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Jeremy Jastrzab
18 Oct, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

360 Review | What is a Castlevania game?
Having obviously had enough of the Koji ‘IGA’ Igarashi production line, Konami decided that it was time to take their mercurial Castlevania franchise down a different path. Following reboot submissions from Japan, the US and Europe, it was Spanish developer Mercury Steam that won out. Following a collaboration with the revered Kojima Productions, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is now upon us. While current criticism revolves around what makes a Castlevania game and just how much is borrowed from other big name games, we’d actually argue that this is the most Castlevania title since Rondo of Blood, and anyone claiming otherwise has likely spent too much time with the IGA Metroidvania titles. Regardless, Konami has been quite forthright that this is a reboot and change of direction for the series. So, just what is a Castlevania game? A hotch-potch of underworld legends and 2D platforms? But enough talk… have a review!

Lords of Shadow takes place in the year 1094, where Gabriel Belmont inherits the famous vampire-hunting name. The world is in disarray, as Lycans (werewolves), vampires and undead run amuck, the souls of the dead float in Limbo and God has supposedly forsaken everyone, as the realms of heaven and earth are cut-off from one another. In order to restore balance to the worlds and resurrect his deceased beloved, Gabriel, a Knight from the Brotherhood of Light, must face the three Dark Lords of Shadow, and gather the three separate pieces of the God Mask. Defeating the three Dark Lords is meant to restore balance while the God Mask is said to give the wearer the power to see through God’s eyes.

Whip yourself off... Cos you dead!

Whip yourself off... Cos you dead!
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The story itself is a radical and impressive departure from the Japanese B-grade hot-pot mix of anything to do with werewolf, vampire and undead mythology. Lords of Shadow has the most considered and detailed use of Eastern European folklore and mythology seen throughout the series, as well as Medieval Christianity and heaps of historical fictional literature to complement the package. It presents a much deeper and darker narrative than the usual ‘kill Dracula, save the maiden’, making it a much more compelling effort. The developers have still managed to litter a heap of Castlevania references as well, so be sure to watch out for them. It’s arguable that this is the most ‘Castlevania’ game of all. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite all tie together at the end, as the developers reached to cover a little too much.

3D Castlevania titles have a checkered history, from the underappreciated Castlevania 64 to the confused identities of Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness. So in searching for alternate inspiration, is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a God of War clone with a famous name slapped on top of it? Yes, Gabriel belongs to the heavier, brutal and less agile and technical class of action anti-heroes, such as Kratos, Dante and Conan. Still, the best way to describe the Lords of Shadow is the amalgamation of the perceived evolution that would have taken place had it not been for the Metroidvanias and just about all of the action games from the 3D gaming era.

One of the most impressive aspects of Lords of Shadow is how it’s divvied up into almost 50 levels across 12 chapters. This is actually a great and innovative idea, as no level lasts too long, yet it provides an ample of variety. There will be a huge variety of exploration, combat, modern platforming and puzzle solving. Impressively, not a single of the levels is a rehash of a previous one. Some levels may only be an extensive puzzle or just a boss battle. Even more impressively, this will take a bare minimum of 20 hours to play through the first time. Later, many of the levels provide a bevy of extra paths, secrets and enhancements to go and look out for. Overall, this structure is an expansion on traditional Castlevania level maps, as it covers the world and not just the one castle, and it makes you wonder why no one thought of this structure before.

What a bizzare contraption.

What a bizzare contraption.
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Out of the combat, exploration, modern platforming and puzzle solving, you’ll spend most of your time in combat. Given Gabriel’s whip-like cross is an extendable weapon with uses in both combat and platforming, its similarity to Kratos’ Blades of Chaos make the game an easy target for the clone moniker. Never mind that the traditional Castlevania titles revolved around the Belmont whip for both combat and platforming for the best part of their existance and a decade before Kratos, this must be a God of War clone, according to a few jaded critics. However, this similarity is overstated. Combat in Lords of Shadow, while nowhere near as technical as say, Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, it's definitely more demanding than either God of War or Dante’s Inferno.

Namely because greed and button mashing will get you nowhere in Lords of Shadow. Combat demands use of an extendable weapon, reasonably sophisticated combos, liberal use of the dodges and parries, as well as careful examination of your enemy’s abilities. Everything in the game will hurt you bad. An impressive aspect is that the game will be throwing new varied enemies at you all the way up until the end, so you’re always on your toes and and not constantly facing the different skins. Sophisticated use of combos and damage avoidance rewards you with life (yay!) and neutral element orbs. The better the attack, the more orbs you get. These feed your Light magic, which heals you as you make successful attacks, and Shadow magic which boosts your attack power. Note, there are no health orbs being dropped here.

Ultimately, the gamer will get more out of this than the masses. Lords of Shadow is a challenging title, but immensely rewarding with its ample gameplay variety and particularly magnificent boss battles, which are some of the most epic ever seen in an action game. The checkpoint system is lenient enough, the majority of the time; though this is occasionally sullied by the odd scenario where everything is stacked against you and luck more than skill will get you through. There is also an argument to classify this game as a light platformer. The fixed camera and linear nature of the levels harks back to the early 3D platformers of the PS1 and N64, though there is a greater focus on the puzzles and the combat, while the majority of the platforming is similar to what you’d find in titles such as Prince of Persia and Uncharted.

I'm holding out for a hero...

I'm holding out for a hero...
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Despite the linear and constricted levels, there is a lot of room for exploration, as you’ll come across the bodies of other fallen Brotherhood knights holding travel scrolls or health and magic gems, while numerous other item enhancements will only be reachable after completing certain parts of the game. Some scrolls will give you clues of what’s lying ahead, while others will give clues for how to solve the upcoming puzzle. If you’re willing to sacrifice the experience points, you can ‘buy’ the solution. 90% of the puzzles are implemented in an excellent manner, such as the Music Box level, though the remaining 10% spoil the bunch with some asinine expectations of the player. Overall, the major strength of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow comes from the variety it provides. From the remarkable variation afforded across levels, to the changes of pace within a level, this is a hugely endearing and well realised adventure.

All things considered, the liberal borrowing from other action games is fairly negligible. In the end, there is only one primary issue that stops Lords of Shadow from being a premier action title: consistency. While relatively minor, it’s the occasional room or scenario, where the fixed camera, space restrictions and enemy set conspire to defeat you many a time. It’s the occasionally poor camera placement. It’s the occasionally sloppy hit detection or physics. It’s the inconsistency in checkpoint liberation. It’s the relatively weak, unimaginative use and inconsistent punishment of the quick time events. It’s the occasionally unreasonable puzzle. If these aspects were to be cleaned up, Lords of Shadow would have been sitting happily at the top of the genre.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has one of the most impressive audio and visual presentations of the year, especially from an artistic perspective. Graphically, there is an amazing variety to the environments and they’re all presented in breathtaking detail. The most stunning aspect is that out of the near 50 levels in the game, they’re all remarkably different from one another. There is amazing contrast across the board, from the lairs of the lycans, to the castles of the vampires, to the graveyards of the undead. All of the creatures that you encounter are all superbly detailed and animated, especially some of the ridiculously huge bosses. The technical performance is a little questionable at times though, with the occasional frame rate dip and load times for each level taking away from what is otherwise an amazing console game engine.

OMG! IT SPINS!.

OMG! IT SPINS!.
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The cut-scenes and interface are quite remarkably detailed and personal too. The attention to detail in the story scenes is quite obviously shows off the influence of Kojima Productions, and thankfully, the only lengthy cut-scenes are right at the end. The travel book interface just tops off an intricately presented title. You have one of the best voice casts seen in a game, with the talents of Robert Carlyle, Jason Isaacs and Sir Patrick Stewart as a character and the narrator (though he occasionally overdoes this role). All voice actors apply themselves with total aplomb, complementing the superb orchestral sound track, which is silent at the right times, and devastating sound effects. While the sound track is totally revamped, listen out and see if you hear a well disguised version of ‘Vampire Killer’.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a superb mix of classic Castlevania, modern action implementation as well as huge mix of time-tested literature. It’s a reboot and it borrows elements from far and wide, but there is still a lot of Castlevania here. You’ll be treated to a proper, deep interpretation and consideration of European folklore, Medieval Christianity and historical fictional literature, remarkable variety across 20 hours worth of gameplay, a very rewarding challenge and one of the most impressive presentations you’ll ever see. Had it not been for the inexperience and inconsistency, it would have been Lord of the Action Genre.
The Score
Massive, varied, challenging, rewarding and spectacular, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a fantastic reboot and a premier action adventure title.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Content

Castlevania 'Reverie' DLC delayed
31 Mar, 2011 Bummer.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow DLC trailer
15 Mar, 2011 Gabriel to the rescue!
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a two disk affair
03 Aug, 2010 Or you could just, you know, install it.
25 Comments
3 years ago
I'm about 5 or 6 hours into the PS3 version, loving it so far! Much better than the demo had me believe it would be!

Nice review too icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
Sounds like a pickup to me! Nice review Jeremy. What are the differences between the 360 and PS3 versions?
3 years ago
Quote
Whip yourself off...
That means something quite funny from where I am form icon_eek.gif

Sounds like a pretty good game. I have never played Castlevania before...
3 years ago
^^As far as I know, the PS3 version has a (supposed) slight edge in the technical department - though I've heard mixed reports on overall performance for both systems, despite the fact that I had minimal issues playing through on the 360. However, the 360 version comes on 2 discs. Disc swapping will only become a problem if you're replaying levels later and constantly flipping back and forth with chapters.

Oh, and I think the demo doesn't even give a fraction of a look in for what the game has in store for you. That's what I found in any case.
3 years ago
PALGN wrote
...what makes a Castlevania game...
Michiru Yamane! That's what! Wish she at least composed for this game... icon_sad.gif

Sweet review though Jeremy. I need to get this game!
3 years ago
This is the first Castlevania I've played so I can't really comment on whether it serves the name well, but from what I've played so far, it's crazy good.

I've only seen the first two chapters and I'm already in awe of the variety on offer. I'm stoked to hear that this continues throughout as it's easily one of the more impressive aspects of the game so far. This is one hell of a production.
3 years ago
Jeremy wrote
Oh, and I think the demo doesn't even give a fraction of a look in for what the game has in store for you. That's what I found in any case.
Hmm might have to give it another look, played the demo and honestly wasn't too fussed on it.
3 years ago
The game rules. I think it's one of the best looking new gen games I've seen. I just sat and stared at a background for about five minutes yesterday. It's dark, voice acting is killer. It just slays.
3 years ago
Picking up my copy today. Been looking for to playing this since it was annouced!
3 years ago
Great review, Jeremy. Might have to reconsider not buying it this week...
3 years ago
My copy is on its way from ozgameshop.com, happy to wait paid $59.99 delivered to my office door.
3 years ago
Best game ive played in a long time!
Great review aswel!!
3 years ago
After playing the demo I actually thought about canceling my preorder. Just finished the game last night an I'm glad I didn't
3 years ago
Jeremy wrote
So, just what is a Castlevania game? A hotch-potch of underworld legends and 2D platforms? But enough talk… have a review!
<3 <3 <3

This just made the waiting that little bit harder!
3 years ago
This might just be my personal Game of the Year. By golly it's not perfect, not by a long shot - but this game was made with obvious love and passion and I just can't stop playing it.
3 years ago
Very keen to play this. Good review.
3 years ago
cant wait for this to become 17.95 @ Zavvi and get mine ...
3 years ago
Ill be waiting for a price drop then ill grab it icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
I grabbed it from JB today, it's installing to my 360 as we speak, I can see my evening running long into the night.
3 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
I grabbed it from JB today, it's installing to my 360 as we speak, I can see my evening running long into the night.
What a horrible night to have a curse...
3 years ago
Looks ok, but I'll most likely skip it since it's not made by the Japanese.
3 years ago
yobbo wrote
Looks ok, but I'll most likely skip it since it's not made by the Japanese.
3 years ago
Bev wrote
Great review, Jeremy. Might have to reconsider not buying it this week...
BUY IT! It's ******* awesome!
3 years ago
Im still pretty early in the game (just killed Ice Titan), but im enjoying it a lot. I cant point out anything i dont like about it at the moment...the visuals are impressive, the music is amazing, the voice acting is superb. Im already drawn into the story and feel very much a part of it, which is something all games nowdays have failed to do for me.

If the game keeps this up all the way through, then its the Game of the Year for me!
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  14/10/2010 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Mindscape
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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