Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Hours of Patrick Stewart. This is the first thing players should know about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. There is so much Patrick Stewart here it may give even the hardiest Next Generation fans pause. Patrick Stewart not only narrates the entire experience, but he is a major character in Lords of Shadow as well.

The game throws players into the action quickly as Gabriel Belmont. You are initially tasked with protecting a small village from a band of attacking werewolves. A tutorial encompassing basic combos, dodging, ranged attacks, and quick time events is included here. Combat is fairly simplistic, and even with most of the moves unlocked by the end of the game, players should not feel overwhelmed. Gabriel's weapon of choice is the Combat Cross, a metal cross with a retractable chain whip. The whip is used as both a melee weapon and a Bionic Commando style grappling hook. It can be used to grab enemies at range, or to swing Gabriel to otherwise unreachable areas, but sadly the grappling aspect is contextual.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is by no means an open world game. Players may feel as if they are on rails at times, and some levels feel absolutely claustrophobic. Each level has multiple branching paths, and once a path is chosen, most will not allow players to backtrack and explore the alternate fork. To me this feels like artificial replay value, forcing me to replay the level simply to find out what I potentially missed. After each level is completed, the game provides a summary page detailing what items were available in the level and what the player has missed, serving to tease completionists into another round.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow periodically provides upgrades to both the Combat Cross, and Gabriel's combat abilities. Things such as light and dark magic, double jump, sprint, and hand to hand combat are distributed after downing the games various bosses. This serves to encourage exploration of previously completed levels using newly acquired abilities. Players earn currency by defeating enemies, which can then be used to purchase additional combos or special magical moves from the game's menu at any time.


While I've heard talk of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow taking 20-25 hours for many to complete, I ran through the game in about 15 or so. The game has four modes of difficulty, but certain mechanics keep the game from being overly challenging. Human sized enemies can be grabbed at range and instantly killed via a single button quick time mechanic. This, combined with the fact that Gabriel is invulnerable during the grab animation, make dispatching large groups of enemies a breeze. This tactic feels so cheap at times I felt ashamed to use it, prefering instead to chalk it up as a design flaw and use Gabriel's normal fighting mechanics in all but the most dire of circumstances.

Enemies and character's are interesting, and level locations are varied and detailed, ranging from swamps to gothic cathedrals. Bosses are generally epic, however they seem to get easier as the game goes along. The first Dark Lord is quite a challenge, but the game never seems to hit this high note a second time. While it's possible the initial boss forced me to get better at the game's combat systems, the challenge was not proportionally increased throughout the remainder of the game.



Patrick Stewart pushes the narrative along between levels, explaining Gabriel's emotional struggles and introducing the newest locale. However the game never takes the time to emotionally develop Gabriel through it's various cutscenes. The story itself has several twists and turns, but the ending is cryptic and forgettable, leaving plenty of room for DLC or sequels to expound upon. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is fun, especially for fans of the action genre, but a shallow narrative, lack of genuine replayability, and a combat system that feels gimmicky at times serve to keep Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from being a must have title this season.


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