Castlevania? Not so much. Great action game? Definitely.
Let's get this out of the way first. I've played almost every Castlevania game out there including the staples like Symphony of the Night and Super Castlevania IV along with some DS titles, the 3D ps2 titles, and the NES games. If you come into this game expecting a true Castlevania feel, but in a 3D world, you will be sorely dissappointed. However, if you come into this game looking for a great action adventure game with a cool story and mythology, then you'll be well rewarded.
Story- This is the story of Gabriel Belmont. An orphan found on the Brotherhood of Light's steps, he took on the name Belmont when he was older meaning that he is the very first one compared to others like Simon from Castlevania II. You find him as a broken man in the beginning of the game with his wife recently deceased and the world in turmoil, evil running rampant. Gabriel belongs to an organization named the Brotherhood of Light which basically tries to stop evil. Since his wife just died, the Brotherhood of Light sends him on a journey to talk to his dead wife and figure out whats going on. The story is rather compelling and is told between narration by the unparalleled Patrick Stewart and normal cutscenes. The voiceacting is well done from across the board and helps bring the characters to life. Make sure to stay tuned after the credits for a truly mindbending twist that shows some real promise for future sequels, also.
Graphics- This game is absolutely stunning. From a technology standpoint, everything looks pretty nice with good textures and a solid framerate, but its artistically where this game shines. Going through this adventure, you will basically see three different art styles. The first third of the game is a mythical forest/ lost city that has overgrown vegetation and intricately detailed ruins. The second third is set in gigantic castle covered in snow and ice. The last third takes place in more traditional, hellish landscapes. The nice part of this is how much of a range there is. It really shows how much thought they put into the artistic direction of this game and your jaw will drop when you see some of the setpieces and more impressive environments. The character and monster models also look fantastic with Gabriel, the main character, being the real standout of the bunch. A big problem I have with the game, however, is how stiff Gabriel's animations are. His run animation is so horrible that I ended up walking through much of the game because I just couldn't stand looking at him run.
Gameplay- Like many third person action adventure games these days, the gameplay is split up into three parts: combat, platforming/traversal, and puzzles. First comes the combat. It's basically God of War. The only real difference is that the square button is direct attacks that cause more damage, while the triangle button is area attacks that cause less damage, but are good for crowd control. Where the combat becomes interesting is in the use of magic and focus. There are two types of magic boiling down to light which heals Gabriel every time he hits an enemy. The other type is dark magic which causes more damage to enemies. You can refill this magic by collecting orbs which can be surprisingly difficult to come by. Luckily, you have a focus meter. If you dodge, block, and use varied attacks then this meter will fill and your enemies will drop orbs to refill your magic. This risk/reward idea works really well and always keeps you on your feet. The puzzles and platforming are both much simpler, but they are designed rather well. You'll be platforming around some truly awe-inspiring setpieces and Shadow of the Collussus style bosses which are very fun. The puzzles can get pretty crazy later in the game, but never frustrating allowing you to opt out of any with the press of a button.
Game Setup/Design- This game is long. I clocked in at 17 hours and 24 minutes on the game clock. There are 46 different levels and after you complete each one there are challenges that are unlocked for the level along with a new difficulty level after you beat the game once. There are also Metroid style collectables in earlier levels that you'll have to come back to get with later on abilities. This is one of the few single player, linear games that I can say is worth the full asking price because of the amount of conten you get.
My Take- Okay, you have the hard facts about the game, but how fun is it? Well, for me, I had extreme amounts of fun with this game. I really loved the mythology in the game and I wanted to keep playing just to see what the next environment was. All the different gameplay elements hold up throughout the game and its just an overall fun game. One of the major complaints I have about the game, though, is that it has Castlevania in the title. If this game was simply called "Lords of Shadow", I would be so much more comfortable with saying this game is great. While it has the very basic mythology of a Castlevania game, none of the traditional gameplay comes over from the 2D titles. There is only one fun reference having to do with a music box late in the game, also. Are you telling me that I couldn't have one candle to hit or some meat in the wall that I could eat for some health? I love this game, but why it has to be associated with Castlevania is beyond me. As far as a game goes, this is an easy 4.5/5. As far as a Castlevania 3D interpretation goes, this game is a 3/5.