7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
, October 29, 2010
This review is from: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Playstation 3 (Video Game)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the current installment in Konami's revered and lauded gothic slash-em-up. I can't think of anything else to put in an introduction to this review - you play the Hero, another tortured Johnny Deadwife type, and you must stop the forces of darkness, and have a variety of weapons and techniques, some upgradeable, to assist you in this task. Blah blah blah.
Since Castlevania 64, a Nintendo 64-exclusive in 1999, the series has attempted to break away from its traditional side-scrolling format with various degrees of success. While Castlevania: LOS does nothing unusual in its move to full-on 360 3D, particularly by today's adventure gaming standards, has the series managed to break free of the criticisms leveled at previous 3D installments of the franchise?
There's better available for all platforms, so please don't buy this one expecting the usual Konami attention to detail. Environments and environmental effects are gorgeous, but as with most multi-platform releases, the bump mapping is turned up way too high, giving everything in the game world, particularly hair and fabric, a sort of plastic action figure look. Gabriel's wig is kind of ridiculous-looking, and Marie's head is modeled way out of proportion. Zobek could be lifted from any game, anywhere, anytime, and the creatures in the earlier levels are extremely generic, and unvaried. Facial animation just plain sucks - particularly when compared to the brilliant "Enslaved - Odyssey To The West", which I bought on the same day. Admittedly, things begin to look up by the time Gabriel fights the Ice Giant at the end of the first section of the game, and in the later stages, the level design improves a lot, which is a relief - but in terms of visuals, Castlevania: LOS is not the world-beater it needed to be.
Can you say generic? None of the usual Castlevania flair is evident in the game's soundtrack, and the A-List voices of Robert Carlyle, Natasha McElhone and Sir Patrick Stewart cannot help lift a tired, pretentious, Ye Olde Fakey Gothicy script past the mundane. The music is dull at all points of the game. At best, the sound design in Castlevania: LOS is functional. At worst, it's just plain boring.
There's nothing immediately wrong with the gameplay engine in Castlevania: LOS, but it will take you an hour or so before you realize why you're feeling so dissatisfied: this game plays like any other adventure game, just not as fluidly.
There's nothing wrong with the game engine, per se - Gabriel moves and responds well enough, and - surprise surprise - there are some visibility issues with the fixed perspective camera, it's not enough to hamper the gameplay in a significant way. You collect experience to upgrade weapons and there are plenty of secret scrolls, health and magic upgrades to occupy your time when the screen is clear of baddies. So far, so usual.
What kills Castlevania: LOS in the gameplay stakes is the stunning lack of identity in the game's engine, and the fact that the fixed perspective camera strips away any sense of real exploration of the game world. As you pass out of one camera perspective and into the next, the game effectively creates a series of "rooms" to explore. These rooms flick from one to the next with no thought given to how the level "flows", and several levels consist of many sequences of empty "rooms", so you dash through them only to find the level is over and you're another 5% done with the game.
Castlevania: LOS has no identity to call its own. Gabriel fights like Kratos and moves like Batman, but lacks the freedom of movement of either of these characters to really be impressive. What he does within the game's limitations, he does well, but compare Castlevania: LOS to any of the God Of War games, and the similarities will be striking, but the comparisons unfavorable.
You can revisit old levels with newer power-ups and claim chests, artifacts and the usual adventure game ephemera, but beyond this there is little reason to come back to this software once complete. "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and "inFamous" are games that I go back to over and over again, for the sheer joy of playing an excellently engineered game in a beautiful setting. You won't want to do that with Castlevania: LOS. It's just not interesting enough.
It's high time the Castlevania series went back to the gameplay-rich, exploration-heavy 2D games of old, and left the 3D shenanigans to more suitable protagonists. Creativity and gameplay excellence have gone out the window here, discarded in favor of impressive lighting effects and lazy scripting. Rent this first, and if you like it, wait for a pre-owned copy before committing to buy. While Castlevania: LOS does nothing very wrong, it does nothing very right, either, and it's in this mediocrity that the heritage of an excellent series of games is totally lost.
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