Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review
Oh lord, what have I gotten myself into...
Developer: Mercury Stream
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow is pretty unoriginal. Seriously, just about every moment in this game has been done before. The combat engine was done by Rygar: The Legendary Adventure. The giant bosses have been featured and handled the same way in Shadow Of The Colossus. The platforming had been done in various Indiana Jones games as well as the Tomb Raider games (good and bad) and Uncharted. Quick time events had already been done in Shenmue (or, in its current form, Resident Evil 4). But you're looking at the box on the top right hand corner, and thinking “sheesh, all that and he gave it a good score, what's his deal!?” Well, my deal is that the execution was mostly fan-*bleep*ing-tastic! Some gripes aside, there is no reason for this game to get the shit that it cops from reviewers and gamers.
The Lords of Shadow have emerged, and their first act of evil is to seal off the gate to the afterlife, meaning that spirits of the dead will be stuck in limbo, and in amongst this is Marie, the wife of this game's protagonist, Gabriel Belmont. Gabriel is a member of the Brotherhood Of Light, a group of soldiers who protect civilians against monsters, but must've been too slow to protect Marie from being brutally slaughtered by a gang of monsters. In limbo, she realizes what's at stake, and influences Gabriel to seek a way to save all of the lost souls from limbo.
Unfortunately, the story wasn't very well told. Firstly, the writing in the loading screens seems really, really awkward, like the writer of the dub had a thesaurus and a few Shakespearean plays in front of him, but hadn't had much more grasp of the English language than the Japanese developers and writers. I found it easier to just repeatedly tap X while waiting for the OK to actually proceed. Secondly, the characters have no personality. I'll understand Gabriel because the events that unfold as you play through the game makes him the way he ends up, but the rest? I expected something more than just some middle of the road dialogue infused with the personality of mud. In the end, the story is just boring, and given the length of the game (which is 15-20 hours), well, it goes to show that maybe bigger isn't better. It's admirable that they at least tried, but effort does not a good story make. Thankfully, you can skip the cutscenes... unfortunately, loading screens are a completely different story.
Ah well. This game may have a lackluster story, but it makes up for this in nearly every other area. For instance, the gameplay. It's a hack and slash game where you fight off enemies with a flail, similar to the chained blades Kratos wields. Basically, you go through corridors and fight off whatever monsters get in your way. On top of that, you can use sub-weapons, such as throwing knives, holy water, distraction fairies and dark crystals. Three of them should be self-explanatory, but what the dark crystal does is significantly weaken a boss, which is helpful when you're having some trouble against a particular boss.
As you gain experience points, you can learn new combos, which... sorry, but this really needs to be said. When you first start the game, the combat engine is simply average. Sure, you can perform strong direct attacks and weak wide attacks just fine, but up until you start gaining some combos, combat lacks the bite necessary to keep things fresh and fun... but yeah, once you gain a few combos (which shouldn't take too long), you'll start to see why it kicks ass – because as you perform different combos, the combat engine gets more and more engaging, and you can kick more and more ass!
Throughout the game, you'll be able to upgrade your flail and even Gabriel himself! You start by gaining the ability to use magic (first blue magic, which heals you when your flail makes contact with an enemy, and then red magic, which deals more damage), then as you collect artefacts, you can run faster in bursts and charge up for a powerful force attack, among some others. Aside from the magic, you'll find yourself only using them for platforming and puzzles...
Occasionally, you'll fight a giant monster. Here's where the comparisons to Shadow Of The Colossus come from – in order to administer the coup de gras, you must climb up them, and then stab the weak points repeatedly for massive damage. Don't worry, it's not totally plagiarised. The climbing is easier thanks to Gabriel's ability to quickly thrust along surfaces, so long as he can hold on to said surface, plus there are instances where you can swing across them using the flail. Basically, the climbing portions aren't as tedious, although unlike Shadow Of The Colossus's protagonist, Gabriel cannot hold the cross up and then, with one big stab, inflict massive damage – he must stab it repeatedly. But I suppose, anything to seperate it from its influence...
But not to worry, as you will fight bosses in the same way you'd fight the enemies, and that is with your flail and on the ground. The general idea is to get their patterns down and counter appropriately in traditional fashion, and whether it's through dodge rolling a lot or pressing the block button at just the right time, hell, anything to make sure the boss goes down before you do. They're actually reasonably challenging. Not quite Demon's Souls hard, but you'll find yourself getting your ass kicked at least a fair few times, particularly against the later bosses (though you should, or else the developers aren't doing their jobs properly). They don't employ cheap tactics for the most part, so if you die, it just means you ought to up your game!
Sometimes, you'll be subjected to some platforming sections. They tend to require the use of your flail to swing across some gaps, or the use of some big animals you'll need to weaken first so that you can jump across gaps you couldn't on your own or climb up bits that you can't. To be quite honest, the platforming isn't even on par with the combat, nor is it really all that enjoyable. You'll sometimes find yourself bumping into invisible walls (hopefully, huge emphasis on sometimes), but other than that and sometimes under/overestimating your jumping, there isn't a whole heap of obstacles to overcome. It's certainly better than Enslaved's where there's virtually no risk and it's practically done for you, but it's a far cry from the Uncharted series.
There are also some moments where you'll need to solve puzzles. Ranging from having to rotate poles to reflect light elsewhere, to having to activate indents with certain magic. The puzzles aren't all that good. Most of them feel like they were added just to give you something else to do, which is not something that should be done. But some puzzles are actually rather clever and enjoyable, such as having to press on switches to move lightning rods around so that you can navigate through them. Sadly, the good puzzles are few and far between while we're being subjected to fillerific, tedious light reflection puzzles.
The graphics for this game are *bleep*ing beautiful! Everything, from the textures to the colors do a fantastic job of portraying each environment appropriately. Serene greens for a calm forest? Check. Harsh grays for snow in a graveyard? Sure, why not... and the textures manage to make everything look very detailed, so it's quite easy to say that the graphics are excellently done.
The soundtrack, although nothing that you would expect in a Castlevania game (maybe in a Zelda game, it would be more appropriate?), is also fantastic! Every song manages to make every cutscene and boss encounter epic with a bombastic symphony, not unlike what you'd find in God Of War (say what you want about that series – it has a *bleep*ing awesome soundtrack) and Shadow Of The Colossus. During the levels, more often than not, there's no music, but the feeling of anticipation is what'll make the music sound even better.. at least, that's how I've always seen it, anyway.
As far as the voice acting is concerned, well, let's just say that this game's voice cast is like a supergroup, as each actor has had a very successful career in acting – vocal or otherwise. You have guys like Robert Carlyle, Aleksander Mikic, and Patrick *bleep*ing Stewart, to name a few, and if you don't recognize them, well, that's your loss, not mine. Anyway, all of their performances are spot on, especially considering that they have to deliver... let's just say far less than stellar writing. It's hard to explain, because I'd imagine that if the writing was actually good, the voice acting would be easy to describe, but as the writing sucks, well, let's just go with “it's spot on” and move on...
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow is a pretty good game. It's easy to criticize the game for having some overly mediocre sections like the platforming and the puzzles, but they play second fiddle to the combat, which is the most prevelant element, not to mention, it's pretty well developed and fun to experience. At the same time, it constantly reminds you that just because it's not original, doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad game, because it implements most of the elements rather well. In fact, the only thing this game truly does wrong is the story.. oh god, the story... it's so poorly written and boring that it actually nearly stopped this reviewer from playing the game! Thank god for skippable cutscenes!
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