Developer: Mercury Steam
by: Sam "Samoza" Tyler
Talk to any gamer of a certain age about Castlevania and they will tell tales of yesteryear, about a game of Belmonts and Vamyprs. However, since the series heyday of the 90s and early 00s, Castlevania has fallen from the gaming public’s conscience. Konami have decided to hand over the reigns to a European developer called MercurySteam to see if they could breath new life into the callow husk.
Officially, Castlevania: Lord of the Shadows (LotS) is not part of the same cannon as other games in the series. Therefore, MercurySteam have been given certain freedoms to do as they wish without sullying the traditionalists. I won’t pretend to be steeped in the lore of the Vania games, but to the layman, the ideas seem pretty similar – our hero, Gabriel Belmont, must go on a quest to kill a group of supernatural enemies including Werewolves and Vampires (not the sparkly kind… that said, there is some satisfaction to be gained from dicing them up…). However, this time the game is a 3rd person action platformer that borrows from the likes of God of War 3 and Uncharted.
On the surface, Castlevania: LotS is your typical hack ‘n’ slash game that rides on the heel of God of War and fails to live up to the same standards. The basics of the game are very similar to Kratos’ adventures, with the ability to use soft or hard attacks; the sub bosses, the epic enemies, and the copious amount of on-screen button prompts. Whilst many 3rd person action games have cribbed these elements, Castlevania: LotS has also managed to ape the fast action, stellar set pieces and vibrant carnage that mark the best in the genre. As a third person action game it certainly deserves to be mentioned amongst the better entries.
The 360 version of the game comes on two discs due to its various cut scenes and impressive game length (close to 20 hours on first play through). I’m not a fan of intrusive cut scenes that stop the flow of a game, but the extra disc space has allowed MercurySteam to produce moments that flow from gameplay to cut scene almost effortlessly. The level design is also interesting; part Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, part old school Castlevania. The lush jungles, open vistas and creepy gothic architecture looked fantastic, but I’m unsure that I wanted to search every nook and cranny for a hidden key, 1992 style.
Another dicey element to the game is the amount of cod Lord of the Rings dialogue on offer. It is made bearable by quality voice actors including Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Trainspotting) and Patrick Stewart (Excalibur, Dune, some Space TV show). Whilst Carlyle remains solid throughout, I did think that Stewart was given reams and reams of poorly written dialogue that he was obviously bored of reading. Each level has him narrating from what must be the world’s worst written diary – poor to the point of amusement.
Castlevania: Lord of the Shadows has all of the ingredients to be a great game and in many ways it is. The graphics, length and action are all of a very high standard. Unfortunately, it misses one vital ingredient – originality. The game plays almost like a ‘best of’ the genre with segments of Shadow of the Colossus mixing with God of War, Prince of Persia and Uncharted. It is in its own right a very good action platformer that fans of the genre will enjoy immensely. It should also cater for followers of the franchise itself as, although not officially part of the Belmont legacy, it has many familiar elements. Issues with ropey dialogue and old fashioned level design are not enough to make it a poor game, but enough to make it slightly below the much coveted status of Golden Billy!