By GunstarRed 3 Comments
I'm not going to pretend I'm the biggest Castlevania fan in the world, but I've played enough of them in the past and spend a large enough amount of time whipping my bedroom walls looking for various pieces of meat to say that I really, really like Castlevania. Sure, I'm one of those dedicated few (Crazy people?) that kept on screaming at the internet that if you can make it past the first half of Lords of Shadow it really, really, really is an amazing game, but I'm also a big fan of Super Castlevania IV, Symphony of the Night and the DS games, two of which I played back to back for the first time last year.
For some reason I assumed that Lords of Shadow had done really poorly, when they announced the sequel I was overjoyed at the thought of seeing how the incredible twist ending of the first game would play out. Lords of Shadow 2 was quite possibly one of the top three games I was excited to play this year, and when I started seeing a few of the early review scores with a complaint here and a complaint there about the stealth sequences in the game a few little alarms went off in my head. I find myself often disagreeing with reviewers these days, and I'm far more forgiving of a games faults than most. I can usually see the best parts of even the worst games. I want to point out up front that this isn't some kind of Devil May Cry 2-esque ruiner of lives, but it is one more terrified family-lunch away from exploding into a big, bloody awful mess.
We start the journey strong. Count Begbie is just chilling with a nice cup of neck claret when some irritating intruders bust into his nicely decorated throne room and start trying to kill him. Dracula, The Prince of Darkness or not this is pretty rude. And while I think it's a little severe a punishment for trespassing, I feel like good old Drac has every right to drain these men of their blood. If that wasn't enough of an intrusion these men have brought a giant wooden robot to mess up Dracula's house. Dracula, as confused as I am about what is happening has a strange lapse in sanity and starts questioning himself about what it is to be a man. He doesn't search deep inside all that long for an answer, it's obvious... We are a miserable pile of secrets. I ignore that my eye just twitched and proceeded to watch Dracula blood-sick all over the giant's jewel, forcing a man in some shiny gold god armour (Not to be confused with the fantastic Jackie Chan movie Armour of God.) to start swinging his flamey swords around. The cheek! Not only is a large portion of Dracula's home rubble, now he has to deal with this aggressive, winged man trying to kill him in what is probably the remnants of a stylish banquet hall.
Dracula beats the intruder and as some kind of last attempt to drive him from his home starts chanting some Latin, but Dracula like an overly theatrical, Scottish Jerry Dandrige is all like "You've got to have faith." and starts a monologue about how he is vengeance, he is the night, he is the wind beneath your wings and most importantly that he is Batman. Dracula, like any sane person is all like "If I can't have this house, nobody can" so wipes out an entire army with some kind of bat-based nuclear bomb. Enter Alucard... DUN DUN DUUUN!
It would be easy to get sucked in with an opening as strong as that. Sure, it's a bunch of quick time events, tutorials and cutscenes, and thankfully there is an option to turn off all of the QTE's, but it is incredibly fun. The game immediately thrusts you into a pretty long story recap throwing you forwards into the future that was first seen in the epilogue to the first game. It's hard not having that interview with David Cox talking about wanting Mercury Steam to be the next Naughty Dog stuck in the back of my mind. You can see they have taken inspiration from the in-game world interaction from the mountain village in Uncharted 2, with you shuffling round a small section of the city streets with a homeless lady and a drug dealer only saying their scripted lines when you get within a certain radius of them. I'm a patient person a lot of the time, but I despise the slow, forced walk. I dunno if that's a concept page on the site, but it should be. It isn't enough to make me automatically sharpen my fangs and run to the internet, but it does make those alarms start ringing again.
Then that scene happens. I say that like you're bothered, but the second this game started getting bad reviews nobody seemed to care about its oh-so controversial family murder sequence. I will agree that it is at odds with the rest of the game which strives to make you feel like Dracula glassing a whole pubs worth of the English in the face with a big cheery smile. And it's maybe one of three or four moments in the game where Dracula is made out to be pure evil. For the most part he is filled with sadness and regret at the loss of his family and humanity. Honestly, It plays out exactly as you would imagine a hungry vampire trapped in a room with walking Capri Sun pouches should do. It wasn't a particularly fun sequence, but it's absolutely no different than many scenes from various films and TV, there were episodes of Angel (Another evil murderer you're supposed to root for when he heroically kills demons.) that dealt with similar themes/ideas far more graphically, and I never saw a single complaint about that.
It's hard not to love how committed Patrick Stewart sounds to the role of Zobek. This game isn't consistently good across the board from a voice acting perspective, but Stewart, Robert Carlyle and even Rob Stark along with a handful of other characters get the perfect tone for what I think Castlevania in the year 2014 should sound like. That overly theatrical reading of the lines really helps with some of the better story moments. I'm even willing to forgive how stupid it sounds when Stewart is all like "I've opened a portal for you." I'm not entirely sure why it sounds so off considering he has had to say far more absurd things in both Star Trek and X-Men in the past.
Zobek has a nice shiny suit and wants you to go kill some stuff. This is the set up for a large portion of the game. It wouldn't be so bad if the very first mission didn't want you to use the new stealth mechanics introduced in this game. Is it hard? No. Is it boring, oh god are these sections boring. I really can't see any reason for their inclusion. There is one type of enemy that Dracula is unable to defeat. Gabriel Belmont wasn't even an all powerful vampire lord before he whipped Satan back to hell. By the end of the game you have beaten the largest of Satan's minions, giant beasts with razor sharp claws, rocket launcher wielding mechs, even the deepest darkness within Count Duckula himself, but a single Golgoth guard is too much to handle. You're always reminded that Dracula isn't at full strength in these moments, but that time I juggled two shotgun toting demons in the air doing spins and dashes makes me think someone's telling a little porky pie.
The problem with the brief, but unsatisfying stealth moments is that there is only a singular way to complete them. It's just a case of trying all available options until you stumble across the correct one. That said, most of them are really straightforward and require you to turn into rats or bats. I'm a big fan of the rats in this game, it's a shame it isn't an ability you can use at any time. Although I assume that would have probably broken parts of the game elsewhere. I love the way being a rat has its own jaunty theme. If there was ever a bit of music that made you want to rummage about in other peoples bins, this is it. While I'm talking about the music, Lords of Shadow had the one of the best scores of any game in 2010 and Oscar Araujo continues his high standard of work in this game. There isn't as many memorable pieces, and this seems to have a couple of themes carried over from Mirror of Fate, but this is some damn fine orchestral music. Appropriately grand during action sequences and beautifully tender during the more thoughtful story moments. Although I would like the game far more if the entirety of it had Vampire Killer playing in the background.
There is Last of Us spoilers in the next section.
It's quite hard to talk about this game without sounding like I have a handful of really petty complaints, but the game wants to take away any fun you're having at every turn. Every so often I'd get into a succession of boss battles and arena fights that show off the games biggest strength... its combat. Only to have that fun halted immediately by making me throw daggers at targets with an erratic aiming system or hiding from a lady by dripping blood on the floor, only to whip her to death minutes later when the game deemed it appropriate for me to do so. The first game was full of interesting, throwaway ideas that kept the game fresh from start to finish, these seem designed to make you want to hate the game and ruin any kind of pacing it had built up previously. The biggest offender is the leaf maze guarded by the demon Agreus. (Pan's brother) He's a little upset that you killed his brother and towers over you ready to mess you up, but instead decides that he'd rather you try to hide from him in a maze with dead leaves on the ground. It seems like someone wanted to know what was happening elsewhere in the world of hot new video games and discovered that there's a stealth boss fight between Ellie and David in The Last of Us. Instead of there being a lot of broken plates and glass on the ground there will be dead leaves and if he hears you he's going to immediately find you and stab you to death. This point in the game is where many will just give up. It's frustrating when you're unsure about the best method to beat it, The one hint the game does give you makes the section harder (Although some people swear by using the distraction bells.) They never suggest you should dash and mist over the leaves, the way there are hand holds all over the scenery make that seem like the best way to beat it. After an hour and a half of messing with the bells and shimmying around the environment as the evil Russian skele-goat-man keeps on telling me he smells my fear. I started dashing and using my mist ability out of frustration and ended up finishing it within five minutes.
A minute later Dracula's fear is no longer a problem and you just whip Agreus to death.
It was hard to even have fun after this. I definitely did have some fun during a couple of boss fights, and getting jewels for upgrades was a nice distraction only hindered by the absolute mess of a map screen. Some sections of the map don't allow you to fast travel to certain places and none of the city or castle has a coherent layout. Sometimes mission markers tell you to go one way, but don't explain that you have to travel through time, run through a part of the castle and then jump back to the present to continue your journey. There was more than one occasion where I found myself faced with an arrow pointing one way only for me to enter another area and then have the arrow facing back towards the way I came. Not to mention the barrage of machine gun wielding enemies scattered all over the place in a melee focused game. It's ok when you're fighting one or two of them in an enclosed space, but when there's five of them and the camera is confused by the minuscule space you're in and they're all doing unblockable attacks it is the opposite of fun. Regarding the unblockable attacks, there were moments where I was facing three or more enemies and they were spamming those moves for thirty seconds at a time with no opening. It was a minor annoyance, but there were points where them spamming like that bordered on the ridiculous.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 is possibly one of the most disappointing games of the last few years. It has a lot of the same problems as Darksiders 2. Bigger in scope, but lacking the things that made the original special. There's a Train sequence that's (probably) full of quick time events. I can't help but think about that David Cox interview again. I get the feeling that someone had a checklist of things that Uncharted 2 excelled at which resulted in them trying to shoehorn a train sequence into the game without the excitement or the flair.It has its moments, the combat can at times be excellent and there's a late game twist M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of... it's so good that it doesn't deserve to be in a game of this quality. I'm sure this game will have its passionate supporters, but this time I'm not willing to hop aboard the crazy train. I spent more than enough time on the rubbish stealth train. For every moment that there's a fun boss throwing incredibly dramatic, antagonistic words at me as I whip it in the skull, there's a Jason Isaacs interpretation of Satan which comes across as if he was given a piece of paper in the studio instructing "Do the most video gamey Satan voice possible for a video game ever!" I want to love this game so much, so, so much, but it keeps coming back to that miserable leaf maze.
That leaf maze sucked some of the life out of me.
Thanks for reading. Be Excellent to each other.
Edit - I did try to link this to the LoS 2 page, but it didn't work, sorry.