Published on October 29th, 2010 | by Hubert McReed1
Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Review
Summary: You'll never grow tired of killing the variety of monsters Castlevania throws at you
Castlevania. Simply mentioning the name conjures memories of the celebrated 2D action-adventure series that has so often pitted you against all manner of mythological creatures. However, even bloodlines of vampire-slaying protagonists haven’t been enough to thwart the demons preventing it from making any real impact in the realms of 3D. News that the publisher had approached relatively unknown Spanish developer MercurySteam to reboot the franchise was a surprising move, yet Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is set to show that even unproven studios can pack one hell of a punch.
Lords of Shadow’s storyline revolves around Brotherhood of Light devotee Gabriel Belmont’s lust for revenge following the murder of his wife at the hands (or claws, rather) of one of the many supernatural creatures that stalk the land. With dark magic preventing the souls of the dead from being peacefully laid to rest, Belmont becomes haunted by his wife’s soul as she encourages him to fulfil his destiny in ridding the world of evil. With the Lords of Shadow identified as the culprits, Gabriel learns that each one holds a piece of an ancient God Mask that, according to legend, will grant its bearer the ability to resurrect the dead. With a reignited sense of purpose, he sets out to bring his deceased wife back to life.
While the over-arching plot becomes a little disjointed in places, it is cemented by a spoken narrative that prefaces each level. Told from the perspective of Belmont’s mentor Zobrek – voiced by seasoned thespian Sir Patrick Stewart – these portions easily become a highlight amidst the game’s array of vocal talent that also includes notable contributions by Robert Carlyle, Natascha McElhone and Jason Isaacs.
As you can expect, combat becomes a fundamental aspect of the game, and while you are only ever equipped with the Combat Cross (complete with complimentary retractable spiked chain) to tackle your foes, attacks are divided between the genre-standard ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ classifications, and are able to be linked together to perform combos. A number of enhancements to the weapon scattered across the storyline coupled with a seemingly never-ending list of unlockable skills ensure that you’ll never grow tired of killing the variety of monsters that the game throws at you.
Such depth is further improved with the introduction of Light and Shadow Magic, each providing their own benefits. Activating Light Magic allows you to gain health from each successful hit, whereas Shadow increases the damage that you deal. These aren’t infinite and utilize their own individual gauges that must be filled by absorbing unassigned orbs. The ability to quickly switch between offensive/defensive bonuses becomes a necessity as the game ramps up the difficulty later on.
Further enhancing the experience are a number of visually astounding boss battles, equally matched by the impressive cut-scenes throughout showing clear influences from the team at Kojima Productions, who assisted with development. Puzzles are also a regular feature, the ‘Music Box’ being a highlight, and breathtaking environments that range from the picturesque through to the traditional gothic flavourings, that have become a staple element of the franchise.
However, the game isn’t able to steer clear of a few noticeable flaws, with the fixed camera system proving troublesome in places, slightly repetitive platforming sections, and a complete lack of any sort of signposting to aid when you get stuck. Yet with so much polish, it is hard not to stand back and admire the developer’s achievement in its entirety.
Much in the same way that Rocksteady Studios achieved success with the Batman franchise last year, MercurySteam have not only defined the formula that allows the Castlevania universe to successfully translate itself into an incredibly solid 3D action-adventure experience, but have now heightened expectations in regards to future installments within the series. This is definitely not one to miss.