Konami transforms the Castlevania franchise from a 2D side-scroller to a full blown 3D action adventure in Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. Picking up in 1047 during the “end of days,” Gabriel Belmont leads the charge into a world of darkness to save the land and save the one he loves.
Since Castlevania debuted in the mid-1980's, the series has been a fan favourite over the years. Based on a traditional 2D side-scrolling base, Castlevania has tried to leap into the third generation without too much success, well that is until now. 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow' is yet another attempt to “reboot” the series for a new generation of gamers while adapting its formula to a more “modern” take. Kudos to MercurySteam and their helpers Kojima Products for putting forth a valiant effort at breathing some new life into this long running franchise.
In the Name of Love
The plot treads typical ground with our lead protagonist Gabriel Belmont seeking to eliminate the Lords of Shadow who is causing a whole lot of problems for the land of the living, mainly blocking human souls from entering the heavens and unleashing a host of evil beings across the land. Beyond Gabriel's duties as a holy knight, Gabriel experiences tragedy when his wife, Marie, is murdered by one of Lords of Shadows devilish creatures. With his love stuck in limbo, Gabriel hunts down the 'Lords,' not only to save the land, but resurrect his deceased love. It's a noble quest and even though Gabriel is a lone-wolf styled warrior, he will get some much needed help from allies found along the way. Working with his new allies and unlocking upgrades to his main weapon, the crucifix, Gabriel will slowly but surely traverse the land to accomplish his goals.
Into the Besieged Village
'Lords of Shadow' starts your adventure in the Besieged Village where you will quickly learn about handling Gabriel, his abilities and limitations. The action is a straight up 3rd person action adventure, beat em' up style. The combat is handled with a few buttons, medium and strong attacks with a grab. Ducking and jumping can also be done and is a necessity in order to out maneuver your quick adversaries. The battle in the open segment and on through the first and second chapter will set you up for anything you encounter in 'Lords of Shadow.' Although, the combat feels a bit removed then what I would have liked to seen, it works. Even when you are wildly connecting with your hits it lacks that impactful oomph. Meele attacks bring in a little more edge, but more violence would have been welcomed. Gabriel isn't a pushover, but when you compare him to creature killing male gaming stars, he feels like most fragile of the bunch.
For weapons, Gabriel sticks to his "combat cross," which is upgradable during the game through points you earn from killing enemies and solving puzzles. Over 30 combos are available to purchase along with upgrades skill sets. This weapon is effective, but Gabriel needs to be quick on his feet as well. Battles can be very hectic, with success coming down to a little bit of luck and skill. Rolling out of danger is key more then blocking and shift in-and-out strategy will benefit you the most. The difficulty level is above average, but nothing you won't get used to. Expect a bit of a fight, even on the medium difficulty setting. And if you are having troubles, just drop it down to “easy.” With a game like this one there is no shame on being humbled.... at least in your first time around.
There are also a few secondary weapons to use along with magic powers to boost your abilities. Knifes are plentiful and do a good amount of damage and can always be found littered around the area. The magic is balanced between blue (holy water) and red (aggression) magic that works like you would think. Blue magic heals the player when damage is done to the enemy (very important) and red helps you deal out extra damage with your strikes. Both powers are helpful and can be refilled by collecting orbs (surprise) or by recharging at specific stations. During the game you can find magic crystals that will increase the amount of magic you can use and other aspects like lengthening your health bar. Castlevania has a little bit of exploration tucked away in this linear experience.
Oh No! The Dreaded QTE
QTE (Quick Time Events) are another popular mechanic that MercurySteam slapped into Castlevania. Making things a tidge simplier these QTE don't require you to hit a certain button when the big circle meets the little one, just make sure you hit any button. The speed of the QTE is a little quicker then expected, and if you're not watching the screen carefully you might miss them. Depending on your stance on QTE (most gamers hate them) you will either be rightfully annoyed at the frequency of the dreaded QTE.
The Good Ol' Standards
The adversaries in Castlevania are tilted towards standard "monster" lore with their own spin. So instead of fabricating a whole lot of new creatures they just re-visualized the old standards. While you might think of it as a negative point, so few games take advantage of these horror standards that it's fresh to see their faces in gaming form. Expect everything from fire imps and werewolf to giant spiders and towering high titans to battle against Gabriel. The titans deserve a closer look, as the feel like outtakes from the classic 'Shadow of Colossus.' Battling the titans will require you to use all of Gabriel's skills including his platforming prowess, problem solving skills and brute strength. Each segment is fairly substantial, and even though it's a little borrowed, climbing up a titian limb-by-limb to topple a giant is still a rewarding experience.