Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow


Released in 2010 and and set up as a reboot to the series, Lords of Shadow had a big obstacle to overcome if it wanted to win fans of the series over: 3D.  Castlevania has a notorious history when it comes to breaking away from 2D.  The Nintendo 64 games were terrible and quite a few people despised the Playstation 2 attempts.  Myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the PS2 games, so I wasn't as hesitant when I saw Lords of Shadow in action.  What I did find was that the game likes to throw a lot of curveballs at you.  And there wasn't one I didn't like.

The story starts in 1047.  The world is creeping into darkness.  The Lords of Shadow are severing Heaven's ties to the world and horrible creatures lurk around every corner.  You play as Gabriel Belmont, a member in the Brotherhood of Light, an elite group of holy knights who protect people against the supernatural creatures..  He is on a quest to bring his dead wife, Maria,  back to life and eradicate the evil that is plaguing the land in the process.  It also helps his motivation that these forces of Darkness were responsible for his wife's death.  He aims to do this by taking down the three Lords of Shadow.  Each Lord possesses a piece of the "God Mask", a holy item that is said to allow one to bring people back from the dead.

The story follow Gabriel's adventures through the three different lands ruled by the Lords: Cornell, Dark Lord of the Lycans, Carmilla, Dark Lord of the Vampires, and Death himself.  The story is broken up into 12 chapters.  Each chapter contains multiple, massive levels that at times left my head spinning.  Each environment is gorgeously detailed and there wasn't a spot in the game where the screen didn't present a visual feast for the eyes.  What sometimes happens is that there is stuttering and poor frame rate.  This usually happens when there are a large number of enemies on screen.  But when it's just you and you're taking in the scenery, this game is one of the best looking of this generation.

The music matches the video in terms of raw beauty.  Each piece is moving an fits well with its arrangement.  The only pitfall in the audio comes with the voices.  While the voice acting is superb, the balancing with the rest of the audio is atrocious.  Sir Patrick Stewart narrates the beginning of each section and I can't tell you how many times his booming voice threatened to blow out my speakers.  This is because the normal volume I play at is much too quiet in comparison to the narration.  This problem also appears while Gabriel is speaking on occasion and overall it broke my immersion as I was scrambling for the remote.

Combat closely resembles action titles such as God of War, Devil May Cry, and Dante's Inferno.  You have the two button (vertical and horizontal attacks), special attacks triggered with "B" or "O" and mapped to the D-pad, and Holy and Dark powers.  While activated, Holy will replenish your health with each attack and Dark increases your damage.  While not active, killing enemies will fill up a meter which will trigger orbs to drop from their defeated corpses.  Get hit, and the meter is reset.  There are a multitude of combos to purchase and learning them is absolutely vital to surviving the varied encounters.  This is a game that will test your limits and make you stifle a rage filled cry.  The game is absolutely brutal in its difficulty, so much so that I had to ratchet it down to the easiest setting to beat it and still had a rough go in some parts.

Not all of the game is moving from fight to fight though.  A vast portion of it involves solving puzzles.  Some levels are just puzzles in and of themselves, forcing you to do any manner of crazy things to progress.  None of them are absurdly difficult, but more than a few times I was left scratching my head.  Towards the later half of the game, the puzzles border o too many.  The pacing is thrown off and I would have to put the game down for a few days just to get rid of the puzzle overload that was occurring.

The ending made it all worthwhile.  Just as the tedium of the puzzles was coming to a head, I was at the end of the game.  The twists and story telling in the last half hour is absolutely incredible.  It makes the whole experience worth even frustrated minute.  It makes me crave a sequel, much to the same effect of the last quarter of Mass Effect.  Seriously, if you consider yourself a fan of the series, this is a must play.

Add to the fantastic story and game play that lasts well over 15 hours is the ability to replay all of the old levels for hidden power ups and challenges.  On top of that, you can use experience points to purchase a vast collection of concept art.  There is so much to do in this game that the price of admission almost seems too low.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a fantastic step in the right direction for this series.  I can't wait for more and I think you just might agree.

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