Review By: Siou Choy
|# Of Players:||1|
|Accessories:||Xbox Live (DLC)|
Castlevania: Lord of Shadows is this week’s attempt to bring the Castlevania series into the realm of 3D gaming. While there have been a few 3D Castlevania entries dating back to the halcyon days of the ascendancy of the hoary N64, none have been as successfully realized, in graphical terms, as this latest effort at broaching the gates of 3D.
Of course, there’s always a cloud alongside a silver lining, and CLoS is no exception to that rule. Longtime Castlevania fans will find themselves rather nonplussed, if not disappointed outright, at playing something far more closely related to Van Helsing or Shadow of the Colossus (with a dash of God of War for bad measure). Shadow of Van God would have been a more appropriate and associative title for this rather odd and derivative, albeit stunningly gorgeous to look at game.
CLoS has you taking on the role of Gabriel Belmont (the name being perhaps the only connection with the series it claims to be part of). Gabriel is a member of the Brotherhood of Light, a holy order of knights charged with the task of saving the world from dark forces, though his true motivation is to avenge, and possibly restore to life his late wife.
You follow Gabriel’s quest via the framing device of a book, laboriously narrated by a particularly locquacious Patrick Stewart, declaiming perhaps the most blowhard, hammy performance of his career (in all fairness, probably not his fault, but that of a rather juvenile and substandard writer feeding him all this pointless and pretentious crap to deliver). Seriously, this is some of the most tedious, endless, and poorly written backstory/narration in recent memory (if not ever in videogaming), and I had a hell of a time not falling asleep or getting involved in something else while old Captain Picard/Professor X droned on and on with much ado about nothing whatsoever. There are 12 levels (or "chapters” of the book, if you prefer) which are further broken up into smaller sublevels or stages. Stewart was also tapped for the character Zobek, a fellow member of the Brotherhood of Light who assists you on your journey.
One thing the game does get right is that it does a really good job of helping you figure out the controls and basics of the game. Rather than the standard one shot deal (if that), you will be led through a particular action or series of commands several times to be sure it sinks in. That said, after travelling this road for a bit and getting you used to this sort of spoonfeeding, suddenly they stop leading you altogether. So in other words, you’d be waiting for the next prompt (which never shows), and die (or be forced to backtrack and correct your mistaken action or lack thereof) when it finally dawns on you what you were supposed to do earlier. So in terms of tweaking, I’d suggest going one route or the other – either lead us through all the way, or do the usual and show us once (or not at all) and leave us hanging – this middle ground proves quite confusing and feels rather random in terms of whether you’ll be led or not at any given point.
Once again, you cannot discuss CLoS without emphasizing just how beautiful the game is. It’s clear that 90% of the effort here was in the visuals, and it is in this area (only) that they did a truly bang up job. There are a few hiccups here and there with minor characters, but overall the game is positively stunning to behold, akin to popping a Square game into your console back in the days when they were putting out games anyone cared about (FFVII, Parasite Eve, etc.). Once again, a caveat: while the characters and environments are unbelievably well rendered, the developers don’t give you much of a chance to appreciate them. Exploration is extremely limited, to the point where the only exploring done relates to any return trips to previously completed levels to unlock areas you could not access the first time (if you’re the sort that’s so inclined – I’m not, so my argument stands). The game also moves at a rather fast pace, with Gabriel moving like lightning and robbing the gamer of any chance to give the game’s gorgeous environments and design the appreciation they deserve.
Rather than the standard whip and sword, your designated weapon is the extremely Van Helsing-esque “Combat Cross”. As in that earlier game, your weapon can be used as both an offensive weapon and as a grappling hook to allow you swing to unreachable locations. You can also utilize secondary weapons such as daggers, and perform magic to help you through the game. As any streetcorner shill of a Wiccan will be happy to tell you at great and ponderous length, there are two types of magic: “Light Magic”, relating to healing, and “Dark Magic” which causes added damage to attacks against enemies. The amount of magic is limited and can be refilled by collecting orbs from defeated enemies.
Did I say this is not a Castlevania game?
Castlevania: Lord of Shadows borrows from several popular games (though ones whose intrinsic value or lack thereof are left to the reader to determine for themselves). The look, feel, and even gameplay of Van Helsing, Shadow of the Colossus, and God of War emanate miasmically through every fiber and pore of this game, belching forth a foetid stench to offend the nostrils of any true Castlevania fan or purist. What is most strange (if not misleading and offensive) about all this is how the one game or series you’d be expecting to shine through all this populist dross, that of Castlevania itself, is all but absent in nearly every respect. Don’t get me wrong. The game looks great, and misgivings aside, turned out to provide some amusement on its own merits. But what was missing from the proceedings stands out far more glaringly than what was present – an absence, a negative space larger than the sum of its parts. Despite an evocative (and rather Van Helsing-esque) introductory stage, there’s precious little of the sort of spooky atmosphere that made the Castlevania series (as separate and distinct from whatever series to which this game should actually belong) so great in the first place. The fact that the proceedings barely take place in or around a castle of any sort, much less involve vampires, don’t help matters in the least. Similarly, many of the backgrounds and environments tend to veer towards the bright side, making things look more like a hack and slash ala Baldur’s Gate or Fable than the presumably dark and gothic atmosphere required as part and parcel of an ostensible entry in the Castlevania series.
Posted: 2011-02-19 08:21:52 PST