Konami has announced Lords of Shadow for Xbox 360 & PS3.Lords of Shadow is dark fairy tale action game. it is a vast third-person-viewed adventure, but combat and puzzle solving also play a major part in the main quest…..
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is not necessarily a game you look at and think “Castlevania.” Sure, protagonist Gabriel Belmont’s outfit is reminiscent of Simon’s in Castlevania II, and he uses a whip to dispatch all the normal horror tropes you find in other Castlevania games (from vampires and werewolves to Dr. Frankenstien’s twisted creations). But you’re more likely to see it and draw parallels to God of War or Devil May Cry. Despite some of Castlevania’s other 3D adventures getting pretty decent reviews (see both Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness), 2D Castlevanias are the standard bearers of the legacy, and the 3D iterations are considered mediocre placeholders. While Lords of Shadow isn’t going to quell the insatiable desire of long-time Castlevania fans who need the next Symphony of the Night, it’s still a good, modern take on Konami’s demon-hunting franchise.
For once, though, you’re not explicitly hunting down Dracula himself. Instead, Gabriel is looking to avenge the death of his slain wife by destroying the Lords of Shadow, gathering their power, and then trying to resurrect his lost love. While this may sound like it get convoluted, the story’s easy to follow, and narration comes primarily from Patrick Stewart reading a block of text at the beginning of each level. That’s not a bad thing, I actually listened to each scene, rather than reading them myself; and Stewart’s nuanced performance (along with some heavy foreshadowing in the game’s cut-scenes) lends increasing tension to each successive chapter.
And each area you discover is more picturesque than the last; from the opening forests and fields where you hunt werewolves to the clifftop castle that houses the vampires, Lords of Shadow’s settings look gorgeous. Paired with a few mountain-sized boss battles, the scope of the settings are also impressive. And, though you’ll run into some of the same dark creatures on your journey, every area introduces some new, creeping horror to dispatch. You won’t change your battle tactics much — simply learning to dodge, counter, and attack will serve you well throughout the entire adventure — but the sheer variety of places and things to see keeps it all from getting boring.
But that variety is also one of the game’s major drawbacks: For such a rigidly linear game, Lords of Shadow’s 12 chapters will probably take you upwards of 20 hours to complete. In an open-world game, spending 20 hours isn’t that much, because there’s a lot to do and accomplish outside of the main game. But for a story-driven title like Lords of Shadow, that length means that you repeatedly run into repeats of the same situations. The pacing is generally handled well; you move from exploring labyrinths to fighting bosses in such rapid succession that you’ll barely notice it’s taken you eight hours just to get through the first four chapters. But as the story wears on, and you have to collect yet another set of keys to open a door (and the only way to get that key is by clearing yet another room of monsters), the action starts to grow thin.
Even one of my favorite levels, which takes place in a witch’s music box and uses a clever music-based puzzle to navigate the maze of spinning cogs and blades, feels out of place. You’re in this miniature world to retrieve the old hag’s flower, but the roundabout path you take to get there almost makes you lose sight of the main quest, which is hunting the Lords of Shadow. I wouldn’t have wanted to see an idea like that cut from the game just to save time, but it seems like developer Mercury Steam could’ve maybe trimmed some of the more repetitive combat sections to keep these innovative areas, but not bog down the game’s pacing.
And though the game looks great, the variety in setting somewhat hurts Lords of Shadow a little. Sure, that castle in the distance or that glade past those trees looks amazing, but it’s almost always cordoned off behind invisible walls. You’re free to explore a small, specific section of the world — the rest is nothing more than a painted backdrop. Paired with the game’s fixed camera angles, finding your way sometimes involves an unnecessary amount of trial, error, and walking around in circles. Again, the camera is usually handled well, and since you can never move it, it gives the developer a chance to cinematically set up the game’s locations. But when you’re just trying to find the exit, including a map or some kind of hint as to where to go next would have been nice.
Even some of the game’s puzzles are just as obtuse after you’re told what the solution is. For almost every puzzle that blocks your path, you can have the game just show you exactly what the answer is, and all you lose is a reward of experience points (but you rack them up quickly and easily otherwise). When you’re truly stumped, I appreciate that the game doesn’t keep you from progressing by forcing you to solve its riddles (but they’re not too complex, and you should be able to get past them without too much trouble). But one in particular stumped me — it only involved lighting up floor tiles by stepping on them in a specific order, but it required you to use a move that I wouldn’t have considered employing for that purpose outside of dumb luck or chance. So, strangely, Lords of Shadow will hold your hand through some levels: You’ll get specific button prompts on screen while learning to perform even basic actions, but occasionally you’ll run into a roadblock like this where you’re given no further assistance whatsoever.
Platforming is another area where Lords of Shadow just doesn’t work well. You don’t stick to ledges very easily; a slight tap of the control stick sends Gabriel running…sometimes right off the edge of a cliff if there’s no handy invisible wall; and in the few instances where you have to jump between platforms, you just don’t seem to have a lot of control. Fortunately, you almost always respawn near where you died, and the auto-save system is generous and frequent.
Lords of Shadow suffers from some pretty big problems and oversights, but it treats so many things briefly and flies through levels in such rapid succession, that even those flaws never hold the game down for long. Altogether, the game spins an interesting tale, and though it might borrow some ideas a little heavily from certain other games, it implements them well. This won’t replace Symphony of the Night as the oft-argued greatest Castlevania, but it should finally at least put to rest complaints that there are no good 3D Castlevania games. If Lords of Shadow sees a sequel, there are lots of important, obvious improvements that need to be made, but Mercury Steam proves that they’re at least on the right track.
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