I hadn’t really kept up with the Castlevania series until Lords of Shadow was announced at E3 of this year. I’ve played a majority of the games in this franchise, don’t get me wrong, but somewhere along the way my fondness for Castlevania had dwindled until Lords of Shadow surfaced. One intriguing detail about it was the involvement of Kojima Productions, who worked on the massively popular Metal Gear Solid games. I then later discovered another team was involved: MercurySteam Studios, a Spanish development studio. I have no idea who they are outside of their work on Clive Barker’s Jericho, a game I have not played. The game is marketed as a “reboot” (that dastardly word) of the franchise, and it became later known that Lords of Shadow was originally supposed to be a new intellectual property, which sounds like what had happened with Silent Hill 4: The Room, another Konami franchise in addition to Castlevania. I think what had interested me in Castlevania this time around was, admittedly, the involvement of producer Hideo Kojima, but a larger reason were the voices of actors Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle in the trailer and their involvement in the game. I’m not even sure if the teaser trailer even feature anything from the actual game, but I joined in on the warm reception it received. Eventually as the game neared release, I decided to order the PlayStation 3 collector’s edition version that came with an art book and the soundtrack CD composed by Oscar Araujo. I was pretty astonished that the music would not be done in-house. I was actually a little surprised Kojima didn’t employ Norihiko Hibino or Harry Gregson-Williams, although I’m not certain how much of Lords of Shadow he and his people were involved.
I didn’t play the demo. I ordered the game on pure faith. I hardly ever do that anymore. In fact, I’ve been much more discriminating in my selection of games. This means I am usually now reduced to buying the big-name big-budget games since my money must go elsewhere now. I’ll be getting Fallout: New Vegas, 007: Blood Stone, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and will call it a year. The reviews had started coming in and received positive marks for the most part. I popped in that disc into the console and my adventure began.
Lords of Shadow has received criticism for playing similarly to games like God of War and Dante’s Inferno. My thoughts on that amount more or less to how else would a game like this work? The game was originally supposed to be another new game altogether, and when they decided to make it “Castlevania”, their options were either to make it a 2D “Metroidvania” game and throw it up on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, or make it a 3D action game where you slay monsters and explore copious amounts of land and different settings. It’s not like running around a large environment and pressing two buttons to attack creatures is a specific, unique game mechanic to begin with. God of War might have helped make it a popular mechanic, but I don’t know if I would call it ripping off. Derivative, maybe. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is one of the more important aspects of Lords of Shadow, and I quite enjoy it so far.
As of this post, I am on Chapter IV or Chapter V. There is a lot of exploring and a lot of climbing that is familiar to anyone who has played games like Uncharted or the Crystal Dynamics-developed Tomb Raider games. Much of the game seems to take place outdoors in a forest setting filled with castle ruins and temples and what have you. I like the exploring to a point. Eventually you will use your weapon, a crucifix with a hidden iron chain, to swing on hooks to other locations. The game lets you know there is one near by looking for the blue glow surrounding them. Sometimes I find I need to be in a specific spot in an annoying camera angle in order to see one and then to be able to use it. The game has a number of pitfalls and high locations and of course I fall a lot because I am too dumb to see whether something is actual ground for me to step on, or part of the background and not meant to be interacted with by Gabriel, the protagonist and therefore, the player. I am not trying to make it sound like a game-breaker, because it isn’t, but the exploration needs a small amount of polish. A sequel was announced or is planned, I believe, so hopefully the exploration expands. The game is actually in stages like the games of yesteryear. I was taken aback and a tad disappointed. I was actually hoping to just explore one big territory and just have new areas load during the cut scenes.
It feels like you do more exploring than fighting. As you make your way to Point B, you’ll wander into some enemy territory, and wolves and goblins and trolls will be waiting to kick your ass. The enemies are such a pain, but in a pretty challenging way thankfully. They never, ever stop attacking. They do not follow the pattern of a bad martial arts movie where enemies wait until their own is beaten to a pulp before launching their own attacks. They will all come at you at once, and they’ll bring their pack leader with them a lot of the time. I had to learn to roll and do parry blocks quite often and I’ve had my ass handed to me a few times, especially in the boss battles.
All of the characters I’ve come across, especially Gabriel, are characters that have undoubtedly seen the Lord of the Rings movies often and are pretty much stock fantasy characters. Gabriel constantly has the look of a trouble, tortured man on his face but is so soft-spoken because all that’s on his mind are vengeance and the love of his (dead) wife Marie. He has a few guardian angels watching over him, like Pan the mythical fawn and, um, Patrick Stewart (I forgot his character’s name. Let’s call him Zardoz!). Stewart actually narrates the story between loading screens and it seems like he’s really into what he’s reading. I remember IGN actually criticizing Stewart’s performance because it was too melodramatic and over-the-top, and I disagree. Okay, MAYBE it’s a bit over-the-top, but I’d rather take fantasy exaggerated narration than him reading his shopping list any day, although I’d love to hear Stewart read his shopping list. One of the more interesting parts of the storytelling is constantly watching Gabriel in motion, slaying these dark beasts while Patrick keeps referring to him as a man obsessed and going down a dark path. One moment in the story had me questioning whether this was one of those stories where Gabriel was actually a villain in a way, but he is a Belmont. I forget if he is actually the first Belmont chronologically, as Lords of Shadow is set some time in the eleventh century. Perhaps something goes down that future Belmonts need to salvage? That would be pretty interesting.
I just read about a glitch in the PlayStation 3 version of Lords of Shadow where loading a save file might lead to said file’s corruption and will erase your game. That sounds fun. I may have a flash drive to back my save up, but I think I’ll put the game on hold until Konami puts out a patch soon. Remember when studios released final versions of their games?