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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow


The name's Belmont...Gabriel Belmont.
Nearly almost 25 years since the release of the first Castlevania, Konami is aiming to reboot the famed franchise for the next generation consoles with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Since Curse of Darkness, there hasnít been a major release on a console with the exception of the occasional arcade release, ala Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The narrative in Lords of Shadow follows Gabriel Belmont, a holy warrior within the Brotherhood of Light. The Brotherhood is sworn to protect the innocent from all the nasty vampires, werewolves and every other freak of nature thatís out to devour their souls. Gabriel is tasked with taking down the Dark Lord before they consume the world, but he as an ulterior motive in mind as well. His one true love was ripped away from him and heís out to discover a way, if thereís any, to bring her back to life. The presentation is quite an epic tale thatís highlighted by Hollywood voice acting and a grand visual style.

castlevania lords of shadow - looking at the titan

You will notice an immediate departure from the exploration heavy style of previous Castlevania games and more combat heavy gameplay. While there are still items scattered along the levels, you wonít need to explore every nook and cranny to find the most powerful weapons. Instead, Gabriel will find himself fighting off hordes of enemies, even when trying to solve puzzles. But there are interludes of enemy free zones that will allow the player time to grapple up structures and other objects for a better look at the upcoming skirmishes. Still, the linearity to the level design often leaves you longing for the exploration heavy design of previous Castlevania games.

Combat relies on a large number of combos, many of which are learned along the way as Gabriel ranks up in experience. Gabriel has two main attacks, light and heavy. The light attack smacks down enemies directly in front of him and heavy is a larger swing knocking enemies down that are swarming him. The more complicated combos are really impressive to see in motion and learning them will help you progress through the levels much faster. The severity of attacks is also governed by the magic system. When Dark magic is turned on, all of Gabrielís attacks are much stronger at the expense of health. When Light magic is turned on, his attacks are less powerful, but fallen enemiesí increases Gabrielís health meter.

castlevania lords of shadow - using magic to repel foes

Once you complete a level, you open up the option of returning to it at a later time. This can be advantageous to build up more experience or use a skill learned later in the game to unlock a previous unavailable section of the level. Sometimes thereís a puzzle blocking the way that canít be solved without a future magic skill. Puzzles are all fairly straightforward in nature though, nothing too difficult to crack the majority of the time. There are also mounts that you can ride in the game. These are introduced through instanced areas in the game and require Gabriel to tame them before riding. The taming process is somewhat repetitive, but riding around on them is highly enjoyable.

Graphics

  • The gameís visuals are really astounding, specifically the gorgeous scenery and expertly crafted gargantuan bosses. Seriously, take a moment in each level to look around at the amazing detail that populates the landscape. Lush green hills, foggy swamps, rocky mountains can all be found in Castlevania, much of which looks inspired from the Lord of the Rings series with heavy gothic elements thrown in. The character models of the main characters are just as details, but some of the secondary characters didnít get the game treatment.

  • Despite the heavy use of heavily detailed visuals, the game runs wonderfully on the Playstation 3; perhaps a slight hiccup here and there. Unfortunately, there is an aspect of the visuals that doesnít work very well, the fixed camera. The developer doesnít allow you to modify the position of the camera, thus this often leads to enemies sneaking up behind Gabriel or problematic views during puzzles. Repositioning Gabriel often takes a bit too much time just to get the view that works the best.

castlevania lords of shadow - giant dark magic ball of kickback

Audio

  • The cast of voice actors in Castlevania is really quite phenomenal. Straight out Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Sir Patrick Stewart lends his voice to Zobek (Gabrielís partner in crime) as well as narration duties. Robert Carlyle (SGU Stargate Universe, 28 Weeks Later) voices Gabriel, Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Truman Show) voices Marie Belmont and Jason Isaacs (Brotherhood, Harry Potter Movies) voices the dark lord of the vampires, Dracula. This all star cast does a tremendous job bringing the characters to life and can be commended for their work.

  • The orchestral score is at the same caliber as the voice acting. It features sweeping, grand melodies that could just as easily be in a Lord of the Rings movie, much less a video game. The sound effect work is good, but itís tough to compete with the other audio effects. If I had a single quibble with the audio, there are some balancing issues with the music. The developer is trying very hard to create a powerful presentation and the sound effects get overrun by music / voices all too often.

castlevania lords of shadow - charging the werewolf with a giant hammer

Conclusion

There are probably two schools of camp on how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow turned out. If you are a diehard fan of the long time series, you are likely going to be disappointed at the extreme difference between older Castlevania games and this new God of War style gameplay. If you are a fan of action-adventure titles in general, you are going to be thrilled at how Lords of Shadow turned out and may find yourself enthralled with the Castlevania lore (if this is your first Castlevania game).

In terms of game length, you are looking at about 16 to 20 hours of gameplay on the normal difficulty, all of which is really involving and varied. Thatís excellent for an industry thatís become too complacent on giving us 8 hours games for $60. While the game has a smattering of problems such as poor camera angles and too restrictive level linearity, this reboot of the Castlevania franchise has an enthralling narrative, amazing boss battles and tons of replay value. I highly recommend picking up Castlevania: Lords of Shadow if you love the God of War series or simply enjoy an excellent adventure tale.



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