Look out Edward Cullen, there's a new Belmont in town
Vampires! Whips! Topless daemonic women who want your blood! and castles of course. Castlevania is back, with everything you'd want in a game ... especially if you are shopping for something that plays pretty much exactly like god of war.
But hey! just because the good folks down at konami and mercury steam don't have the most inspiration, doesn't mean that this game which takes loads of aspects of other games cant be good, and that last bit is important - because this is not a good game, it is a great game. Does it deserve awards for the flashy new gameplay styles it's added? No, but it might deserve a mention about how well they've perfected the good old GOW/Force Unleashed/devil may cry hack and slash gameplay and molded it onto possibly one of the most badass video games ever, taking us all the way back to the day when vampires did in fact suck blood, instead of other vampires off (thank you stephenie meyer).
Firstly I'm just gonna say Castlevania has to change if it is to be played on a modern day console, so let's ignore the fact that it's no longer 2D and break this mother down, and look at it's different aspects:
STORY (no spoilers)
Don't get your hopes up. If you've played castlevania, you'll know the story is never what makes the game great. Not to say it's bad, however you might get somewhat disappointed with the way it progresses. That said, it does finish with an interesting idea which will leave fans pondering as to where the game franchise goes next. Gabriel Belmont is an orphan raised by the order of light, a bunch of ... templars, i guess, whose purpose is to rid earth of evil. Belmont's wife is killed, and he goes on his quest to defeat the lords of shadow (who are causing earth to be overrun with evil monsters) and find the "god mask" to help bring his wife back to him.
Being captain of the enterprise doesn't necessarily mean you have a nice voice - Patrick Stewart is the narrator, and for me at least it got a bit annoying after a while. I would have preferred to hear Michael Caine or something, or even morgan freeman. Aside from that, the voice acting is clearly better than in other games, and it does help you withstand the dire script - basically, don't buy this game because it has patrick stewart and robert carlyle in it. Moving on
Not great. It never is for these games, I don't know why - 90% of the time you wont even notice but then that one bit where you can't see who is attacking you or you want to see more of the beautiful vista in the background comes along and you suddenly hate it. But it doesn't ruin anything
Sadly, vampire killer, bloody tears, clockwork and all the other classic tunes from the original castlevania games are absent, so gameboy nerds like me who enjoyed whipping to the funky retro beats are gonna be disappointed. If you can get over that, the music is genuinely pleasant to listen to, and couples with the environment quite well, but it's nothing too memorable.
Woah! Total bummer so far. Let's get back to why this is a great game
EXCEPTIONAL! Best I've seen on a game like this. Breathtaking vistas, dark ominous caves and castles, crisp, detailed character modeling and this cool effect of snow hitting your screen as Belmont marches along snowy mountainsides. If you are an XBOX man like me, you'll be getting the game on two discs because of the quality of the graphics.
GAMEPLAY (excluding combat)
Clambering over rock faces, swinging from tree to tree over corpse infested swamps, and even riding large beasts to get to places you couldn't otherwise, this game has it all - in fact it's surprisingly diverse for this type of game. There's an almost assassin's creed vibe to parts of this and it fits into the game very well. And of course, I almost forgot - the puzzles! It wouldn't be castlevania without them. They are amusing at times frustrating at others, and there's a direct correlation between how fun they are and how difficult they are in my opinion... Some of them are smooth, challenging and rewarding, and some of them are just frustrating. But puzzles are meant to be challenging, and they are even more rewarding if you figure them out yourself after spending 15 minutes on one.
Whips, magic, knives, holy water.... that spell castlevania to you? This is very much a combo game however, and the magic you get is used to make your combos even more badass. Each direct hit on an enemy feels very satisfying and stringing long deadly attacks together to take out the most tenacious foes is a rewarding experience - it's also quite gruesome - nothing too mortal kombat but explosions of blood and blade-to-brain moments are not few.
Naturally you don't start off a total badass, but as you play through this long game you get more and more XP to purchase cooler and cooler combos and ways to use your bone crippling magic. You can also grab onto foes and take out the smaller ones with one timed hit (the sort of "command on cue" stuff that's appearing more and more in video games).
Castlevania is known for its large range of monsters from all sorts of popular lore and mythology to fight, and lords of shadow doesn't let you down. From Lesser Lycans to Giant spiders and everything in between, the enemies are challenging, satisfying to kill, and continually get more and more interesting. The graphics really help the enemies stand out even more, and the artistic direction makes even something pretty basic like a skeleton look kick @ss. Sticking your stake into a wounded vampire was never so sweet, particularly if you pretend it's Edward Cullen.
The flair of Zelda bosses combined with the fun and brutal combat of god of war make these bosses amazingly fun. There are also LOADS of them. They provide the right level of challenge and keep you on the edge of your seat until you finally kill the basterds with cinematic finishers (As I recall, one monster gets dismembered multiple times before he is decapitated. Or something like that... Basically, cool). Each boss is unique and fun to fight. Remember shadow of the colossus? Even that makes a slight appearance as you clamber over monstrous looming golem things hitting pressure points. Without spoiling anything, if you are not too keen on the first one you fight, wait till you get to the last one. Ohhhhh baby.
If you're into this sort of thing, you'll get your moneys worth. Great character models, designs, awesome looking monsters, and beautiful landscapes pave your way to the lords of shadow. Plus, you can unlock the artwork to the game, which is a cool bonus to look at.
You get your moneys worth - took me about 20 hours, and they were hours well spent killing vampires, fighting enormous monsters, and swinging around on a chain.
Verdict: If you are prepared to dish out for God of War, definately give this a try. You might not like it as much as God of war, but chances are you will enjoy it a lot more than Devil may cry or force unleashed, and right now I cant think of any other similar games but you get the picture.
Heres a quick pros / cons summary
Pros: A long and compelling quest, great, up to date graphics, fun bosses every few levels, diverse enemies, stimulating and rewarding combat, diverse gameplay, and the good old castlevania vibe of bats vamps and whips.
Cons: Patrick Stewart's "lovely" voice cant keep the script alive, maybe too many things borrowed from God of war and other games, weak-ish story, and a camera which occasionally angers you.
I RECOMMEND AT LEAST TRYING THIS GAME