing sims get away with it all the time because people won't stop *bleep*ing buying them... err, anyway, this game delivers the goods as far as gameplay is concerned. Now, yeah, this game is pretty unoriginal – its combat engine suckles upon Soul Reaver's teats on a consistent basis while breaking and entering Shadow Of The Colossus for a few of its bosses. In the meantime, the platforming seems to be heavily inspired by Prince Of Persia 08 and the Uncharted series, almost to the point of plagiarism... well, before you start thinking of God Of War, don't fret, because unlike God Of War, this game manages to keep all of these elements fresh and fun – and that's what it's all about, ladies and gentlemen; keeping things awesome, even when every other game is doing the same thing.

Oh, right, what actually makes the gameplay? The main thing to do here is slash enemies with your chain whip looking thing. No swords, no hammers, no scythes, no guns – just good old fashioned whips, like in the old days of Dracula's Curse and Super Castlevania 4 (you know, before they decided to rehash Symphony Of The Night a bazillion times). You have yourself a vertical attack and a horizontal attack, as well as some sub weapons like knives and holy water to serve as ranged attacks. Suffice it to say, combat may seem simple, but as you progress, it'll become more strategical, and as a result, more fun. It becomes more than a simple button masher as you have to dodge more often, and attack when necessary, especially since some of the bigger boys like to guard every now and again. Timing becomes the key – mindless button mashing is ASKING FOR DEATH!

As you progress, you'll be able to learn more attacks and combos, like one where you end your combo by swinging your whip like the blades of a helicopter on its side, though at the expense of experience points, and you can even upgrade them... of course, this is when the game permits it. You can't really learn every single combo by repeating the first chapter over and over again to farm for extra experience points; more will be available as you complete each chapter.

Speaking of added incentives to progress, there are many places where you can't tread because you don't have certain abilities from a later chapter unlocked. Stuck behind a wall? Get the dark magic. Stopped by a statue? Get the upgrade that lets you move... err, break statues. Whatever the case may be, you're encouraged to beat the game before going for 100% (or 110% if you picked the hardest difficulty.. which has to unlocked by beating the game on a lesser difficulty). While I'm at it, in order to truly complete a level (that is to say, get 100% in a level), you have to find all of the whip upgrades, health and magic increasing gems, and complete certain challenges... the latter, I didn't like for some of them, but half of them were stuff that you'd expect, like “kill x amount of enemies while on a Warg” or “don't get hit”; as for the former, the only problem came from the shitty uncontrollable camera, which I'll explain later on, but other than that, not getting them is your fault for not exploring enough. Yeah yeah, each level has a linear structure, but did you keep those occasional junctions in mind? No? Serves you right, huh...

Don't expect to be able to run through this game without some tact. Especially on the harder difficulty levels, each speck of health counts, for there are barely any health springs and basically *bleep* all healing potions to lick your wounds with, and enemies aren't above handing you your ass on a silver platter. Though not the smartest creatures out there, they don't let up either, and especially in groups, always watch your back. Dodging and blocking is essential if you want to survive. Don't even get me started on bosses – little to no healing opportunities throughout the entire fight, with some of them being able to spawn little monsters to distract and even kill you. Yeah, you're pretty *bleep*ed if you suck. Might also add that the strategy where you die and heal at a checkpoint doesn't work, because checkpoints know how much health you had when you crossed them, and they aren't above restarting you with that much health, so if you were low then, you'll be low again and again. Might seem unfair, but you know what, I'm sick and tired of games that practically hand you heal-alls when you restart at a checkpoint – dammit, I want a challenge!

Anyway, when you learn to harness light magic, you can use it to heal yourself as you deliver blows, though this has to be used sparingly because you don't gain any magical energy when you kill enemies while under the influence of magic – you have to be perfectly normal. I might also add that I'm not big on pressing the analogue sticks to regain magic. I mean yeah, you get used to it, but I don't know, I'd rather it just flies towards me and power up both magic meters. Before I forget, you get two different sorts of magic powers – light magic, which I've already explained, and dark magic, which makes your attacks stronger, but like with light magic, this doesn't let you gain any magic if you kill an enemy while under the influence of dark magic. It's just best used when you feel that you need to kick some ass quickly, preferably against enemies that aren't block heavy (which is a good amount of them, don't worry your head off).

Actually, there is another way to recover magic, and it's through the Focus Meter. You do this by wailing on enemies while making sure you don't get hit. Get hit, and the meter breaks. Go some time without hitting enemies, and it slowly empties. When it's filled up, you'll get a lot of magic orbs by just hitting enemies, which can be absorbed when the coast is clear (you're... pretty vulnerable while absorbing these orbs – vulnerable enough to get hit and destroy the Focus Meter, thereby rectifying your hard work). It's actually a pretty cool system, which further encourages you to not get hit, especially when you consider that every speck of health counts.

Now, when most people think of bosses in this game, they'd think Shadow Of The Colossus, and while a few bosses certainly play the part well as you have to climb up them and stab the weak points to death while holding on and avoiding getting squashed (sheesh, run on sentence much?), most of the bosses are simply much stronger monsters. They'll hit hard and will require hard hits. At the end of each fight, they decided to sneak in our best friends, the quick time events. They're not QUITE as annoying as they usually are, as all you have to do is press a face button right when the shrinking circle is inside the stationary circle in order to defeat or at least bludgeon them, but still, I never liked quick time events and probably never will, especially when *bleep*ing up means they get their health back. Aside from that little frustration, it's always awesome kicking bosses' asses.

Occasionally, you'll run into puzzles. Usually, it involves placing certain items on certain spots or using mirrors to reflect light to a specific area, among others. A lot of them aren't too tricky if you go through some trial and error or if you can translate the hints you'll find from dead soldiers (though some of them are either useless or retarded), though thankfully, they're never too easy nor too tedious, meaning that at least when they come to you, you aren't groaning. Oh yeah, and you kiddies who constantly compare this to God Of War – at least this game gets the puzzles right. None of that puzzle related fillerific bullshit that God Of War makes love to is present in this game. Unfortunately, the game allows you to sacrifice experience points just to get the puzzle practically solved for you – yeah, suck my ass Mercury Stream, I think people should do these puzzles themselves... seriously, they're not THAT hard, and gamers aren't THAT dumb! But yeah, good puzzle design is most certainly there, and usually makes for a good change of pace – as good as combat is, some variety every now and again is always good.

It's quite unfortunate that there are a couple of glaring flaws. For one thing, no camera control. May I ask why? The right stick alone does JACK SHIT in place of operating the camera, so what we have is a fixed perspective... which seems fine enough for combat, I guess (it really depends on the room – it's great for narrow hallways, but not so much for circular battlefields), but for platforming, it's just a pain in the ass, as what shouldn't really be so hard ends up being nothing more than bullshit trial and error, because half the time, you can't even see where you're going or where you'll end up, and that ends up costing you dearly after a while. Whether it's health, game over screens or your patience, something is guaranteed to diminish because of this extreme annoyance.

Finally. the pacing kind of shitty. Not quite Final Fantasy XIII shitty, but let's just say that outside of a few of the bosses, the first few chapters don't seem as well designed, nor as fun, as the later chapters. You wouldn't actually think that the first time through because it doesn't fall into common pitfalls such as lame “fighting constantly regenerating enemies to unlock doors” moments God Of War loved throwing your way, or anything that'd make you yearn for decent game design, but then you start to notice that it just DRAAAAAGS on. Admittedly, parts of the later chapters feel like that go on for an age and a half and you just wish that it would *bleep*ing end, but they aren't as bad as a good chunk of the first few chapters, as they are merely moments. It made me think “so THIS is why every action game nowadays is like 6-10 hours long”. If you're wondering how long this game is, it towers at 20 hours long – definitely admirable for a game such as this, but at the same time, it feels like it wears out its welcome. At least the last few chapters (out of 12) are consistently awesome.

So what Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow shows us is that there's nothing wrong with unoriginality, so long as it's fun to go through and is well designed. The levels, however mostly linear, show off some fantastic graphics, and all manage to at least keep you thinking that you're making some progression. The combat starts off a little above average, but then it becomes awesome as you purchase more combos and deal with stronger enemies. The puzzles are very well designed and have appropriate difficulty settings (ehh, just actually do it yourself instead of asking for the solution, it's way more fun that way). The bosses are especially damn fine and never get too tiring, especially when you consider what kind of strategy you have to adopt to make things easier. This would be a damn good game if the camera wasn't fixed in a way that makes platforming harder than it needs to be and if the beginning wasn't as generic as it was. Okay, sure, I expected a 3D Symphony Of The Night, but hey, a linear game in vain of the original set of games – this is good, too, and I recommend that everybody gives this a shot. *bleep* the demo, and just let it grow onto you, because this game gets to be really good as it progresses.

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6 members like this


0 thumbs!
Monterey Jack Feb 6, 11
Definitely a well written review, but I don't know about the opinions... The game, to me, seems so average, and this review isn't really changing my mind on it, but I'm sure it'll convince the more indecisive.. well, until I'm about finished with mine.
0 thumbs!
Vergil Ties Feb 10, 11
So what you're saying is that my opinions aren't backed up strongly enough? If that's the case, I'll see what I can do, but don't expect any miracles anytime soon.

Also, let's see how much better you can do!
0 thumbs!
allen33and88 Jun 23, 11
Well written my friend. However, it's too lengthy for my liking. Infact, I skipped/skimmed because it was too long. My advice ,for what it's worth, make it short and concise. 18 paragraphs is bordering on a 6 page essay bud. Other than this, I liked it
0 thumbs!
Lukas Jun 23, 11
Kind of ironic when he says this:

"If you're wondering how long this game is, it towers at 20 hours long - definitely admirable for a game such as this, but at the same time, it feels like it wears out its welcome."

In saying that, there isn't much that can be done, since the writer is dead.
0 thumbs!
allen33and88 Jun 24, 11
Wow, he's dead?? Sorry! wish I coulda got a reply from him.
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