The lights are on
Lords of Shadow is a good and at the same time sad new entry in the Castlevania series. Good because it is, undeniably, a great game; even if most of it's mechanics are borrowed from other series like God of War and Devil May Cry. Sad because it represents a departure from many aspects that defined the series this far.
Stunning graphics and cool level designs more than make up for the unpolished Gabriel model you are forced to control. Enemies are also very well rendered on the screen. Just don't expect too much variety: Lords of Shadow follows the forest-snow-desert pattern already used by so many action games before it. Even so, the environments are breath-taking and the textures are top-notch.
You will miss some of the classic scores and overall style of the series usual soundtracks, but once you get used to the new atmosphere of the game you will get used to it's matching music along with it. I actually enjoyed the voice acting, specially Gabriel's voice that does a good job avoiding the "vampire-killer stereotype" (created, mind you, by the Castlevania series itself). The sound effects sometimes fail and got me thinking more than once if "doing this would really sound like that".
This is where things slip a bit. Forget everything you know about Castlevania: this is more like a romanian iteration of God of War with some Devil May Cry tweaks to it. There is no map, and most chapters are very straightforward. Gabriel's whip-chain work much like Kratos' chained blades, and the quick time events lack the same creativity found in the God of War series. The enemies are varied and force the player to constantly change attack tactics, which becomes even deeper with the addition of the Light and Shadow powers. The climbing system is very mechanical, but it only plays a minor role in Lords of Shadow. Castlevania was never known for having a great (not even a good, really) combat gameplay in it's 3D titles, but it actually managed to create a fun "assembly" in Lords of Shadow. The puzzles, on the other hand, are unique their complexity is just right.
Lords of Shadow's story is a hit and miss. It starts slow and builds up as you progress through the game, but it takes far too long to reach it's high point. By the time it did so I was already bored with the story, and instead of simply entertaining me, it first had to do a "recovery job" to convince me that the good part outweighed the bad one. Don't get me wrong, the good part does compensate the slow beginning; but I had the feeling it shouldn't have to. Gabriel's love story is a little tacky and cliched, but if you stick to Lords of Shadow to the end you'll be rewarded with one of the best endings Castlevania has ever seen.
There are a lot of extras and secrets to be found, and most of them involve simple terrain investigation. There is also an unlockable difficulty level and many special moves to be bought. The Chapter Select mechanic makes this process a lot more dynamic. Lords of Shadow also has a pretty forward approach to Achievements/Trophies: do everything there is to be done in the game and you'll have obtained all of them; obtain all of them and you'll have done everything there is to do in the game. So yes, you'll want to play Lords of Shadow a second time; but not instantly.
This is the best 3D-gameplay Castlevania ever created, but even so, it's evident that the series still struggles to find it's own style inside this game concept. Lords of Shadow offers players a simple and fun adventure, but it lacks in substance when compared to both similar games (God of War) and the highlights of it's own series (Symphony of the Night).
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