Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review
Lord of tedious puzzles and awesome combat
Here's a game that's quite controversial in certain gaming circles... Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, often regarded as "not a real Castlevania game" and "God Of War 4". Seriously? THAT'S bad? Hell, Lords Of Shadow isn't even that similar to God Of War... Oh wow, it's a hack and slash with no camera control, it MUST rip off God Of War! But if I was to try and argue all of that, I'd be here all day, and the same for the other argument of it not being a real Castlevania game. I don't normally condone that argument, unless the game in question sucked, like Contra Force (ineptitude backed up by Disney looking graphics, while Contra is usually gritty, like all war games should be, and fun as hell) or the PS1 Contra games (oh sure, they're hard, but not fun hard; more bullshit hard). Lords Of Shadow is actually a good game. Far from great, as there are some things that suck, but it's still a good game that everyone ought to play through at least once.
Story: Gabriel Belmont is a member of the Brotherhood Of Light, a group of holy knights that defend mankind against supernatural beings. All is well until Gabriel's wife, Maria, dies at the hands of one of these creatures, but instead of going to the great beyond, her soul is in limbo. Gabriel has to piece together the God Mask in order to reconnect her soul to her body, but to do this, he must defeat the Lords of Shadow, who each hold a piece. This might sound familiar to those who played through Dante's Inferno (or watched the animated movie - which I recommend over playing the game as the movie actually coherently pieces the story together and doesn't get worse as it goes, it remains good), because Dante had to go through the nine circles of hell to resurrect his dead girlfriend, except he didn't need an artefact to do so. The twist is that the Lords of Shadow are the reason that Marie's soul, among others, is unable to cross to the other side - they're blocking the way!
Now, when I heard that Hideo Kojima was behind this story, I was expecting something extremely convoluted with 45 minute cutscenes in between each level, but maybe the only influence he put upon the story was just some of the intricate details you'll find throughout, because the cutscenes are at an appropriate length, and aren't too hard to follow. Each element laid out in front of you is explained adequately so that you can at least follow along. On top of that, the story manages to remain interesting enough to maintain one's attention, at least the first time around. Dialogue can be a bit wonky and awkward,
Gameplay: Well, as a so called "God Of War clone", it plays out like a traditional hack and slash game where you run through a linear environment and fight monsters. However, it's not quite as button mashy as God Of War – in fact, if you charge into enemies like that, you'll get your ass handed to you, and it's not just later on; it's for the whole game, even on the first level (unless you're playing on the easy difficulty level, but who plays on that difficulty level?). So immediately, you'll find that you need to develop a certain rhythm of slashing and dodging. At first, this may seem tedious, but as you play through the game's twelve chapters, you'll quickly develop this rhythm, and with development comes true enjoyment, as every victory will feel earned.
This is one of those games that gets better as it progresses. At first, you'll only have a couple of combos and a sub weapon. Eventually, you'll gain access to relics, which allow you to do more things (for instance, the gauntlets you get from the boss of chapter 2 lets you charge your fist up so you can smash things). You'll also gain some magic; light magic, which heals you as you hit the enemy, and dark magic, which gives your attacks a little extra kick. As well as all that, you'll gain XP from downed enemies, and with XP, you can buy more combos, and from a certain point, the battle system will become more technical as combos will require different relics to activate them... I mean, it's not quite Ninja Gaiden technical, but it's still technical regardless.
Most people think that all the bosses are rip offs of Shadow Of The Colossus. You would be right... except out of all of the bosses, maybe three of them are like that. If you're unsure as to how that game did it, basically, you climb up a giant monster, and stab its weak point repeatedly for massive damage, then find the next weak point and repeat until it's destroyed. They're not too bad – in fact, they're actually pretty good boss fights, and will make you wish that there were more of them... but at the same time, maybe just three of them is for the best.
The rest of the bosses are just bigger enemies with an even bigger HP bar, and they have a thing for hitting as hard as possible. They also have a thing for making you really think on your feet. Basically, you have to memorize their attack patterns and counterattack appropriately. At the end, you'll need to do a quick time event, and these are reasonably forgiving, as you just have to press a button as soon as the shrinking circle is inside the other circle, or repeatedly mash whatever button is on screen.
Oftentimes, it'll throw some puzzles your way. Honestly, if you consider these puzzles good, congratulations, here are your complimentary tickets to Mars, you *bleep*ing alien scum. Now, let's head back down to Earth by saying that these puzzles are shit. There's absolutely no direction and they're mostly really poorly laid out. Eventually, they'll end up so *bleep*ing irritating, that it actually decreases the will to want to replay levels, and replaying levels is what gives the game its lasting value.
Oh, and by the by, if you're going to have segments where little critters steal my powers... just don't. For the love of god, don't put any of those parts in a game. It's just unnecessary padding, looking for those little shitheads so I can get my powers back and get back to kicking ass or solving shit puzzles.
Controls: Occasionally, you'll get to platform. There isn't much to it - just jump, shimmy along walls and jump more. Hell, you get to swing across chasms Indiana Jones style. The problem lies within the controls... no, not the platforming controls. I'm talking about the camera controls, or lack thereof. You see, rather than allowing the player to see where they are and where the next platform is in a way that'll let them determine where they'll make it or not, the platforming becomes a hell of a lot more frustrating than it should be. Being unable to manipulate the camera position so that you can see stuff better, you'll be subject to a few cheap deaths - I guess it's rectified by the fact that you just lose some health when you fall down, but no, that shouldn't be an excuse for no camera control, especially since THERE'S A SHINY RIGHT STICK THAT SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THE JOB! Yeah, the right stick DOES NOTHING! It's not like God Of War where it serves as the dodge action - it serves as nothing; to dodge, you hold the block button and move the left stick in the direction you wish to dodge. *bleep*en hell...
Graphics: The game looks *bleep*ing beautiful. There is a lot of lushness in the forest environments, lots of grittiness in the ruins and castles – really, the general atmosphere produced via colors, landscapes and textures just feels so convincing and bloody awesome that it's just easier to say the graphics are some of the best this generation. Well, I almost could, but with the lack of camera movement and the presence of some rare but existent framerate issues, I'd probably be lying. So yeah, looks great, animates greatly, but maybe a little too good, because there are a couple of framerate issues to be had.
Audio: I might get some flak for this, but... I thought the audio was actually pretty good. The voice acting manages to move the story well despite some awkward dialogue throughout. Each actor does their best to bring every character to life... which is achieved very well, thankfully. The narration for each level is done by the always awesome Patrick Stewart, and although it's only spoken the first time you load up a level, you probably won't be able to help but listen to his voice tell the tales from his perspective.... yeah, he also voices Zobek, Gabriel's partner in crime.
The soundtrack, although more epic in scale than the upbeat gothic tunes of old, manages to do the job quite well. It manages to enhance the mood of any situation quite well... if you can hear it. See, the sound mixing is a lot like a Sonata Arctica album; the music is good, but you wouldn't be able to tell the first time because the sound is mixed in a way so that the vocals (and sound effects) are well above and beyond the soundtrack. Yes, I know this could be adjusted in the options menu, but.. it's the principle, goddammit!
Replay Value: As far as replay value is concerned, it's mostly done in the form of redoing levels... in special ways. For one, you'll have trials you have to complete, like “kill x amount of enemies while riding y” or “kill boss within two minutes”. These range from medium to tricky to just irritating, almost to the point where you just won't bother getting the 110% required for the 1000 gamerscore. Then you have collectibles, which you'd think you could collect your first time through, but you need upgrades from later chapters in order to get them, meaning you're essentially playing through the game twice, with the second being to get what you missed. These collectibles will either upgrade your whip, health, or magic bars. Even after doing all of that, you'll only have 100%... that extra 10% comes from beating every level on the unlocked Paladin or “very hard” difficulty mode. It's actually a pretty clever way to keep you coming back, but with shitty puzzles galore, it's actually hard to muster up the patience to repeat most of these levels.
Overall: Although far from perfect, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow is still a good game. It's not just a pretty face, as the further you get, the more you'll find to become engrossed in, whether it's the story or the combat engine. Really, all that's wrong with this game is the overabundance of shitty puzzles. Guaranteed, if they didn't exist, this would be teetering on perfection – no exaggeration, kids.
Replay Value: 6/10
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