PS3 Review – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Since becoming a fan-favorite in 1986, Konami’s Castlevania series has had quite the journey through the decades. It’s had the good (Super Castlevania IV), the bad (Castlevania: Judgement) and the masterpiece (Symphony of the Night). While the series has mastered the realm of 2D artwork and sprites, the series’ battles in the world of 3D have almost always been failures and major disappointments in the eyes of fans. Konami looks to change this with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, with developer MercurySteam handling the development duties and some team production company named ‘Kojima Productions’ supervising along the way. PlayStation LifeStyle’s review for this ‘rebirth’ is finished. Did Konami finally make an AAA quality 3D Castlevania game or is this yet another stumble along the way to greatness?

While the group of core fans will never come accustomed to a rebirth of the series, it proved that the series can do one thing and do it well: amazing production values.

The production values for Lords of Shadow are some of the best around from a third-party developer on the PlayStation 3. In the past, when two characters ran across one another while exploring Dracula’s labyrinth of demons and death, it was simply two 2D sprites conversing to one another while text rolled across the screen or after the PSOne days, horrible voice acting. This is no longer the case seeing as how Konami went as far as hiring Robert Carlyle to voice Garbiel Belmont, Sir Patrick Stewart himself to voice Zobrak (and narrate the game), and Spanish composer Óscar Araujo to work on the game’s epic score. The team at MercurySteam went all the way with the game’s production values and it shows; from the music, the cinematics, to the voice acting, and to the little things: like the way the game shows you a combo before purchase, which is represented with a 2D sketch of Gabriel. It’s all so good, I would actually just sit there and listen to Patrick Stewart narrate the game, long after I had already read what he was going to say. It was just that epic.

With everything from the graphics to the games movie-quality cinematics screaming AAA value, it instantly calls for comparison to the PS3’s iconic hack and slasher. However, the game’s gameplay doesn’t quite match that of God of War’s in terms of fun or depth. God of War III is commonly regarded as one of the best looking PS3 exclusives to date and Lords of Shadow is easily one of the best looking third-party titles available now. Every environment you adventure through and explore are brimming with life and detailed down to the smallest leave on a passing tree. Character models are detailed and come to life with a variety of facial expressions and emotions, perfectly rendered by the game’s graphical engine. Plus, the game runs smoothly at almost all times. Even the times when the screen is full of goblins attempting to end your journey, the game moved along without a hiccup in sight. Really impressive, considering the fact that the only other next-gen game developer MercurySteam has made is Clive Barker’s Jericho. Yeah. Talk about a sophomore surprise! The team added little graphical details like rain running down the screen, which was made famous by Metal Gear Solid 2 back in the PS2 days. Or hell, the small, yet cool, way snow sticks to the screen, then melts away. Nice touch.

The game’s storyline and narrative will capture your interest and no let it go until the credits roll. Gabriel’s journey to bring his wife back from the dead is full of twist and turns, is very well written, and full of great dialogue. It might not have a big-name hollywood writer like some games have had recently, but you could have fooled me. Also, make sure you stick around after the credits for a surprise ending. If you thought the twist at the end of inFamous was a jaw-dropper, wait until you see what could be happening in the next Castlevania game. I won’t spoil it for you, but it could be a very, very interesting setting for the series and could breathe a ton of new gameplay elements into it.

The old school Castlevania games easily made up for the lack big-budget productions values with awesome gameplay. Go play Super Castlevania IV or Symphony Of the Night and tell me you’re weren’t addicted to slashing flying medusa heads and poorly animated skeleton warriors. Well, those days are over. Sure, you still kill skeleton warriors, but seeing as how the gameplay has moved into the realm of 3D, gameplay has more in common with the God of War series and Darksiders than it does the original Castlevania games. Yes, you’ll still find sub-weapons like the daggers and fairies along the way, however gameplay consist of plenty of hack and slash gameplay that will have many of you feeling like your controlling Kratos instead of a Belmont. You even mount various creatures along the way that just happen to be by bright, shiny doors that need to be crushed be said creature. The gameplay isn’t super original, but it still tremendously enjoyable and to help spice things up is the magic system. You have access to light and dark magic; seeing as how restoration fountains are few and far between, you have to use the light magic to regain health. Activate it with L1, beat the hell out of some baddies and shazam, your health is back. Dark magic is for inflicting more damage on your enemies and opening a door or two along the way. The game make things a bit more interesting as you have two separate bars to fill, rather than one drains both energy types. So when absorbing energy from enemies, be wise and decide which you need more. Just a quick tip, 90% of the time get light magic so you can increase your health bar.

On the case of enemies. This was sadly a very sore spot for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. There was essentially 3 enemy classes. The small enemies: Lesser Lycanthropes, Goblins, etc. the large mountable enemies: Spiders, Giant Goblins, Greater Lycans, etc. And finally, the boss battles. The smaller enemies are far too simple, just button-mashing should suffice. The larger enemies are far more difficult, and the strategy you’ll use to take them down is too similar against every enemy. Just slash, dodge, rinse, repeat. The boss battles take a crack at the formula that made Shadow of the Colossus so great: Bosses are in a sense, a stage in their own light. You must climb these towering titans, gripping and grappling until you get to a weak spot, which is of course glowing (doesn’t your weak spot glow?). Stab repeatedly and you win. Oh and a pet peeve of mine, nearly every enemy in the game has a move where they smash the ground causing an impact that Gabriel must jump over. Seriously, just about every enemy. The variety, or complete lack thereof, is truly embarrassing considering the amazing potential these beasts of Castlevania lore offer.

Even if the gameplay isn’t all the original, Lords of Shadow will take you over 20 hours to complete everything that is available. The stages in the game are linear so there isn’t much left open to explore (certainly not like previous Castlevania titles). You are however encouraged to return to finished levels once you’ve gained certain types of power-ups so you can access areas you couldn’t the first time through. Let’s face it: Games aren’t cheap, and you want to get your money’s worth. So it’s good to know that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is packed with plenty of content, and enough reason to give it another go after your first playthrough.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is barely a Castlevania game. It doesn’t feature much from previous games in the franchise aside from the main character being a Belmont and some of the game’s enemies being creatures of the night. Don’t expect a hefty dose of nostalgia. However, if Lords of Shadow wasn’t at all attached to the Castlevania name, it still would be a great game that is worth playing. The production value, storyline, and other aspects are worthy to stand aside any of the top games of this generation. A few glaring flaws, repetitive gameplay, and strict linearity keep the game from being the masterpiece we all had hoped for.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Amazing Production values that very few games can rival.

+ With over 20+ hours of gameplay, plenty of  gaming value for your dollar.

– Gameplay, while good, lacks originality and borrows to heavily from the competition.

8 out of 10