When Castlevania first came out around 25 years ago, it was a game that had a simple premise. It was quite simply a fight between good and evil. A quarter of a century later, this hasn’t changed much. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow introduces the player to Gabriel Belmont, a member of a knightly order called the Brotherhood of Light. As their name implies, these guys go around fighting evil wherever they can. In this case, Gabriel’s mission is two-fold… he is out to stop the nefarious Lords of Shadow from cutting off the world’s access to heaven. On a personal level, though, he wants to avenge the death of his childhood sweetheart.
Two good reasons, then…Armed with his Combat Cross, which transforms itself into the familiar chain-whip seen in other Castlevania games when used, Gabriel undertakes this perilous and dangerous task.
That is roughly where the similarity between Lords of Shadow and other Castlevania games ends. See, where other titles in the franchise were rather puzzle heavy and often cerebrally challenging, Lords of Shadow is a combat-fest of note. It is closer to games like Dante’s Inferno and God of War, in fact, and involves the same two button, combo-based combat that is seen in games of that type. While it can easily devolve into a buttonmashing fest – enough to turn even the toughest thumbs blue – because of this, players with a bit of finesse can do some pretty awesome things with the wide variety of new and upgradable moves the game has on offer.
Another departure from the franchise norm in this game, which the publishers are calling a franchise reboot, comes from the fact that the player isn’t exploring one scary castle perched on an isolated mountain-top. Rather, this game is about a journey, and the player will find Gabriel moving through a variety of different locations (each posing their own challenges) on his way to his final destination.
It’s a rather linear trip. Although the game does promote the idea of going back to different places to access new areas when certain abilities are unlocked or improved, this does little to change the fact that this game goes directly from A to B, with very little opportunity for freeform meandering along the way. Still, it’s a fun journey, and one that will take the player fifteen to twenty hours to complete.
The combat is intense, with hordes of enemies often surrounding the player. This is all good and well, but the fixed camera can lead to a few problems in combat situations. The same counts for the game’s limited puzzling and platforming dynamics… the player cannot sweep the camera around to look at the surroundings.
Rather, they have to rely on the fact that it is supposed to show them everything they need to see. Hardly ideal, but not a train smash.
The movement parts of the game are augmented by the Combat Cross, which doubles as a handy grappling hook. OK, you can only grapple in predefined spots, but this title is not, once again, about player freedom.
The presentation of the title ranges from melodrama to thoroughly breath-taking. The melodrama comes from the story itself, which is beautifully narrated by Patrick Stewart (despite its cheesier moments.) The breathtaking comes from the visuals. They are excellent. Ranging from well modelled, often creative enemies through to the sweeping vistas that the game sometimes treats the player to, Lords of Shadow is a visual feast. The gothic influence on the whole thing is undeniable, but that’s quite ok… whether Lords of Shadow is true to its predecessors or not, it is still based on gothic horror, which means lots of vampires and werewolves.
This fast-paced action game can be a real treat to play, as long as you’re not expecting another game in the vein of previous Castlevania titles. It’s not the most original game around, borrowing heavily from the franchise for story ideas, and other games for dynamics. Still, it is very well crafted, with a great variation of pace, even requiring the player to rethink approaches with each unique boss battle.
It can be a little unforgiving at times, but it’s a good, long, challenging title that should please action adventure fans more than a little.
At A Glance:
Although a departure from standard Castlevania fare, this is an enjoyable action adventure.
Distributor: Ster Kinekor