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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Castlevania has had a tough time in the past when trying to make the jump to 3D graphics, and I along with most out there were a little hesitant seeing a new title making the move to 3D environments. But as footage was making its way around world and people started to get some hands on time, things started looking promising. Sadly we’ve been inundated with God of War titles and clones, and even Lords of Shadow was poorly lumped into this knock off genre by almost everyone out there, myself included. After diving into the title I was refreshed to see that it wasn’t merely a God of War clone, but that it seemed to stand on its own merits by tweaking the tried and true formula and taking on a very epic quest of its own – with 100% less Kratos.

While the title breaks a lot of past history with the Castlevania series, and is essentially a reboot of the series it does maintain a Belmont as the main character. You control Gabriel Belmont a member of the Brotherhood of Light, a society of protectors who do all in their power to protect humankind from evil of all sources. Armed with a Combat Cross complete with a retractable chain whip, it’s up to Gabriel to head out and avenge the murder of his wife who’s soul happened to become trapped in limbo, between the land of the living and the dead. Early in the story, Gabriel meets up with other Brotherhood members and a mystical young women, who tells him about the Lords of Shadow and how they must be defeated in order to be reunited with his wife. I think you can see where this is going.

The core of the title is based around the combat and puzzling, which yes on the surface sounds lot like God of War. Using a mixture of ranged and stronger attacks you take on trolls, vampires and seemingly endless waves of werewolves. The Combat Cross works pretty much like the whip of yesterday, but this time around it can be upgraded very heavily as you make your way through the game. Whether these upgrades be from spending experience points on new moves, or by finding long lost tombs of the Brotherhood the Cross becomes a very formidable weapon, as long as the player can also grow with it. Along with the Cross, you obtain other weapons and magic throughout the game – Holy Water, daggers and both light and shadow magic will be under your control before long, and you’re going to need all the help you can get. Puzzling elements are fairly light, broken down into finding a necessary piece of equipment and utilizing it in the right spot. Because the game isn’t a wide open world, rather it’s broken up into levels of varying length and difficulty – the amount of searching for broken gems and missing door gears is minimized. One game element that stays intact in this reboot is that even though the game is broken up into levels, Gabriel can go back at any time and replay a previously passed level. Doing this once unlocking new abilities will make previously unobtainable artifacts or upgrades now within grasp.

Because the game employs a fixed camera, the developers have been able to force some absolutely breathtaking vistas into the game, most of which at first seemed very out of place for the usual dark and depressing Castlevania. If you’re accustomed to fighting through the dingy hallways and rooms, be prepared to see a stunning amount of greenery and some very well detailed enemies. The game transitions from cut scene to gameplay often which isn’t cause for alarm as the high quality animations fit seamlessly with the gameplay – even when the cut scenes include some sort of quick time event, the overlay is much less intrusive than a colored button; here it’s a set of circles which converge, and any button press once the outlines overlap will count as a valid action.

The game not only looks great, but the sound is outstanding. With a slew of new songs written specifically for the game and performed by not only a full orchestra, but also an eighty person choir the soundtrack is deep, regal and pure sounding. The voice work also surpasses many titles in terms of quality as well thanks to the actors putting in some serious effort into the pieces. With Robert Carlyle taking on the role of Gabriel and Patrick Stewart taking on the role of the narrator and fellow Brotherhood of Light member Zorek.

Don’t fall into the camp of seeing this as merely a God of War knockoff – with the massive list of move and weapon upgrades, combined with the sharp quick gameplay should make this title stand on its own. The quest does take a little time to kick into gear, so don’t be put off by the opening couple of chapters. With their massive boss battles and deliberate pace, they give a false example of the grand scale that this game evolves into and could set a wrong tone for some gamers. Stick with it through at least the end of chapter 4, and you’ll be hooked into following Gabriel to the ends of the world.

Score:8.5
A change of pace from previous three dimensional Castlevania games might turn off some purists, but the game shines once you make it through the rather slow opening.

Platform reviewed: Xbox 360

— Jeff Paramchuk

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