When it was announced that Hideo Kojima and his team, the people behind the popular Metal Gear Solid series would be working on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, I wondered to myself: how is this going to work? Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania are two completely different genres, why did he pick Castlevania as his new project to conquer? While I was pretty excited to play the game, I have to admit I was also a bit hesitant. Did Kojima’s ideas make the game a success, or did it fall short and take the game out of its natural element?
In Lords of Shadow you play Gabriel, a man belonging to a group called “Brotherhood of Light,” who is tormented by the death of his beloved wife, Maria. Because of a dream that leads the brotherhood to believe that Maria holds a message, Gabriel goes on a quest to defeat the “Lords of Shadow” and collect what is needed to fulfill his journey. Along the way, Gabriel will run into various characters that help him along the way, pretty much all of them coming and going. While the story had room to be great, the characters I felt really brought it down. How Zobek (who narrates the story) describes Gabriel, he makes our protagonist seems like a vengeful, hateful man who wants to cause pain to those he feels deserves it. How I found Gabriel to be throughout the game was more of a blank slate with a touch of emo at best. His development just really didn’t seem to be there, and the same thing can be said about the characters he comes across. Zobek and Claudia come and go like the wind, which makes me wonder why they were even thrown into the game in the first place. If they’re going to play a role in the story, why make their appearances so limited? While we do hear a lot from Zobek, Claudia is one I really wish they expanded on, considering her role in the game.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll listen to Zobek give off some story details, after which you’ll find yourself in a town having to fend off some demons as a part of the tutorial that shows off the basics of control. If there is one thing this game does, it makes sure that every button has a purpose, and then some. At first you might find yourself struggling with the mechanics, but after a few tries the button layout shouldn’t be hard to pick up. You learn everything from how to ride golems and use them for attack, to hanging and swinging from hook points. One thing that isn’t hard to miss for those of you who have played or seen footage of God of War will be the action commands that pop up for stunned enemies. While the button sequences in Shadows aren’t too similar to God of War‘s, it’s pretty easy to see where they got their influence from. In fact, God of War doesn’t seem to be the only game that’s played a role in how Lords of Shadow works…another being apparent in the boss battles.
A few of the bosses that you must face are the “Titans,” and how you fight them is very similar to a game you might be aware of. Basically what you do to defeat these giant enemies is climb up their limps and continually beat the weak points that can be found on your way up. Eventually you’ll get to their head area, where their main weak point is, and as before you’ll beat the weakpoint until the giant falls. Sound familiar? Think Shadow of the Colossus. Every other boss in the game is pretty easy to defeat, which is kind of troublesome…at least for the story. While the Titans are prominent in the story to some degree, the actual Lords of Shadow just don’t seem to be all that powerful. I mean, they play a rather huge role in the game, and I had less trouble with them than I did with other enemies. Considering how “grand” the game feels, I was hoping the battles between the main antagonists would pose more of a threat. Maybe the game in general is too over the top and doesn’t leave room for growth?
The general enemies in the game come in various shapes, sizes and strengths, though one “enemy” I don’t quite understand the purpose of is the chupacabra. I would think getting your magic stolen and having to play hide and seek would be more of a separate mini-game than an actual part of the game. Other than that, there’s a great variety of enemies to slaughter with many ways to do the actual slaughtering.
What can be difficult however, are the trials you must go through in order to progress through the game. Too many times have I found myself wanting to chuck my controller through the window because I was too stubborn to unlock the solutions of the puzzles I couldn’t beat. While you do get a good chunk of points for solving puzzles, sometimes they just aren’t worth the effort. If you find yourself following in my footsteps and unlocking the solution, say sayonara to those points. Sometimes it wouldn’t even be the task of figuring them out, but rather the actual act of completing the puzzles that got frustrating.
Another thing the game has going against it is the camera angles. I know Castlevania is notorious for the fixed camera concept, but for a game this physical I would think a fixed camera would be death (and at some points it caused me to die). The camera focuses too much on Gabriel, causing enemies on screen to be hard to follow, or making it difficult when it comes to scaling and climbing walls.
The graphics for Lords of Shadow are flawless, with an insane amount of detail. Little animals such as frogs can be seen roaming around, and the details in the castles and outside environments are so intricate, sometimes I found myself just roaming around wherever I could for the fun of it.
As for how the game runs, it’s very smooth for the most part, though I did experience a pretty bad glitch. During the first run-in with the ghouls, I jumped and landed in a corner, which followed in me doing an infinite jump, with the camera jumping along with me. No matter what I did I couldn’t get out of the glitch, which of course ended with me restarting the game altogether. Luckily the game autosaves, so I pretty much picked up where I left off without any problems.
Even with its hiccups, I did find myself enjoying the game, I think Kojima and his team did a great job lending a hand in the development. The game gives the player a challenge, is lengthy enough (though it might be too lengthy for some) to give the player their money’s worth and is overall just very awesome to play. I definitely felt accomplished at the end of it all. Even though I did get frustrated in some aspects, other things really did make up for the negatives. Of course, there were long cutscenes, some of them having nothing better to do but to show off the graphics, but do you really expect anything less from the never-ending cutscene master himself? I would say if you haven’t picked up the game yet, go do so if you find yourself interested. It will keep you entertained for quite a while, and is a great way to take a break from all the shooters that have been released recently.