Castlevania: Lords of Shadow User Review
With a rich combat system as a foundation, throughout the course of the adventure you'll be introduced to a bulging, near overflowing, list of abilities. As any good action game of this kind you'll have a large repertoire of purchasable combos and attacks.. And it's the breadth of all of Gabriel's abilities that are acquired along the way that make for an empowering experience that accumulates throughout the course of your adventure. The sheer resourcefulness and power of Gabriel's abilities make for a varied play experience. Before too long you'll come to realize that the game's focus isn't so much reliant on the precise use of well timed attacks, as much as it is having a firm understanding of all of the resources Gabriel has at his disposal. This aspect makes it sometimes reminiscent of former Castlevania games.
LoS also has a heavy puzzle component that will soak up many hours of your play time. The puzzles vary in complexity and size. With many that are quite clever in implementation. You'll encounter a variety of puzzles that involve varied and sometimes combined components of the game's play. Some of which will involve spinning hand cranks to move obstacles, or using your own, possibly overlooked, abilities as an example of a few. There really are too many for me to list. The game even has a full turn based strategy mini-game that is encountered later on in the game.
Gabriel's battle cross is used much like a whip from former games but it is also utilized similarly to a grappling hook, not unlike the claw-arm in Capcom's Bionic Commando. You'll encounter many challenges in the game that make use of this versatile tool. This creates for some hair-raising grappling moments that are surprisingly fleshed out for a game that doesn't lean on this component as a primary aspect of it's play.
Early on in the game you'll acquire Light and Dark magic powers. These powers are fueled through magical essence orbs dispersed from enemies either by killing one or stringing together an un-interrupted sequence of attacks that will reward Gabriel essence just from successfully landing un-blocked attacks, and at the option of the user, the essence is absorbed into a storage reservoir of either Light or Dark magic. The Light magic enables restoration benefits through replenishing lost vitality, powerful buffs on attack items, or also curing yourself of status ailments. Whereas, the Dark magic invigorates the power of Gabriel's core attacking abilities while also opening up a set of powerful abilities that are otherwise un-accessible. Also, the game will present puzzles along the way that require the specific use of Light, and, or, Dark magic powers to solve.
The balance of combat to puzzle ratio varies throughout your adventure. During the first 1/3 of the game you'll spend much of your time battling enemies and scaling walls and ledges. After which, the game will implement more and more puzzles as obstacles as you work your way towards the end of the adventure. For those who preference a more action only oriented experience may have a cause for concern because of this.
The sheer selection of enemies in LoS is incredibly robust. I can't think of a game of this kind in recent memory that has had such a wide assortment of adversaries. You'll encounter familiar Castlevania enemies such as ghouls, re-animating skeletons, vampires, lycans, and axe-wielding armor clad warriors. Including a whole host of powerful bosses and sub-bosses.You'll face-off against anything from lighter smaller enemies to larger more powerful ones. The AI for some of these enemies prove to be challenging and intelligently implemented. Overtime you'll pick up on patterns, but relative to most games of this kind the AI will not disappoint.
A selection of the mountable enemies can be tamed and controlled to guide Gabriel through obstacles which these creatures can also give Gabriel an upper-hand in battle. While this aspect of it's play is appreciated, I continually got the sense that this dynamic wasn't interwoven into the fabric of the game's play as well as other components. Oftentimes, the game will present an un-passable obstacle, a heavy door, broken bridge, or wide gap to jump, and what becomes predictable like clockwork, the right mountable creature for the job is presented at just the right time to overcome the obstacle. The lock and easily accessible key approach to this design element leaves little lasting significance or feeling of accomplishment for having overcome the barrier. While it's not always the case, it usually is. Regardless of this contrivance of mine, it's admirable that MercurySteam put effort into offering a wide selection of mountable creatures that, at it's least, offers some value in the variety of it's play components.
The game will have you face off against huge towering titans. While they are reminiscent of Shadow of the Collosses, you'll marvel at these massive and well detailed titans on this newer generation of hardware processing—my favorite was the second one. Gabriel must climb to certain weak points on these titans by means of climbing the grip-able areas of it's exterior and also by means of using the battle cross's grappling abilities to swing himself around to harder to reach locations. The titan will do what it can to shake your hold and cause you to fall to the ground. Defeating these titans is quite rewarding, and are a welcome (albeit heavily influenced by SoC) addition to the series.
All of these gameplay components wouldn't amount to much if the game didn't handle well. Thankfully, for the most part, the game controls as it should for most anyone who's accustomed to games of this type. The controls are responsive and the abilities are accessible. The frame-rate, however, hovers around the 20-30fps range pretty regularly. It's rare you'll experience any sharp performance dips so this matter is only a subtle problem from a control standpoint. The game also makes use of many buttons, so expect a fair learning curve when trying to memorize all of the commands for desired actions.
The camera-work is pre-set and will affix itself to an angle preset by the developer. This includes, also the use of a chase cam that will follow Gabriel from behind. Unfortunately, there's no way to control your view point, and more than once throughout the adventure you'll get the feeling that you would've appreciated it if they had. The problematic viewpoints present themselves worst when working within more confined areas. You'll find yourself struggling to keep your orientation when the camera will shift it's perspective to a new location. This does, at times, affect your ability to have a good handle of maintaining control over Gabriel's direction. Also, you'll find yourself making un-sure jumps that result in plummeting to your doom because the visual perspective isn't always ideal as it should be. Thankfully, the developers do not heavily penalize you for falling to your death, as it results in a rather modest amount of lost vitality, affording you some trial and error.
Visually the game is a real treat, and is one of the better looking games released for this console generation. The lush beautiful landscapes and intricately detailed texturing are admirable. The adventure also does an extremely good job at serving up a large and varied selection of locales. You'll traverse murky swamps, abandoned cathedrals, graveyards, sewers, wastelands and more throughout your journey. The game is as artistically interesting as it is technically. It's easy to see that the developers already had a good handle of the hardware even for this early effort. The animation is usually superb with only occasional movement abnormalities.
The characters, for the most part, are finely detailed and artistically interesting to look at from a design perspective. They're well lit and textured, even while up close. Though, some of the facial detail doesn't hold up as well as other components of it's visual design--the beautiful scenery and landscapes.
The sound that's presented in LoS is a quality effort. Most of the voice work, sound effects, and music is well delivered. The quantity of musical tracks runs a bit on the short side, a few extra tracks would've better matched the lengthy quest. The effects are satisfying and clear; though, I felt the battle cross chain could've made more of a chain-like sound effect while attacking enemies. The actors play convincing roles in performing their lines; one of which is performed by Patrick Stewart. I did notice that the balance of the music to effects audio at the default settings had the music over powering, drowning out the sound effects. A quick change in the game settings remedied the problem.
LoS packs in extraordinary longevity as this adventure will clock you in around twenty-five to thirty hours on it's first play through. Effectively making this game about twice as long as most single player modes that share the same genre. While the game doesn't have any kind of online component, or scoreboards, the core adventure remains varied and long. It helps that LoS will allow you to return to prior levels to obtain missed items and to access previously unaccessible areas due to missing ability upgrades.
The game also has a nice feature in the “extras” menu that lets you turn on vitality bars and attack damage indicators. A handy feature that helps you monitor which enemies are weakest (useful as the game presents no visually degrading enemy damage), and which attacks are the strongest. There's also a whole lot of artwork to unlock.
As a whole, LoS is a robust, well rounded, lengthy and memorable game that does a fine job at re-booting the Castlevania franchise. Some edges are a bit rough, but the adventure is well worth taking. The game will motivate progress with the ever growing list of purchasable abilities; more than I would have time discussing, and an interesting story that grows more involving the deeper you play. The combat will test the action gamer in you and the puzzles will test your patience and problem solving abilities. The game was a treat to play and I eagerly await a sequel.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.