Friday, 22 October 2010

Game Review – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Castlevania, the name instantly opens up streams of nostalgia to veteran and old school gamers. The series is without a doubt one of many that should have stayed in its native side-scrolling home; nevertheless, here we are today admiring a technically impressive addition to the series, one full of excitement and adventure, yet lacking in what some might call personality and depth. Indeed Castlevania gives you the impression that there is plenty offered and to an extent this is true with varied fighting mechanics and a large move pool to choose from. It also screams exploration with its beautiful and diverse environments. However, it becomes fairly obvious quite early on that many of the diverse moves available are quite useless and you will stick to only a select few abilities to conquer the game. It is also incredibly sad to find out that the game doesn’t trust you enough to let go of your hand and let you explore this expansive land, instead opting to keep you on a linear pathway. These limitations certainly hinder Castlevania, but it is a testament that this aside, the game still offers plenty of enjoyable moments and experiences.

This joy to be had actually begins almost immediately with Castlevania’s story. While not necessarily ground-breaking, it serves its purpose well to fill you in on the historical nature of the Belmont’s family eternal struggle against the forces of evil, what Gabriel is fighting for in this arch of the story and intertwining some tense moments, the plot keeps its interest throughout. Castlevania as a series has a rich history of story telling and this is by no means let down in this installment with Sir Patrick Stewart doing the narrating as you progress in your adventure. It is fairly obvious that the depiction of the historical struggle that Gabriel is now part of, is much deeper than the continuing story itself, which is a shame because you would hope that the game would dwell deeper into the fictional world of werewolves and vampires. Nevertheless, it serves as a welcome addition to the forces that let the game flow. Castlevania also shows drastic inconsistency with its story-telling, giving you an exciting introduction and climax, while offering very little dynamism throughout your adventure other than as I stated before, moving the game along and the occasional dramatic implementation of a boss story battle.

This un-even story presentation is easily omitted however when you uncover that Castlevania is a long game, spanning across almost 20 hours of game-play. There is certainly no dependency for story here and it is clear that the designers wanted the story to take a back seat and the action to be at the forefront of their game. With these ideals, it is impressive that the story and delivery is as good as it is. Castlevania offers an engaging story-mode with plenty of secrets and unlockables to find. It provides for the most part, very entertaining and enjoyable technical combat mechanics, but is plagued by some uneven platforming errors, a bad camera and just some lousy development issues at times.

The combat is certainly a treat here, offering you the full-blown power of Gabriel’s Cross that acts like the series’ traditional whip. The mechanics spread your abilities across strong and weak attacks, allowing many different chain combos and moves to be linked together, creating mass carnage on the plains that surround you. Of course you are able to purchase and upgrade your abilities throughout the story mode but unfortunately these are not implemented as well as you would hope, with certain moves and abilities being very obviously more effective and useful than others. This perhaps limits the variation available when going through the game mode, but everything is worth trying out at least once. On top of all this, Gabriel will eventually unlock the power of spirits, magic and other slightly less demonic weaponry to keep the action intense and flashy.
Unfortunately the same appeal cannot be found outside of the fighting in Castlevania. The game’s plays out as a 3D platformer, offering an expansive and beautiful world to gaze upon, but never really giving you a real taste of its potential. Plenty of subtle invisible walls hinder any form of exploration, the awkward camera makes navigating ledges and obstacles a serious pain and the game really enjoys holding your hand throughout its numerous puzzles, leaving almost no room for freedom to act on your own accord. It really ruins the fluidity of the game going from one excellent fight encounter to another but having to navigate ridiculous areas and portions of the map. More time and care definitely couldn’t have gone a miss for the platforming elements of Castlevania.

Thankfully Castlevania makes it really easy to just forget about these niggles and moves on with the experience to the more impressive elements of the game, such as the dramatic boss battles. You will encounter two different forms of bosses, the Lord’s of Shadow; the story enemies and Titan battles where you are forced to take on monsters of epic proportions and use your navigational abilities to climb to the monster’s summit and take it down. Both types of battles require strategy and comprehensive understanding of the skills Gabriel has at his disposal, concluding in fantastic face-offs that get the heart racing.

From a technical perspective Castlevania impresses tremendously. This is one of those games where you will find yourself stopping throughout to admire the incredible surroundings around you. Surprising variation in stages including shattered ruins, swamps, wastelands and so forth all ooze with personality and this helps engulf you into Gabriel’s world and struggle. Most notably Gabriel and the Titans are some of the game’s most impressive visuals with your main character moving fluidly and performing some visually pleasing maneuvers while the Titans loom over the land and are a sheer joy to look at. The audio is also brilliant throughout, which is exactly what you’d expect from a game coming out of a series as dramatic and foreboding as Castlevania. The score fits with your surroundings and actions, creating atmosphere and sucking you deeper into the dark and dismal world that drowns Gabriel. As mentioned before, I will re-emphasize that when there is scripted narrative, this is also very impressive.

It seems that many people have been criticizing Castlevania for its lack of innovation and the pretty obvious influences from God of War and Shadow of the Colossus among other titles. Well, while Lords of Shadows might not be something new out of the hat, it takes elements from successful series and implements them into the Castlevania world to offer and present an enjoyable and action packed adventure. It is of course not perfect and has problems, most notably in the platforming department, but this is an action platformer where you will spend the majority of the time fighting and Castlevania certainly excels in that part. With great visuals and audio, plenty of content and lots of fun to be had slaying vampires, werewolves and other fiends, this is a great experience in my book.

Technical presentation – 9.0
Graphics – 9.0
Game-play – 7.0
Replay value – 7.0

Final score – 7.5 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor
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