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Mercury Steam / Kojima Productions



M (Mature)



October 5, 2010



- Fantastic art style and visuals
- Expertly crafted voice acting and soundtrack
- Lengthy experience with numerous extras



- Lacking in Castlevania nuances
- Drags in parts
- Uneven framerate



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Review: Mafia II (PS3)

Review: Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (PS3)



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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Score: 9.0 / 10


castlevania lords of shadow          castlevania lords of shadow


It’s becoming a big trend this generation for Japanese studios to outsource some of their most popular franchises out to overseas developers, offering a new take on their longest-running series in an attempt to strengthen their hold on the Western market. Konami has tried this approach before with their beloved titles, which has been met with critical success (Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), disappointment (Silent Hill: Homecoming), and somewhere in-between (Silent Hill: Origins).

And now the Japanese developer has chosen one of their oldest franchises for its next Western experiment. While Castlevania has enjoyed steady success from its highly-praised portable outings, it’s been several years since the vampire-slaying series has appeared in consoles (not counting the recent multiplayer-focused Harmony of Despair on XBLA). While past attempts to bring the 2D classic over to the third dimension have been met with mixed (and often disastrous) results, Konami is eager to make their biggest effort yet; with a high-definition visual makeover by Spanish studio MercurySteam, and with Kojima Productions (their




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most high-profile studio, without question) overseeing the project, is Lords of Shadow the first successful 3D re-imagining of the beloved Belmont saga, or a soulless monstrosity that does not belong in this world?

Lords of Shadow’s storyline places it further back in time than Igarashi’s PS2 prequel, Lament of Innocent (though it does not completely negate the continuity, as several references are made); in


the year 1047, humankind finds itself in complete despair. Many fabled creatures have been attacking villages in the dead of night, and the souls of the dead are unable to enter Heaven, all due to the dark workings of the Lords of Shadow. The Brotherhood order of holy warriors sends Gabriel Belmont, their strongest champion, to combat the darkness with his trusty weapon, a holy cross attached to an extending chain (combining two of the vampire’s banes into one). With the assistance of legendary Brotherhood warrior Zobek, Gabriel sets on an epic quest that takes him to mythical forests, dark caves, ruined castles, and the depths of the underworld himself in order to break the demons’ curse, and possibly bring back his lost love using the forbidden power of the legendary God Mask.

While the Castlevania series has never been known for its elaborate plot-lines, Lords of Shadow’s story is the most ambitious yet in the series, thanks largely to its high budget presentation, featuring a level of detail in both visuals and voicework that is both revolutionary to the franchise while also bringing it up to current console standards. The actual plot is a standard videogame tale of revenge and redemption, with some twists easily identified (but also a few that may surprise even the sharpest of gamers), but thanks to a star-studded cast featuring famous (non-American) actors such as Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart, as well as the intricate attention to cutscenes and character emotions, both established traits of MGS mastermind Hideo Kojima; players who are less than accepting over the director’s overabundant dialog and cinematics that became an infamous trademark of the MGS series need not worry, however…aside from a few expositional moments, Castlevania clamps its lips and keeps the chatter down to a minimum (minus a lengthy narration before each level, which can be skipped halfway, but Patrick Stewart’s powerful voice makes it difficult to do so).

The gameplay has also received a major overhaul for the series, eliminating its classic 2D design for a third-person action perspective, but isn’t quite a departure when compared to other genres; one look at the action, which involves button-mashing combos, context-sensitive quick-time events, and leveling up skills through experience obtained from fallen foes and any seasoned gamer could point to the God of War series as a direct inspiration for the gameplay. While that statement isn’t exactly false, it also isn’t the crux of Lord of Shadows’ mechanics. In truth, the game borrows from many pre-existing titles, from Prince of Persia (climbing walls and making dangerous leaps) to Shadow of the Colossus (as in literally battling massive colossi, climbing atop their bodies while searching for their glowing weak points).


castlevania lords of shadow          castlevania lords of shadow

What the gameplay lacks in originality, however, it more than makes up for with polish; as an imitator, Lords of Shadow does justice to these different gameplay conventions, while also using the power of its aesthetics to create some truly exciting encounters; the opening moments, in which Gabriel defends a small village from an invasion of werewolves, while later fending off against the rest of them while sprinting across a forest atop a magical horse, is barely the start of this grand 20+ hour adventure. There’s a large variety of fantasy-based creatures to kill, including trolls, goblins, skeletons, and vampires (the last two a constant staple of the series), and many of them won’t go down with mere button mashing maneuvers. Boss battles are even more tenacious, fully demonstrating the high level of difficulty this game can muster, as well as making players thankful for the numerous checkpoints that assure you’ll never have to start over from the beginning.

Indeed, while falling into a cliff that is either bottomless or full of spikes will no longer kill you, Lords of Shadow’s difficulty can result in several sudden deaths; enemies can deal great amounts of damage, but one key ability allows players to restore lost health with every successful attack. As the game progresses, you’ll slowly obtain new weapons and spells that will aid you in the battle against darkness, which also keeps the game from growing tedious. From gauntlets that boost tremendous strength to boots that allow players to sprint great distances, Gabriel receives an arsenal that is befitting of any Belmont.

All of these gameplay elements do lead to one notable criticism, though; while many familiar elements that define the Castlevania series are still present, the number of new additions outweighs the nostalgic value, oftentimes causing players to forget what series they’re playing. This was due largely in part to the studio’s wish to bring the series back to its pre-SOTN roots, recreating much of the dark and ominous overtones of Super Castlevania IV (which served as the primary inspiration for this game). While Lords of Shadow certainly succeeds in bringing back the dark to Castlevania’s night, a few more winks and nods would have been welcome. The soundtrack, while featuring a fantastic orchestral score that deserves its own recognition, is lacking in any renditions of the classic tunes that fans have expected from the series. As for the (mostly) recurring lord of darkness himself, Dracula, you’ll have to play the game and find out for yourselves.

While the game does suffer from some technical issues (including a somewhat sporadic framerate, a few frustrating but skippable puzzles, and a massive length that drags out just slightly over the limit), the amount of carefully crafted aesthetics and polished gameplay far outweigh the few negatives found in Lords of Shadow. Simply put, this is one of the best titles of the year, and marks not only a proper return of the Castlevania series for consoles, but a starting point that future games would do well to follow.

- Jorge Fernandez

(December 14, 2010)


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