Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow

Castlevania... That word alone evokes pleasant and frustrating memories from my videogame childhood that I dare not get into lest I provoke a lengthy nostalgic discussion. No, I come before you now to review the latest chapter in the saga that has redefined gaming time and again, and this time, the adventure sets itself up with ambitious goals via the power of next gen technology. That's right, the new game, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, is a new 3D adventure that departs from the traditional and establishes a new direction for the series. Does it falter, or does it manage to prove itself worthy of the mantle?

As a reboot of the series, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow doesn't require players to be well-versed with Castlevania lore. Only the barest story elements of "a holy warrior facing hordes of demonic entities" remains intact. Instead of relying on established canon, the game aims for a completely new storyline.

Set in mid-11th century Europe, players assume the role of Gabriel Belmont, a stalwart member of a holy order known as the Brotherhood of Light, a group that serves and protects the innocent by defending them against dark creatures that continually terrorize the populace. Sometime before the events of the game, Gabriel's wife Marie is brutally murdered, leaving the holy knight devastated yet filled with the desire for vengeance against those who took his beloved away from him. At the same time, the world is in more dire straits than before, so the order, responding to a vision that is supposedly a message from Marie herself, sends Gabriel to find The Guardian Of The Lake, who holds the answers to the world's salvation. Along the way, he meets unlikely allies, including a mentor figure in the form of the old Brotherhood warrior Zobek. As his path ultimately leads him to confront the mythical Lords of Shadow, Gabriel will need all the courage and will he can muster to overcome all adversaries and obstacles in order to procure a legendary artifact that is said to bring one closer to God and raise the dead. With the possibility of bringing his wife back from the dead lingering on his mind, Gabriel's journey begins...

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Story and Characters Trailer

Getting right down to the gameplay itself, Lords of Shadow has truly changed Castlevania for the better in my honest opinion. The game is played with a linear approach, with players trudging through Chapters and sub-chapters to accomplish tasks, solve puzzles, and defeat enemies in order to progress through the story. Upon completion of a level, players can level up Gabriel's abilities by purchasing skills from experience points they earn by defeating enemies. These list of upgrades expand as the story progresses, so be sure to check back from time to time. For combating opponents, Gabriel's primary weapon is the Combat Cross, an upgradable whip like weapon that he whittles around with grace and speed. He uses this device not only to vanquish enemies, but to traverse and go past obstacles as well. Of course, Castlevania purists questioning the whereabouts of the legendary "Vampire Killer" will be pleased to know that the whip's legacy carries on with the Combat Cross, and it's only reaffirmed by a little nod through the Story's narration. Of course, Gabriel can't traverse through the entire game without some addition upgrades to his arsenal. Along the way, he'll acquire several power-ups and artifacts that will make him stronger, faster, and deadlier than ever before. For instance, the Dark Gauntlet acquired early on in the game will give Gabriel the ability to deliver powerful punches and slams, and he will also unlock the ability to use Light and Shadow magic, each with their own respective effects and benefits.

While it may feel different than the path the ultimately leads down to Dracula, Lords of Shadow has some pretty epic boss battles and fights that proudly come with the territories the game is set in. Gabriel Belmont faces a lot of seemingly insurmountable odds, as he comes across vampires, werewolves, and even the living dead themselves. Thankfully, the game is forgiving enough to have a checkpoint system that kicks in at key points that will leave you relived to load back to if you're in a bind. Side quests are also part of the experience, and you'll find yourself scrambling to check out every area for the body of a dead knight containing helpful scrolls or tips. Casting and voice acting are also top notch, with veteran actor Robert Carlyle (The Dad from 28 Weeks Later) lending his talents as Gabriel, while the legendary Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: TNG's Captain Jean Luc Picard and Professor X from the X-men films) gives off quite the performance as Gabriel's mentor and the narrator of the story, Zobek. Yes, attention to detail was given to make this Castlevania a memorable adventure, and that has a lot to do with the fact that Kojima Productions co-produced the game, with founder and Metal Gear series creator Hideo Kojima playing a small but vital role in its development.

Observing the product for what it is, Lords of Shadow is your typical action adventure platformer, not unlike anything we've seen in God of War and Devil May Cry. In fact, it takes a lot of gameplay mechanics and elements found from other popular games in the genre - It has the platform jumping from Prince of Persia; Titanic monster battle scenarios from Shadow of the Colossus; Energy absorption and manipulation from DMC/ Onimusha; and crazy boss battles like that of the God Of War series. In essence, Castlevania is like one big amalgamation of all the gameplay factors that made these games great in the first place, and while that's not original, the final product speaks volumes, and it's a pretty good impression as far as presentation is concerned. Addictive combat, lush visuals, and awe-inspiring music make this game damn fun to play alright, and even after my first playthrough, there's still so much I could check and unlock now that I have more abilities by my side. Easter eggs also come in numbers in LoS, so be on the lookout for nods to other games, especially those coming from a certain stealth game. Yep, Lord of Shadows is impressive, and it's a strong contender to be my next favorite Castlevania below the classic opus that was Castlevania: Symphony of The Night. Even if fans miss the old school 2D presentation, they'll get a kick out of this and definitely enjoy the new digs right here.

Rating - 5/5

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