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Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

John Funk | 12 Oct 2010 13:00
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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a game that finds itself in an interesting position. It attempts to simultaneously bring Konami's storied vampire-killing series successfully into the third dimension - where previous attempts have largely failed - and to reboot the increasingly convoluted story of the Belmont clan and their feud with Dracula. As with all reboots, fans of the series have been worried that Lords of Shadow might lose a bit of what makes Castlevania feel like Castlevania in its haste to take notes from games like God of War. Others claim that change is a good thing, and that this is merely a harkening back to Castlevania's true action-game roots.

Well, they're both right, kind of.

Like prior Castlevania games, Lords of Shadow stars a Belmont. It's just not a Belmont who we've ever heard of, and it's not a Belmont who has anything to do with the entire rest of the Castlevania franchise. It's just some guy named Gabriel Belmont, a warrior of the holy Brotherhood of Light, who is on a mission to help defeat the darkness covering the world, cutting it off from God. To do so, he has to defeat the three evil Lords of Shadow - and while he's at it, he might as well reconstruct the mythical god-mask that will let him resurrect his dead wife, murdered thanks to the Lords of Shadows' machinations.

If you think that sounds like a fairly generic story, you'd be right. It's fitting, because initially, Lords of Shadow simply feels like a fairly generic game. Gabriel's weapon of choice is the Combat Cross - a giant chain concealed in a crucifix-shaped hilt - and the core gameplay feels all but indistinguishable from games like God of War or Devil May Cry. You have hard single-target attacks, weaker group attacks and a throw, and can use them together to create combos. It's gory and action-packed, but the base combat doesn't feel like anything we haven't seen before.

Battles occasionally boil down into quicktime events, and while Lords of Shadow does have the common "mash this button repeatedly" type, it also has a rather-appreciated take on the well-worn concept: Rather than requiring a specific button press, the game asks you to press any button with a specific timing. It's a small change, but it means you can be watching the action on-screen without waiting to see which arbitrary input the game will make you do next.

Combat starts to get interesting when you acquire your different types of magic. Light magic will empower your attacks to regenerate your health, while Shadow magic will make all of your attacks significantly more devastating - but the same resource is used to recharge both of your pools, forcing players to make choices on the fly. Light magic tends to be the more useful, because you will almost certainly find yourself dying often.

Though the bulk of your deaths will likely happen in combat, Lords of Shadow's platforming sections occasionally take a sharp turn into the "wicked" territory as Gabriel acquires more and more abilities to let him traverse areas - from a grappling hook on his Combat Cross to enchanted shoulders that let him jump twice. It is occasionally put to the test in the Titan battles, which are more than a little reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus - but they're also much more boring and repetitious than the Colossus battles.

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