I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve never played a Castlevania game before. However, after having given Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a bloody good go, I’m definitely on board with it now. I’ve always been well aware of the franchise’s existence, but it wasn’t until now that it managed to reel me in using Patrick Stewart’s voice as a tantalizing lure, along with having Hideo Kojima oversee the entire project. As a fan of Metal Gear Solid because of it‘s story, Star Trek: The Next Generation because of Patrick Stewart (yes, really) and anything mythical, I just knew I’d love this game.
The Castlevania series dates back to 1986, and the main reason it’s taken 24 years to gain my attention, is because it was tragically undersold to me by friends. I once asked somebody what it was like and the response was “it’s a side scrolling dungeon thing, and some guy with a whip.” That doesn’t sound like much and I was actually picturing Indiana Jones as soon as I heard the word whip, but if I’d have dug a little deeper and realised that it had vampires, werewolves and all manner of unusual beasts, I might have been more intrigued. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indiana Jones but I don’t love cheap and obvious movie rip offs. Thankfully, that’s not what this is and it’s not even comparable. (Stupid, inaccurate friends!)
This game is epic, and not what I expected at all. Immediately after finishing the first chapter you’re introduced to the concept of God having abandoned the world, and it’s your job to save humanity. You play as Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, and he wishes to avenge the murder of his beloved wife Marie, while trying to ascertain the reason for God‘s suspected desertion. The whole story takes place on a much grander scale than I had anticipated, which surprised me due to the word “castle” being in the title. Speaking of which, a good portion of the game doesn’t take place in dingy, cobweb filled castles at all and how it manages to make a place called the “Dead Bog” look like somewhere you’d want to spend your holidays is beyond me. (Mind you, thinking about it logically I do rather like toads.) The game’s environments are stunning and crisp, even on a 42” television, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The level of detail used here has to be seen to be believed, as it’s just so incredibly beautiful from start to finish.
The first chapter acts as basic tutorial for the game, and introduces you to the fighting system. It’s pretty much; opening scene, short narrative, lycan in your face! The fighting system will definitely appeal to Hack ‘n’ Slash fans, but it’s not as repetitive as you might think. The protagonist has quite a few powerful moves at his disposal, and is fairly adept at both light and dark magic. Along with unlocking skills, the use of occasional QTEs help to keep the combat feeling rather fresh and the latest weapon upgrade can really give you the edge, literally. To be honest, judging by the size of the in game bosses the more pointy and deadly your weapons are, the better. Fighting isn’t the only aspect the game has to offer though, as it also contains a few basic puzzle elements. They are few and far between however, and aren’t exactly taxing.
The game is split into twelve chapters based around a particular region, and each one of these contains several sub chapters. Upon completing an area you unlock trials for it, and have the option to repeat a play through of the zone whenever you’d like. This enables you to acquire any missed items and power ups, or to just spend some time collecting experience points. If and when you decide to backtrack, any upgrades and items you earned via natural progression will travel along with you, making earlier areas easier to traverse. For example, if you had to pass up a chest on the last chapter because it was inaccessible, going back to the area after having levelled up your skills and equipment should aid you in reaching it. Gabriel is very versatile though, and he’s able to run, jump, swing, climb, mount giant spiders and repeatedly fall to his death from great heights; Thank you checkpoints, I love you!
Menus within the game are minimal, and everything you need is contained within the pages of a book. Here you can buy skills, check out the bestiary and character pages, take a gander at the map, view unlockbles or trials and fiddle with your weapons. It’s extremely easy to navigate, and during loading screens it acts as a book should and helps flesh out the story, while being narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart.
I really wouldn’t want to spoil Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for anybody, so there’s only so much I can say about it. The whole game looks unbelievable, it plays smoothly, the combat is satisfying, the soundtrack is incredibly dramatic and the story grips you instantly and takes you on an emotional journey full of twists and turns. I can’t praise it enough, and I’m starting to regret having never played the others. Thankfully however, my massive lack of knowledge regarding the franchise wasn’t a burden, and didn’t make the whole experience any less enjoyable. Actually, there’s a fair bit of enjoyment to be had too, as the game offers a lot in the way of longevity. I already feel the need to repeat several of the game’s areas to finish trials or search for items, and this is likely to be quite time consuming. Anyway, must dash. There’s a Troll in my dungeon, and I need to show him who’s boss.
- 5 Stars!
“It’s fun, breathtaking, epic and absolutely gorgeous.”