Castlevania: Lords of Shadow PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
Published by: Konami
Developed by: MercurySteam
Sometimes a new entrant in a long running series can feel like something completely different. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow never really feels like a Castlevania game. Sure you play as a Belmont and you’re fighting against the forces of evil but in many ways it feels very different to most of the Castlevania titles that you know and love. That’s not to say it’s a bad game however, far from it. In fact Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an enjoyable action title that’s well worth your attention.
Set in medieval Europe, in the year 1047, Lords of Shadow puts you in the role of Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light. Belmont’s wife was murdered and he’s sworn to take revenge on those who were responsible: the Lords of Shadow. In his quest for revenge he learns from a man called Zobek that each of the Lords has in their possession a piece of ‘The God Mask’ and that should someone reassemble the mask, they will have the power, amongst other things, to bring back the dead. Needless to say then that Belmont has even more reason to carry out his revenge mission. The storyline is passable but it’s the game’s action that makes Lords of Shadow well worth playing.
Armed with his Combat Cross, which is essentially a heavy-duty whip which can also serve as a grapple to help you navigate certain levels, Belmont can perform direct and area attacks and as the game progresses he’ll get to call upon both Light magic (which can be used to improve Belmont’s health) and Shadow magic (which can boost the power of his attacks). He’ll gain experience for defeating enemies and with this experience you can select new abilities or enhance existing ones. Belmont’s attack moves are initially quite limited but as the game progresses you can unlock a broad range of moves allowing him to have a rather pleasing range of combos. Most will find that the game lasts around twenty hours and it’s to the game’s credit that the combat remains interesting throughout.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Lords of Shadow is that it draws on other influences rather than just being a game in the Castlevania vein. Some of the boss fights are à la Shadow of the Colossus and the main combat feels an awful lot like the combat in the God of War games (complete with quick time events). You could even argue that there are some Tomb Raider style platform elements and puzzles here too. All of these elements have been carried out rather well and the combination of the different game styles blend better than you might think. Naturally there are those who will claim the game is derivative and that it lacks a sense of identity but this would be incredibly harsh (there are few games that don’t draw on popular aspects of other games) when the end result is as enjoyable as this.
Lords of Shadow is a fine looking game, regardless of whether you’re playing it on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and it’s one of the better looking games on either system. The frame rate is more consistent on the PS3 version however during heavy battle scenes. The game offers a multitude of environments and each are equally impressive. When we mentioned the Shadow of the Colossus style boss fights we didn’t just mean the nature of the boss battles. Some of the bosses are absolutely huge, nicely detailed and really add to the epic feel of the game. Perhaps the only complaint that most will have is to do with the camera angle. In Lords of Shadow you won’t have to deal with the camera because it’s fixed. In some respects this is a good thing but this also means there are times when you don’t have a clear view of the direction your character is running in and it also means that you can be attacked by off-screen enemies which can be a source of annoyance.
It’s rather pleasing to find that Lords of Shadow is subtitled and that the subtitles are enabled by default. The game’s cut scenes are subtitled but you won’t find any character names or portraits placed alongside the dialogue. You can mostly make out who is speaking but there are times when a narrator speaks and there is no visual indication of who is speaking (although the speech is subtitled). This doesn’t cause any real problems however. All of the game’s important information is shown visually through the use of text, gauges or icons. The game’s tutorial messages are also displayed using text and icons. Some may find the game’s hints, which are shown in text, odd because at times they feel unnecessary (due to the obvious nature of the situation) and there are times when it isn’t obvious what needs to be done and you’re left with no pointers at all.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow might be guilty of not capturing the look and feel of what most would expect a Castlevania game to be and for some the game may be disappointing because of this. However, taking the game on its own merits, it has to be said that Lords of Shadow is a very enjoyable game and one of the more enjoyable games we’ve played on either the PS3 or Xbox 360 this year. Yes it’s clearly been influenced by other games but these influences all have a positive effect on the game. In fact I’d go so far as to say that Lords of Shadow is a game that will even appeal to those who normally wouldn’t be interested in Castlevania games and if it does serve to attract newcomers to the franchise then that can only be good news all round for those who care about the series.