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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Gene Park's picture

The Half-Hearted Dracula

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Screenshot

HIGH The combat system once all the moves are unlocked.

LOW The first several hours.

WTF Gabriel Belmont's neck is bigger than his head.

Industry pundits often compare the ability to progress in a video game to literacy. If the comparison rings true, then Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is like reading a 600-page novel that only becomes a treat after the first 250 pages.

I compare this game to a lengthy novel because the game is about 20 hours long, a large time commitment that is no sin by itself. However, the first six to eight hours of Lords of Shadow are slow and unfocused, and could be better spent by reading a book, or watching two or three great films. Taking six to eight hours before things "get good" is unforgivable in any other medium, and it should be in video games as well.

Much of the lethargic beginning plays like a doting tutorial, introducing new mechanics and reminding players of old ones by detailing which action button to push. It's a similar problem that plagued the recent Final Fantasy XIII, another high-profile game that took forever for the sum of its parts to click. I surmise the purpose in both is to massage new players into a long-running series while trying to satisfy its built-in audience, but the solution offered is inelegant.

Beyond the button-reminders, Lords of Shadow's first several hours are littered with disparate types of gameplay which oftentimes take inspiration from older, greater games. For example, there are two superfluous magical horse rides that fail to evoke the intensity of God of War II's Pegasus flight. The much-advertised Titan fights rely on quick-time button presses and pre-determined paths via ledges. Instead of the dynamic experiences we were blessed with in Shadow of the Colossus, these encounters come across as rote drudgeries. Worse, all the mechanics I've just mentioned are thrown out almost as quickly as they're introduced.

The game's length is arbitrarily extended even further by having hero Gabriel Belmont frequently sidetracked by silly plot-driven happenstances. Eyes may roll at the contrived mechanic of finding a crank to use for door-opening levers or when the ground crumbles away to dump the player into ancient catacombs, but just wait until the half-dozen werewolves show up time and again to impede progress. Much of the game is conveniently inconvenient.

After slogging through the first several hours, Lords of Shadow finally allows the player to open up more moves, and the fights begin to feel fluid and dynamic. On the other hand, the melee formula isn't quite so simple. At one point, the game introduces "light" and "shadow" magic meters that give attacks healing or damaging properties. Dual meter management is not conducive to drawing new players in, and offers nothing meaningful to the combat system. Despite the dual meters, this combat system is probably the game's highlight. In fact, I would venture to say that it bests even God of War's chain-blade combat. The animation is top notch, and several of Belmont's moves can be linked to devastating effect.

What does all this mean? Basically, once the complete range of mechanics are introduced and the player is given full rein over Belmont's abilities, the title finally blossoms.

For a time-rich audience, I can see Lords of Shadow being well worth the investment. The story may be fairly insipid (something about Belmont's dead wife and cleansing the land of darkness) but there are some great setpieces and rewarding puzzles to help swallow it down. However, this game badly needed someone to tighten the pace. As enjoyable as the second half was, I can't in good conscience offer a full recommendation for something that felt as unproductive as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow did for that first six to eight hours. Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PlayStation 3. Approximately 20 hours of play was devoted to the game, and it was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, the game features blood and gore, nudity and violence. It has plenty of all of the above, and is not recommended for children.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Dialogue is subtitled, and there are no audio cues necessary to complete the game. A music-based puzzle late in the game generously showcases the notes being played on the screen, to alert the player on musical cues.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Developer(s): MercurySteam  
Key Creator(s): Hideo Kojima  
Publisher: Konami  
Series: Castlevania  
Genre(s): Super Powers  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Great review, Gene. I just

Great review, Gene. I just finished the game Tuesday night and was getting ready to write about it as well.

I'd not score the game as highly as you did, but that's just a personal preference thing. I came away from the experience very bitter about most of it -- as it's another shining example of why Konami shouldn't even bother trying to make 3D Castlevania games.

I've only played the demo

I've only played the demo and watched a few videos of this, but - along this review - the impression is certainly that the story isn't doing much in LoS. That's a shame because I'm even then more unwilling to put-up with 5-8 hours of drudgery, even if it ultimately leads to proposed GoW-beating combat.

What I will say is that the game's presentation of sound and visuals is absolutely incredible. I would definitely highlight it as a game that shows the capabilities of current consoles, so it's a shame you didn't say anything about that. I know it's more about content and how fun the game ultimately is, but I do still think games should gain a nod of appreciation when such effort is put into the aesthetic side, especially when it appears to be both artistically and technically proficient (a rarity in most big-budget games).

One of the areas where my

One of the areas where my opinion differs from Gene's is in that statement about the combat. I don't think LoS' combat beats GoW on any level. Hell, I don't think it's better than Dante's Inferno. I found LoS' combat at best sufficient -- but there were many instances where it didn't satisfy me at all. Part of that is attributable to an absolutely fucking awful camera system (that allows enemies to attack you from offscreen -- always fun!), but most of it highlights the main problem with everything in this game: it tries to copy all these things that work in other games, but it never bothers spending time to figure out *why* it worked in the first place. The combat wants to be GoW-esque, and on the surface, it looks like it is -- but it's never even remotely as satisfying.

Mike, wow you would've

Mike, wow you would've scored it lower? I had a pretty decent time toward the end. The final boss was a disappointment though. The sequel-bait ending even more so.

Crofto, the visuals actually left me unimpressed. Although pretty, the tech didn't impress me because everything is very linear, with invisible walls galore. I've been more taken with details in "Red Dead Redemption," or even the physics in "Uncharted 2" another linear game. WIth Castlevania, I still thought GoW3 looked better, and was more inventive with its visual tricks. Nothing in Castlevania struck me as hard as Kratos' fight with Poseidon in GoW3's first half hour.

In terms of design, it just felt really Euro-bland. Although I did quite enjoy Pan's look.

I do want to mention the music though, which I didn't like at first, but after hearing the soundtrack more, I started to appreciate.

I just started chapter 4, so

I just started chapter 4, so I'm exactly in these first 6-8 hours and I must say, I'm having a real good time wir LoS. If these are the worst of the game, I'm really looking forward to what's still waiting for me. The story isn't great, in fact it's the weakest part of the whole package so far and I can't really remember anything of it besides the basic facts (I set LoS aside some 4 weeks ago and have invested the little time I have for gaming at the moment in Demon's Souls), but here I don't really care. When I followed LoS before release, I was barely interested.

But what convinced me to buy LoS were reviewers writing about a) the great combat and b) the art desing, not only the graphics quality. And on those levels, it succeeds. Combat is challenging but fair. And it's getting better and better, the more moves you know. These are some of the best fights I've had on a console ever. Well, except the Titans, which are not that great, merely okay. But I do enjoy every battle in LoS. I would rate combat on the same level as God of War, too.

On to the Graphics. Not only is the quality great, the art desings is as well. There aren't many games which have so beautyful places, such great vistas. Graphics are usually not my primary concern in gaming, but LoS is almost worth playing for all this beauty alone, I think. I would love to take some (rather, many) screens, frame them and put them on the wall.

To make a long story short, I can't see where the first hours are bad, but to each his own. And if you set your priorities on storytelling, yeah, LoS doesn't hold up well. But having GoW quality combat and some of the most beautyful graphics would, at least for me, make it a recommendation and place it far above merely mediocre. And that's, in my case, judging by the first few hours.

I had a different opinion on Castlevania...

I have to admit that Castlevania was one of my biggest disappointments of the year. This review and others indicate that the game improves as you progress - I'd actually argue the opposite.

The moves you unlock are consistently pointless, the enemy's combat intelligence never rises above that of a freshly unearthed turnip and most of the battles feel like wars of attrition more than anything else. Enemies are damage sponges, often extending boring QTE cutscenes just because... well, God of War did, didn't it?

The puzzles are uninspired, the platforming can be imprecise, the story's a yawnsome trudgefest and my personal 'favourite' section was where the game decided that holding down the right trigger was no longer a viable way to pull a switch. I had to look up a guide because the basic controls changed on me - it turns out that in one section of the game (the clock tower) you have to tap the right trigger and then let it go or Belmont will refuse operate the lever.

Awful design. I'm aware that some people seem to really enjoy this game, but for the life of me I can't see why. I can't help but feel I should have bailed on it during the search for the dark crystals where your companion 'helpfully' reminds you what you're searching for every two seconds or so.

Just finished off res and CV

Just finished off res and CV a few days ago so here are my rants.

Res is such a safe game it goes from an average of 5 to a 4 just because its that's bland, sure you can call it a Gears of war clone it's not so much hurt be copying its themes of monologue by non of the main charatcers for the main narrative, enemy coming from the ground,ect,ect,ect, a bit of mutant biological and hitech,ect,ect,ect but it just comes off being aseptic and placid the more you play it, kinda like Damnation only without the wired levels and more weapons to kill things with(why dose the hail strom only have 150 ammo? It should have 500 Gdmanit!!!!).

I do like health system you get 5 health bars and can rege3nerate only a health bar that has health in it otherwise it put me to sleep more than once.

Average gamer(through zippys eyes) :7-8

Zippy score: 4 to 5.

Now for Castelvina Lords of shadow….. ung I do not know where to start with the assumption that changing the theme from anime/ European to realism infested/ European changes the default mechanics of Castlevina sure this game is a God of war clone with smaller levels BUT the last 2 games had pretty bad level design as well, sure they were more open but still pretty blocky and bland.

And that is one of the 3 pillars to castlevina level design, fighting mechanic and pacing of skills/items. From the stand point of the current CV games CV is a action adventure game that is platform game inspired but you can see other games evolving the genre like Metroid prime or Zelda. Its my opinion that CV should be done on the same scale as Zelda and not a generic action game of the month type of thing. You take the scale of Zelda ad palce a CV world within that not trying to place a CV world into God of war.

But back to the game at hand its story is essentially Lament of Innocence the 2nd attempt at a 3D console CV game only with more plot development and a bigger twist or 2 along the way. Sure it might be "better" but I had more fun in the more generic "of Sorrow"(aria and dawn were good to ok the rest not so much) 2D generic fantasy games they called Castlvina and they were pretty bad but seriously I had more fun in Soylent Comando despite its major issues and fail of a story.

Still I can barely give it a 5 there is a dissonance between gamepaly and story/plot(coughcoughholy coughcoughwatercoughcough) sometimes the controls cannot change camera angels sometimes blocking is off he should have twice as many daggers make the werewolfs regenerate faster to offset it maybe, how about toss a enemy in a direction you press…. Also the enemy AI is so cheap with unblockable attacks… they should show up one in 10 not one in 3…. And only bosses and sub bosses should have them…. Unleash there is a real charge for it.

Combat is not bad a tiny bit more sloppy than GOW and once in a combo it should be hard to be knocked out of it.....

Still the worst thing is the level design they are even tighter and on the rails than God of wars and you can only use the whip for grabbing a hook only when the game wants to even when you can see the damn thing….. *sigh* I'd like to a cross between Castlvina 64 and LOI/COD with a heavy Zelda design/mechanic influence in it but line Capcom they are much too cheap to do that…..

Average gamer(through zippys eyes) :8-9(shudders if this is a 9 we have fallen so far so fast..)

Zippy score: 5 to 6.

"Acceptable" length

I would actually argue tons of "classic" literature only "gets good" after hundreds of pages. And certainly some movies have a slow burn that climaxes in a stunning ending. Not that Castlevania: LoS is necessarily a classic, but saying that it is "unforgivable" to have a slowly paced game is a little presumptuous. You are of course free to mark it down for bad pacing, it's your review after all, but if it's a (for example) 25 hour game and over 18 hours of it are good, that's not an awful ratio. If a 50 episode show had 12 bad episodes and the rest were good, wasn't it a good show overall? I just get the feeling Gamecritics is overly dismissive of long-form works as if video games are an audition or a screenplay pitch. They aren't, and demanding the very best moments right at the beginning just produces God of War, where the first level is the best part and the rest is just let down by comparison.

I could write a very long

I could write a very long defense of the game, but I realize so much of it comes down to personal tastes, so I won't bother.

The one thing I did want to defend though is its combat. I thought it was stellar. Dark magic was only useful as a last resort, but having to string together several successful attacks to build up your "focus meter" and regain light magic -- the only way to replenish your health mid boss battle -- was brilliant. Certainly a better solution that GoW's arbitrarily placed health chests, and it ensured that you could always get back into the fight even if you hit a checkpoint with a sliver of health and no magic.

I also found the controls a lot tighter than GoW and Dante's Inferno. Being able to block and dodge mid-combo was hugely important and missing in those other games.

What made me really fall in love with the combat was how much it changed without making it obvious. For example, there was a boss battle I died at repeatedly until I realized countering was infinitely more useful than dodging. All of a sudden the combat morphed from GoW to Punch-Out!! as I stood toe to toe with the boss having only to attack and block as necessary (which was still hard).

I don't want to sound like I hated GoW or DI -- I actually liked both -- but I just found LoS's combat infinitely better than either.

As for everything else, I generally liked it. While I didn't hate the start as much as Gene here, it was pretty underwhelming for the first third, but ace after that.

Jeffrey Matulef wrote: I

Jeffrey Matulef wrote:

I could write a very long defense of the game, but I realize so much of it comes down to personal tastes, so I won't bother.

The one thing I did want to defend though is its combat. I thought it was stellar. Dark magic was only useful as a last resort, but having to string together several successful attacks to build up your "focus meter" and regain light magic -- the only way to replenish your health mid boss battle -- was brilliant. Certainly a better solution that GoW's arbitrarily placed health chests, and it ensured that you could always get back into the fight even if you hit a checkpoint with a sliver of health and no magic.

I also found the controls a lot tighter than GoW and Dante's Inferno. Being able to block and dodge mid-combo was hugely important and missing in those other games.

What made me really fall in love with the combat was how much it changed without making it obvious. For example, there was a boss battle I died at repeatedly until I realized countering was infinitely more useful than dodging. All of a sudden the combat morphed from GoW to Punch-Out!! as I stood toe to toe with the boss having only to attack and block as necessary (which was still hard).

I don't want to sound like I hated GoW or DI -- I actually liked both -- but I just found LoS's combat infinitely better than either.

As for everything else, I generally liked it. While I didn't hate the start as much as Gene here, it was pretty underwhelming for the first third, but ace after that.

No GOW is alot tighter and smoother in combat, LOS is a bit unintuitive and loose I do like the longer time frame for counters but combat is annoying when you try to advance to do multi combos in a row without being hit and the spamming of unblockable attacks is just unfun.

Also half the higher level normal monsters and mid bosses are harder than the bosses.

Yeah, I would have scored it

Yeah, I would have scored it lower. I'm a longtime CV fan and the game left me disappointed and unhappy. I think it's pretty, but it doesn't really feel like Castlevania at all, the combat never felt as refined as it should have been, and the whole thing just comes across like a soulless attempt to graft gameplay elements from other popular franchises onto this game. Easily my biggest disappointment of the year.

You make a good argument,

You make a good argument, except that classic literature that doesn't get good til the later parts usually has good writing at the beginning. LoS not only didn't have good writing, but as I already said, disparate gameplay components that did not add up to something greater by the end. Slow-burning good literature does reward you later, but that's because of the investment into character and scene setting you made earlier. I had no such feeling with Castlevania.

I do not think I was overly dismissive. I gave the game a 5.5, which is better than middling. I thought less than half the game was good, so I docked less than half the points allowed for a review on this site, which is, of course, 10.

Bought this game yesterday,

Bought this game yesterday, and have so far played a couple of hours. I'm really enjoying it so far, so if it only get's better from where I am, I'm really looking forward to the next fifteen-or-so hours.

It doesn't feel like a Castlevania game, but I certainly wouldn't mark it lower based on this.

Anyway, good review... I look forward to seeing where I agree with you and where I don't, Gene.

My opinion on Castlevania

To be honest the combat in Castlevania is excellent. Like Jeffrey said there are so many moves at your disposal, and as the game progresses you are sometimes forced to improvise and for example improve your blocking. The light and shadow magic work excellent, and they are both very powerful if used wisely.

The enemies you face are challenging, if you play bad you will go down, if you play well you can dodge, block at the right time. If you execute a combo on an enemy, the enemy will either be overwhelmed or the enemy takes a few hits and attacks you while you are performing your combo. Yes annoying when your combo is interrupted but the best thing is that you can exit a combo at any time with a block or a dodge. You learn all those things as you progress. Guys it is really better than God of War 3. So many different moves are useful in Castlevania, while in God of War I was focusing on only a couple of moves.

Overall I would say the music, the graphics were consistent and very good, although it would have been fun to be more blown away every now and then. For example I was so excited when I was at the Castle at chapters 5-8, and while it wasn`t bad, it wasn`t amazing either. I was really hoping for some spectacular enemies and scenes in those chapters...

The Story was reasonable, I just hoped it would have become more interesting towards the middle and the ending of the game, but that just didn`t happen.

So yea while playing Castlevania it really felt like you were on an adventure, do you guys agree? Like I said before I was only hoping for some amazing things to happen during the course of the game, but that just didn`t happen as much as I hoped.

Overall I rate this game at 89/100. A very fun game, I couldn`t stop playing most of the time. If only the story was more interesting, with a couple more cutscenes and characters, and the Castle was more like the old Castlevania`s then I probably would have given it a 96/100.

A good try

Daan wrote:

To be honest the combat in Castlevania is excellent. Like Jeffrey said there are so many moves at your disposal, and as the game progresses you are sometimes forced to improvise and for example improve your blocking. The light and shadow magic work excellent, and they are both very powerful if used wisely.

The enemies you face are challenging, if you play bad you will go down, if you play well you can dodge, block at the right time. If you execute a combo on an enemy, the enemy will either be overwhelmed or the enemy takes a few hits and attacks you while you are performing your combo. Yes annoying when your combo is interrupted but the best thing is that you can exit a combo at any time with a block or a dodge. You learn all those things as you progress. Guys it is really better than God of War 3. So many different moves are useful in Castlevania, while in God of War I was focusing on only a couple of moves.

Overall I would say the music, the graphics were consistent and very good, although it would have been fun to be more blown away every now and then. For example I was so excited when I was at the Castle at chapters 5-8, and while it wasn`t bad, it wasn`t amazing either. I was really hoping for some spectacular enemies and scenes in those chapters...

The Story was reasonable, I just hoped it would have become more interesting towards the middle and the ending of the game, but that just didn`t happen.

So yea while playing Castlevania it really felt like you were on an adventure, do you guys agree? Like I said before I was only hoping for some amazing things to happen during the course of the game, but that just didn`t happen as much as I hoped.

Overall I rate this game at 89/100. A very fun game, I couldn`t stop playing most of the time. If only the story was more interesting, with a couple more cutscenes and characters, and the Castle was more like the old Castlevania`s then I probably would have given it a 96/100.

Its a good try but all in all its more 69 than 89, why? levels are to small, combat is good but not good enough story issues,level issues, secondary weaopn issues meh is just meh. It goes through the motions but comes off on the same levels of LOI and COD, tho at times the story was fresh and neat, but I think they tried to hard to over simply something that needs to be a zelda scale action RPG not a lite action RPG like GOW.

LoS criticism needs explaining

First of all sorry about my English.

Second, obviously you didn't like the game. Fair enough. But when reading your -often outlandish- arguments on game's features I couldn't get out of my mind the strong feeling you were looking for reasons to present your dislike to us instead of simply think about the game merits and demerits. Said otherwise, most of your statements have a 95% of opinion and a poor 5% of analysis. Just a few examples:

1.- You say " the first six to eight hours of Lords of Shadow are slow and unfocused".

Fine, but why? As a reader interested in your article I want to know why. I'm not interested at all in what you personally may find slow or unfocused, but I want to know your reasons why you make such statement. Sadly, your article fails miserably to give us any reason about this. I don't think you even try it, honestly.

2.- You talk about a "superfluous magical horse rides that fail to evoke the intensity of God of War II's Pegasus flight".

Sorry but this is telling me nothing on why that section of the game is bad. It is just your opinion, and again, you reviewers should understand once and for all, we people are not interested in your mere opinion. If you were Miyamoto I would be interested, but this is not the case. We want you elaborate, we want you explain things, and finally we want to get informed and entertained by what you do.

3.- More of the same: "Eyes may roll at the contrived mechanic of finding a crank".

Ok, but why is it contrived? Can you please explain it? I know it's your opinion, but you are supposedly writing this for people that does NOT necessarily share or appreciate your opinion so we need much more to understand your position.

4.- About colossi, you say "Instead of the dynamic experiences we were blessed with in Shadow of the Colossus, these encounters come across as rote drudgeries."

This argument is as ridiculous as if I say GTA is shit because it doesn't feature the driving finesse of Gran Turismo. Obviously Castlevania LoS is not exclusively about colossi and these encounters never try to clumsily imitate Shadow of the Colossus which is exclusively built around that mechanic. It is ignorant and unfair to make that comparison.

And if you dislike colossi in LOS, then just explain to us why! Analyzing by comparisons is dead easy, generic and repetitive. Sure it saves you from having to really think and go deep about games features; sure it makes easier and quicker to write down an article because you just need to find the convenient comparisons. But it is about time we gamers get quality articles about gaming, don't you think?

I could continue but you would have to suffer my terrible writing in English even further. To sum up, your opinion is fine, your analysis is terrible, bland, demagogic and pretty much useless for anyone looking for reasonable input about Castlevania LoS.

I personally don't share at all your opinion, for me LoS is one of best adventure games I have ever played, a real delicatessen. And I was interested to know why you rated this game so poorly. Now, after reading your article I keep being as confused as I was.

LOS is very tried and repetitive

Meh LOS is a very tried and repetitive title; its mechanics are not so well polished; its narrative is middling to expected; the camera is just annoying; and I can say the same about Dante's Inferno and God of War III. These games have no soul and are just mostly "existing" in a sate of high production values rendering no substance at all.

Game Starts at a Trot, by the end it Gallops

I agree that this game does take a while to get really since it is really slow in handing out abilities. But this is because of the length of the game something which should have been a little shorter in my opinion.
In my experience of it the enemies did not use cheap tactics or attack off-screen as many have complained.
To set a an issue straight the "Unblockable attack Spam" is only triggered by continously attacking a blocking enemy which you deserve if you do since you are not harming them in any way, and the battle would last for eternity overwise.
all and all this is a decent game which, although derivitive is great at setting up great moments but never quite succeeds in being epic in a way which rivals GoW. This is seen in almost every boss fight. a great example is the titan's. You would expect them to explode, or produce similar effects upon death. However they just fall to bits, with no satifiying visual or aural rewards.
This game seems to be trying to find out what it is by imitating others and by the end has found its footing.
It does not deserve such a low score, something around an 8 would be appropiate
Can't wait to see the next game as this has a LOT of potential if Mercurysteam learns from Lords of Shadow mistakes

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