Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - How Does it Compare to Past Classics?

By Damien McFerran - 07 Oct, 2010

Gabriel is a meaner, moodier Belmont

Gabriel is a meaner, moodier Belmont

Konami's Castlevania is one of those franchises which has so far stubbornly refused to make a smooth transition to the realm of 3D. Established in the days of the 8-bit NES, the vampire-slaying series has a reputation for precise action, atmospheric visuals and hauntingly catchy music, and has seen its proud linage spread across several hardware generations.

However, following the superlative PlayStation outing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, things started to go awry with the home console instalments of the series. The two N64 episodes represented Konami’s first dalliance with three-dimensional vampire killing, and while they were above-average games, they failed to capture the brilliance of the brand and were uniformly derided by fans.

The PlayStation 2 entries - Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness - also stumbled badly, leaving the 2D Game Boy Advance adventures to truly carry the torch for the Belmont clan.

Now Konami is attempting to bring Castlevania bang up to date again, this time with the PS3 and 360 romp Lords of Shadow. Although it’s arguably the most high-profile instalment in the franchise for well over a decade, it has to be said that early omens weren't good. First, Konami fumbled the announcement by insisting that Lords of Shadow was an unrelated game, in a supposed effort to avoid a clash with the abysmal Wii fighter Castlevania Judgment.

Next, it was confirmed that the development team would be Spanish code shop MercurySteam, previously responsible for the stunningly average FPS Clive Barker's Jericho. The third and final point of contention was the involvement of Hideo Kojima, otherwise known as the creator of Metal Gear Solid. This perplexing mish-mash of information created confusion amongst hardcore Castlevania fans, who felt that their beloved series was being watered down for the masses.

Now the game is here and we've had chance to experience it, it’s clear that much of this apprehension is entirely unwarranted. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is most certainly a massive break from tradition, but it unquestionably takes the series to a whole new level of brilliance, while simultaneously including plenty of fan-service for veteran gamers.

The storyline is especially good, although it should be noted that it doesn’t fall within the legendary Castlevania canon complied by series producer Koji Igarashi. This is a reboot, and as such goes to great lengths to forge its own version of Castlevania lore. Gabriel Belmont - voiced by a surly Robert Carlyle - is on a quest to bring his beloved wife back from the dead, and in order to do so he challenges the might of the titular Lords of Shadow. Needless to say, the plot twists, new enemies appear and Belmont’s resolve is tested to its very limit.

Lords of Shadow clearly owes a massive debt to Sony’s God of War, and Gabriel’s Combat Cross - which takes the place of the traditional Belmont “Vampire Killer” whip - operates in a very similar fashion to Kratos’ famous chain blades. Attacks fill the screen with flames, and it’s possible to link together air combos and grapples to well and truly lay the smack down on your hapless opponents.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that had Lords of Shadow lacked the Castlevania branding, few would actually realise that it is part of the series. It’s strikingly dissimilar, mixing together elements from the aforementioned God of War, Shadow of the Colossus and even Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth.

However, for all its differences, there are times when it’s clear that the developers are attempting to call to mind some of the most epic entries in the Castlevania saga. The Combat Cross and its grappling ability evoke memories of Super Castlevania IV, and there are several mentions of key characters from previous instalments. You’ll also get to use seminal Castlevania weapons such as Holy Water and throwing knives. Heck, even the legendary Konami code works in the game.

Even dedicated Castlevania fans will admit that the franchise needed a massive kick up the arse in order to remain relevant; it’s all very well hoping for an endless production line of hand-drawn 2D Metroidvanias, but that particular brand of game is commercially unappealing at present, and Konami has to keep its shareholders happy in order to remain in business.

With that in mind, Lords of Shadow is possibly the best possible way the publisher could have updated the series. The gothic setting and incredible action will draw in new fans, while the delicious fan service and high production values will ensure that old-school players take an interest, too.

In short, Lords of Shadow has surprised us. It’s a far, far better game than we ever dared wished for, and marks MercurySteam out as a developer to keep an eye on. Hopefully Konami’s experiment will work, and Lords of Shadow will find favour in the global sales charts, because it certainly deserves to - just as the proud Castlevania name deserves to thrust once more into the public eye.

Jaz's Sheep - 18 Oct 2010, 15:46 GMT

great feature lads!

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