Castlevania has been around since the 80's. IT evolved from a linear sidescrolling platformer to what became described as "Metroidvania" in the 90's. More recently, Konami tried to make 3D beat-em-up style games in the Xbox and the Nintendo 64. These games were generally received poorly. With the recent increase in popularity of Beat-em-ups, for example the God of War series, Konami teamed up with Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame to give it another go. Did they finally get it right?...well, kind of.
Lords of Shadow is a non canon reboot of the Castlevania storyline. A group of powerful demons called the Lords of Shadow have cast a powerful spell. This spell cuts the people off from God and allows evil to run rampant. Gabriel Belmont, a member of The Brotherhood of Light, which is a group of holy knights who protect people from the supernatural, is on a mission to destroy the Lord of Shadow. To add a bit of personal involvement in this quest, his wife Marie was brutally murdered and he intends to bring her back using the powers of the God Mask, which each of the Lords of Shadow hold a piece of. It's not a very thick plot, but it doesn't try to disguise that either.
One of the main reason I wanted to give this game a try as the involvement of Hideo Kojima. I've never been a huge Castlevania fan, but I love Kojima's style of directing. I was disappointed that much of the game jsut felt like a basic modern action beat-em-up game. There are certainly a handful of scenes that ooze with Koima's western cinema influence, but those scenes are few and far between. For example, the game kicks off with gabriel riding into a small village on his steed. It is storming heavily, and the rain drops splatters as they come in contact with the cobblestone. Gabriel's hrose is wet, and obviously so - his mane is heavy and damp, and his fur is sopping with water. As Gabriel dismounts his steed, he too is obviously soaked. As he steps towards the cemetery gates, a matted and sopping werewolf peers from behind a gargoyle, and with a howl, lunges at Gabirel. It is at this moment that the game seamlessly switches from cutscene to gameplay. As awesome as that scene was, you wouldn't see another one like it for several chapters, which sucks.
Gameplay feels familiar, taking notes from other modern beat-em-ups such as God of War and Dante's Inferno. Instead of the "light fast" and "slow heavy" attacks we've become accustomed to, Gabriels combat cross allows for something a tad more interesting. The combat cross is a retractable chain whip. Instead of a "slow, heavy" attack you can perform a direct attack. Direct attacks focus on a central enemy and do heavier damage than the other form of attack; the area attack. area attack whip the chain around in circular patterns dealing less damage, but hitting more enemies per swing. As you progress, you can upgrade and unlock new attack and combos. You also eventually get light magic and shadow magic, which allow for even more strategy. Speaking of strategy, you're going to need some. Unlike other modern beat-em-ups, it is absolutely critical that you not only learn how to block and doge, but master the art of it. Enemy hits take huge chunks from your health, and the bigger enemies can take you out in 3-5 hits if you aren't careful. In true Castelvania fashion, this game isn't afraid to bring you to the verge of breaking your controller.
When you aren't rendering the supernatural asunder, you will be exploring. Exploration involves platforming, climbing, and swinging using your combat cross. I have to admit, some of the scenery in this game is absolutely breathtaking. From Gothic cathedrals and castles to werewolf infested forests, every location is beautiful.
So, Konami finally created a playable and true to form 3D beat-em-up Castlevania as they have been trying to do for years. The problem is that it suffers from little brother syndrome. The game feels all too familiar. I already mentioned the pages it takes from God of War. Now, God of War virtually reinvented and revitalized the genre - it is the template for this type of game now, but Castelvania doesn't do enough to separate itself aside from a few combat mechanics. Some of the boss battles play like Shadow of the Colossus, and have you climbing upon giant foes. the difference is that Shadow of the Colossus is built around that game mechanic - here it just feels like it was tacked on to help give the game an epic feel. Antoehr problem I have with the game is the characters. Gabriel meets a few individuals on his journey, but he never spends an extensive amount of time with any of them. They always go separate ways or die within a couple chapters, and that's a shame because there were a couple of really interesting characters that could have been built upon.
Lords of Shadow does a lot of things right, but by the end of the game it just feels all too familiar. It's not a bad game, it's just not as memorable as wants to be and tries to be. It's a game worth a few moments of your time if you can find it cheap enough, but in time you will likely forget your vampire slaying adventures with Gabriel Belmont.