Thursday, 14 October 2010

What's new, Pussycat? - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Konami, 360)

A foul darkness has cursed the land. Beasts, monsters and evil has covered the world in darkness. Only one man, Gabriel Belmont, can stop the Lords of Shadow, with his Combat Cross, some killer moves, and with the power of magic, all in the name of revenge. Can Gabriel defeat the 4 Lords of Shadow, reunite the pieces of the God Mask, and resurrect his loved one, Marie?

Not a bad storyline, that. With a hint of classic Castlevania running through it's very heart, this is not like the MetroidVania games that dominated the GBA/DS and Symphony of the Night on the PS1/Saturn/XBLA/PSN, but harks back to the hack, slash and jump games of old on the NES and SNES (Super Castlevania IV), but with a flavour of God of War, and a sprinkling of Dante's Inferno (but a lot better than DI). You start off with a basic set of moves, and just the standard Combat Cross: a handle in the shape of a cross (funnily enough), with a whip inside. You fight against Lycans (werewolves), vampires, huge bugs, trolls, goblins, and a whole host of other nasties, all intent on making your quest more than walk in the park.
How cool is that artwork? Thats the quality throughout the map stages. Great, isn't it?

The first thing you notice, is that this game shows how old the DVD format is, by coming on TWO discs on the 360 (one on PS3, because of the marvel that is Blu-Ray). But, even though it's on two and not one, don't let that put you off. The presentation is superb, from the cut scenes, to the in-game graphics, right down to the phenominal voice work by Sir Patrick 'Make it so!' Stewart and Robert Carlyle. Everything smacks of expertness, thanks in part to being co-developed by Kojima Studios and MercurySteam. It does feel like Castlevania: The Movie in the cut scenes. Example: one of the first things you do, is ride on an enchanted horse. You move the right stick left or right to dodge, and the X button (triangle on PS3) to attack. Once you've gotten the Large Lycan's health down, you can jump on its back, kill it's rider, and take down the huge, rampaging beast, all in glorious HD (plus, it looks fantastic on a standard CRT telly as well!). So, it's presentation is a high factor. But, with that high factor, I did encount some niggles. 1) there were one or two moments of chopness in the cut scenes 2) some do not move smoothly, apart from that, it's nigh on faultless.
The grappling hook. Handy? Yes. Looks cool? Most definitely.

Now, controls can also make or break a game. Thankfully, these ones aren't too bad, but are thoughout methodically. Once you've picked up the Light Magic Amulet, you can absorb orbs that increase the meter (with a press of the left stick inwards), and a tap of the LB button enables you to use it. Once it is enabled, any hit causes you to gain health, but the magic meter drains. Pick up the Shadow Amulet, and it works near enough the same, but instead of gaining health, your attacks are much more powerful. Again, orbs can be absorbed by a press of the right stick this time, and used with the RB button. This does seem to be a bit like Dante's Inferno, but it works so much better, and is implemented better as well. One move, once you've purchased it or course, means once you've jumped, a tap of the RT button sends the chain out of your Cross, pull them towards you so you can take them down. You can mix up your attacks to maximize the damage dealt.

The music is what you would come to expect from a Castlevania game: dramatic, atmospheric, and put you right in the moment. It never detracts from what you were supposed to be doing, and would not look out of place in a big budget Hollywood movie, something Hideo Kojima always does with his games. Take Metal Gear Solid. A solid game, but has a good few hours of cinematics that set the scene. And again, you've got the voice work from Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Natasha McElhone, which again, puts you right there in the game. You can definitely tell it's a Kojima game.
He''s bit, isn't he? Oh........fuck it.

For a Castlevania game, those are expecting a game similar to Symphony or Dawn of Sorrow, then you won't find it here. And I think, thats what might put some people off. However, I think it's the reboot the series desperately needs, otherwise the whole franchise might have become stale (EA take note). Yes, it's a hack 'n' slash at heart, but then thats what Castlevania is at heart, and it does it well.

Verdict: If you're looking for something not set in a God of War-esque setting, give this a bash. But, come to it not expecting a Castlevania game. 9/10

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