Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Gloom-tastic gothic-flavoured action time; yup – it’s a new Castlevania. Read on to find out if it’s got any bite.
Lords of Shadow 2 (LoS 2) starts with the main vamp himself in siege-defying action. Playing as Dracula (formerly Gabriel Belmont but we’re not going to go into that) you quickly pick up from the combat tutorial the importance of timing your blocks to parry, catching opponents off-guard and leaving them vulnerable to counterattacks. You also learn the importance of switching between the Void-Sword (regenerates health on impact) and the Chaos Claws (bashes down shielded enemies). Pickling up the game’s combat is generally a hassle-free experience and the weapon and skill upgrade tree is also mercifully uncomplicated, with skills also gaining mastery through usage, encouraging players to mix things up.
Next comes a boss battle against a massive Titan, an epic encounter that first introduces the game’s platforming elements. Jumping from grip to grip, you scamper up the armour of the castle-wrecking hulk, fighting soldiers as you go. If the path ahead is unclear, a quick button-press highlights the most expedient route. It is a grand and enjoyable sequence. And then, because LoS 2 is the 35th game in a series, we get an animated storybook exposition laying out the plot and background detail of the Castlevania universe. Despite being distinctive and stylish this animation does drag on for a bit, as there is a lorry-load of lore to impart to the player.
Then after a nice long couple of centuries nap in the crypt, Dracula is back, this time coaxed from his slumber to face a bigger threat – Satan himself (yup, there’s always a bigger fish!). Set in both modern and ancient worlds, the game evolves into a mix of platforming, stealth (you can turn into a rat to evade capture) and out and out combat. The way the game packages these can feel a bit clunky and it is very much a case of stealth section A links to platforming section B links to combat section C etc, etc with little or no interplay between them.
Where the game really shines is in the areas of graphics and sound design. The graphics, while being unspectacular, are at least convincingly gothic and add a great deal to the creepy atmosphere of the game. And the sound design is impeccable, with the music taking on restraint and sweeping grandeur where necessary, and an excellent voicecast (including Patrick Stewart) adding the required rasp and gravitas to help invest you in the story. When these elements combine you can almost feel the rising damp of whatever dungeon you’re in. It adds to the feel of the game immeasurably.
The only slightly odd misstep is a first-person scene depicting Dracula’s attack on a family. In a game that otherwise relies on atmosphere and tension to raise chills, such a schlocky horror tactic sticks out like a sore thumb. As it’s partly interactive you have to play through the scene and it made me quite uncomfortable. That may well have been the intention, but for what reason? To prove Dracula isn’t a good guy? I probably could have picked that one up myself without the need for a scene I didn’t really want to play.
As mentioned previously, the combat system works well and the player controlled camera works nicely (surely this is a must-have feature for all 3D hack and slash games these days). The dodging and combo set up is effortless to use and has a depth to it that’s there to explore if you really want to bring the style. The problem with LoS 2 is that everything in it has been done before to the same standard or better by other games. It runs like an unimaginative greatest hits album and practically screams “derivative!” at the top of its lungs. From collecting items to extending your healthbar to swinging from chandeliers, the cry of most gamers will be one of “Been there, done that, brought the overpriced T-shirt”.
But to dismiss the game simply because it’s unoriginal would be a tad harsh. There is enjoyment to be had here, with a decent plot and some good, old fashioned platform-based adventuring.
To sum up
If Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t surprising enough to beguile or original enough to stand out, its mixture of tried and tested gameplay and stylishly gloomy visuals could still prove solid entertainment for fans of the genre.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.