In the past this series hasn’t had much luck when it comes to its forays into the realm of 3D gaming. This inability to produce a decent game not of the side-scrolling variety led some among the gaming community to label it a curse, but lucky for us Lords of Shadow has taken that curse, torn it apart and placed its head upon a stick that faced the bedroom where it would then proceed to make love to its mom. Multiple times.
Before you start musing over my opinions I feel I should come clean. This is a difficult thing for me to admit, but I am indeed, a Castlevirgin. Over all my years as a self-provlaimed “hardcore” gamer, I’ve never actually sat down with a Castlevania game. So if you can find it in your big, amiable heart to forgive me for this blasphemy then please, read on to hear what I have to say about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The Baby Factor: If Devil May Cry and God of War got together to make beautiful, brooding babies; Lords of Shadow would be their werewolf dismembering offspring.
Lords of Shadow is an interesting beast; it’s a beautifully realized game with a stunning attention to detail that’s still managed to keep a foot firmly placed in old-school gaming. Solving puzzles, static cameras, tons of replayability and a highly engaging story are just some of the things you’ll encounter after booting up the game. Those aren’t even the things I found myself enjoying the most, instead long after my sessions with Castlevania I found myself remembering the insanely epic boss fights against massive creatures that were taken straight out of Shadow of the Colossus’ book. Colossus remains as one of my favorite games of all time so this little homage to a game I love was well-received.
The game starts off simple enough; you’re a man on a mission to save the world against a growing malicious threat. Along the way you fight waves of progressively stronger enemies, fight the aforementioned bosses, solve a clever puzzle here and there and collect as many of the numerous scattered items you can. This adventure game formula shouldn’t be anything surprising to the experienced gamer, and that’s where the extraordinary polish, variety and incredible depth comes in to set this game apart from the ones that inspired it.
Sure there’s a plethora of arenas that throw waves of enemies at you but unlike Devil May Cry they aren’t so videogamey (forgive the made-up word), and Lords of Shadow actually manages to take God of War’s excellent combat mechanics, kick it in the ass and teach it a lesson. Kratos should take note because there’s a brand new badass in the arena he’s dominated since 2005.
Obviously, there’s upgrading your weapons and abilities, but that’s expected in a game like this by now. On top of this Lords of Shadow adds two more layers with its Dark and Light magic powers. The former focuses on strength and sheer brutality while the latter heals you with each successful strike. Then on top of that you have execution moves that are unlocked after an enemy takes enough damage and you can also take control of the larger enemies and ride them raging bull-style until they eradicate all their smaller siblings that failed to evacuate their path.
Did I mention this game is long? In our recession-plagued economy where wallets sob at the sight of a new game’s price tag, Castlevania offers a hefty bang for your hard-earned buck. There are twelve chapters, each containing several smaller sections that vary in length, so you’re looking at well over 16 hours of playtime here, with the added option of going back through to collect the tons of hidden trinkets you missed your first time through. They even made it easy for you by labeling each area with a percentage that marks how many of the items you collected in each level.
Sadly, not everything is flawless here, and there was one major issue that kept rearing its ugly head: the camera. As I mentioned before the game rarely lets you take control of the camera that’s usually perched atop ledges or other areas to grant you the best view of the environment as possible, and even when you do gain some semblance of control its generally not enough to make much of a difference. Most of the time this only bothered me when the camera would suddenly move forcing me to quickly adjust the direction I’m going, which is something I haven’t had to do since my time with the early Resident Evil games.
This really became an issue during some boss fights, where you’re fighting for your life and you can’t see what’s going on because the camera isn’t looking where you need it to. One boss in particular was made more frustrating than it should’ve been because I couldn’t see the rocks it was throwing at me because the camera decided it needed to give me the best view of the ground that it could.
Occasionally soul-crushing camera aside, Lords of Shadow has very little that’s actually wrong with it. It’s not perfect but it has managed to take what other games have done well, make those elements its own and throw in an incredible level of depth and detail on top of that.
The Final Word: There’s a lot to love for newcomers and longtime fans of the series, so if you’re looking for an excellent adventure game with top-tier visuals and a fascinating story; Lords of Shadow won’t disappoint.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which was provided by the publisher.
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