Review – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3)

Rating: M (for Mature)
Genre: Third Person Action
Developer: MercurySteam and Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: October 5, 2010


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow starts out very slowly. Patrick Stewart reads to you from what is at times a classic PS3 load screen of a black interspersed with a venerable tome and highly colorful cut-scene footage. It attempts to ease us into an epic back story. This third-person action adventure game comes to us from a long pedigree, elucidated by the sonorous tones of the former Captain Picard. The evolved franchise reboot is a mixture of elements of old school gameplay and modern game engine devices skinned with the Castlevania story-line.

At its best Castlevania: Lords of Shadow offers lush environments that are very well rendered. There is rustic archaeological scenery and ruins. The lighting effects are not bad and you’ve got to love a good graveyard setting. However, the camera does not move. In fact most of the buttons on the PS3 controller are going unused. When you instinctively flip the right joystick to change the perspective, nothing happens. The tantalizing scenery that is full of crates, and stone edifices should be laden with drops of loot, or so you would think.

The lack of exploration ability is a huge drawback. The game plays a bit like Tomb Raider in one of it’s years when it had those annoying and inextricable puzzles to get past. The game is overly linear. The levels aren’t very imaginative nor do they feel new; some of them look almost identical to ones I’ve played in other games. Specifically Lord of the Rings, complete with “something is in the water”.

Then there is the strangely outfitted Horse with a Transylvanian accent and neon blue Tron lights on its back. With the setting being in Southern Europe during the Middle Ages you sort of get the campy Saturday afternoon movie accent – but a light-up horse? It feels like a last minute gimmick that was slapped on after a panicky sales meeting.

The game’s weapons were disappointing. Castlevania has been known for its unique weapon set, but the God of War type chain sword that gives a very long flamey reach, takes some of the challenge out of things. It would have been better suited with a Baldurs Gate style of upgradable sets of bow and arrows, cross bows, swords and magical attacks. The weapons system isn’t flawed, but either a more traditional or a more unique weapon set would have been better. Back in the eighties when this franchise was new, the main character had a whip, a flying cross, holy water and daggers. Here he still can pick up daggers, but they aren’t really equip-able and are more like a magical pick-up. A real Flying Cross that worked as a boomerang would have made the game play more unique and truer to what Castlevania fans might like. Think of the cannon balls, and the bow and arrow mechanics in Heavenly Sword, and then they would have had something. God of War fans may find the adapted weapons feel weak by comparison.

In battle and often during the game your perspective is forced. Your character is sometimes a mile away from you, even on a 50 inch TV and he is way too tiny. Other times you have him up close, but you never get the feeling that you are immersed inside the skin of your avatar. Twitch commands pop up all the time and prompt you, jarring your head out of the experience. Just when an action sequence gets going, you will have another one of the long book reading segments to look forward to (or go get some chips during).

The best part of the game could be the intricate Castlevania mythology. There are ungodly powers, end of days, alliances and malevolent forces to ponder upon. While the souls of the dead wander unable to find peace, it’s up to your character, Gabriel Belmont to usher in the light of death. He is bound to the rescue of the soul of his murdered wife, taken by the evil forces of darkness and trapped. This also makes it conveniently implausible to have a playable female avatar.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has many flaws, and much room for improvement. Overall it feels like it was rushed through production and the Castlevania name was stamped onto it. It is a true lost opportunity.  By today’s standards it is a decent game, it has a fun factor, if you are patient. It has a gothy feel to it, and we don’t see enough horror and supernatural games any more. And if you enjoy Patrick Stewart’s voice acting, then you wouldn’t want to miss this. But, the lack of attention to the game engine, weapons and level design do not earn it enough cred to reward them for this inferior game by buying it.

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