Boasting input from Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear fame), an epic production budget and an all-star cast to boot, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is by far the best looking and slickest game so far in the illustrious Castlevania series. Not only that, in doing away with the traditional 2D side-scrolling format and incorporating many brand new combat elements, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is also an ambitious attempt to bring the series up to date. But with heavy competition from the likes of God of War and the recent Enslaved, is Castlevania alive and kicking or is the eternal battle against Dracula getting a little long in the tooth?
Like most of the Castlevania games you play as a member of the Belmont family, in this case Gabriel, (expertly voiced by Robert Carlyle). As a member of the Brotherhood of Light he is on a quest to recover a rare artefact that possesses the power to bring his murdered wife back to life. Along the way he makes a few friends and has to chop and slice his way through the evil forces of the Lords of Shadow. The plot, delivered in the form of cut scenes and featuring the dulcet tones of Patrick Stewart is expertly told and does a good job in fleshing out the world Gabriel fights through. Locales you'll explore include crumbling ruins, snowy villages, poisonous bogs and vast deserts as well as a few castles and caves, all of which are beautifully realised and gorgeous to behold. True to its roots, levels can be replayed multiple times and can be revisited when new abilities are discovered in order to reach new areas and find hidden goodies. Spanning two discs, the game is very generous and there are easily 20+ hours to be had even without going back on yourself to collect missing items or complete unlocked trials.
Perhaps the biggest change to the series (apart from being in 3D) is in the combat. Gabriel Belmont wields the powerful and upgradeable combat cross, a relic created by his order and dubbed by the locals as 'Vampire Killer'. Akin to God of War attacks can be direct and powerful or weaker but wide ranged. In defence Gabriel can roll, block, counter and use expendable weapons such as daggers, flasks of holy water and even a dark crystal that summons a huge boobed monster to destroy all those around you. On top of this are the vast array of combos, aerial attacks, grabs and powerful finishers that can be unlocked by spending experience points earned by dispatching monsters or solving puzzles. It is a huge mix and one that can be unwieldy at times, unfortunately I found myself using only a handful of the moves on a regular basis rather than exploring the full quota. This problem is also compounded by the fact that a lot of the more powerful moves are only really useful for removing obstacles such as weak walls or solving puzzles, which is a shame as the huge move list is one of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow's real shining points.
Another great feature is the inclusion of two types of magic. Light magic, which allows the player to recuperate health on every successful hit on an enemy, and shadow magic, which increases attack power. These meters are filled by earning 'combat focus' which is caused by successfully chaining a variety of attacks on your foes whilst avoiding being hit. No small feat as the combat can in places be extremely challenging, especially on the game's epic boss battles. The difficulty of combat means that finding the right time to use either of the magic powers is crucial to success and can really lead to some nail biting moments as you attempt to balance their use, successfully fend off multiple monsters and stay alive all at the same time.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a strange game. On one hand it borrows heavily from others before it, the combat of God of War, the titanic battles of Shadow of the Colossus and the wall scaling of Uncharted, and truthfully it doesn't do any of them as well as the originals. However in combining all these elements and throwing them into the Castlevania universe along with some new ideas of its own, something entirely different is created. It's not Castlevania as we know it, but it is brilliant, bloody and beautiful all the same.
8 out of 10