Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Vampires surround Gabriel Belmont with hisses and bared fangs, lusting after his blood as he waits for the gate to slowly open. Sticky, pale skin clings to their gangly bones and huge tattered bat wings beat as they encroach. Gabriel swings his barbed chain whip widely, rending their flesh and repelling them towards enormous boarded windows. The beasts are merely stunned, but Gabriel capitalizes by snaring his whip on the planks barring the windows. Sunlight drenches the room as he shatters the ancient wood. Vampire flesh flutters from the bone like macabre rose petals. With hope renewed he turns to the gate. It is only halfway open when dusk lays its dark, suffocating blanket. Ghastly bellows herald the second wave of abominations. The warrior’s holy blood runs hot in anticipation.
My excitement for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was tempered with apprehension. Ever since Castlevania 64, 3D has been a dirty word for the franchise. To my sublime enjoyment, MercurySteam’s collaboration with Kojima Productions slays the series’ three-dimensional demons. This feat is accomplished by merging the best elements of some of Sony’s biggest hits. This Frankenstein’s monster is a formidable combination of God of War’s combat, Shadow of the Colossus’ boss fights, and Uncharted 2’s platforming.
Players have access to a familiar suite of showstopping light and heavy whip attacks, as well as high flying enemy juggling ripped off wholesale from Kratos. Light and shadow magic add dimension to the fluid combat; Gabriel’s health is restored with each successful attack when light magic is activated, and shadow magic makes the whip stronger. Alternating between magic types mid-combo is a rush, and the engaging boss fights later on force players to swap tactically.
Just like in Castlevania’s 2D offerings, Lords of Shadow delivers a plethora of innovative, expertly balanced boss fights. Gabriel scales colossal titans, searching for and surgically pounding their weak spots to dust. He scrambles to destroy a deadly vampire general before it dines on the bloody contents of an iron maiden. Castlevania also has the widest variety of enemies I’ve ever seen in a game of its ilk. Chupacabras abduct your powers, forcing you into a game of hide and seek, and burrowing zombies attack from underground as their decapitated heads float after you.
If at any point your interest in combat begins to wane, a puzzle comes to the rescue. These range from mundane crank-turning capers to engaging quagmires, like coaxing a murder of crows towards a scarecrow by shaking their perches. Platforming also breaks up the action. Players shimmy and leap across rock faces Uncharted 2 style, using the chain whip to rappel and scale ledges in style. Geometrical snags occasionally rob these climbs of their fluidity, which is frustrating when a hand grip is crumbling away. In later levels, Lords of Shadow fools itself into thinking it has the 3D platforming finesse of Mario Galaxy. Expect repeated deaths.
Gabriel’s cliché quest to resurrect his wife is fraught with both obvious and confusing twists. Each of the 50 levels begins with a monologue by Patrick Stewart’s character, many of which would have been better as cutscenes. However, much is redeemed by the game’s post-credit ending, which is among the coolest video game finales this millennium.
Castlevania takes a few hours to get rolling, but once it sinks its fangs in you’ll be absorbed. After putting nearly 20 hours into Lords of Shadow I emerged satisfied and ready to play again. This polished, action-packed adventure has me ecstatic to see not only what’s in store for the next 3D Castlevania, but also what talented developer MercurySteam does next. Don’t let the deluge of fall releases or the 3D Castlevania stigma keep you from this amazing quest.