Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

3D Castlevania games have a bad reputation, so to persuade people to buy it, the makers of Lords of Shadow insist that this new 3D Castlevania is a “reboot”. Creatively, this reboot comes in the form of an arch pastiche. There is not one original idea in this entire game. Often the game feels like a parody, the type that makes jokes merely by explicit references to other art works, Scary Movie style. The dialogue is a case in point. Big name actors phone-in choice lines such as “You are the one” and “We are one and the same, you and I”. Certain boss fights are shamelessly stolen from a much better game (Shadow of the Colossus); there’s a child vampire straight out of Anne Rice; goblins and trolls from The Lord of the Rings and so on and on. The only elements that allows it to stand out come from the twentysomething year old Castlevania source, which, seeing as this only became a Castlevania game in mid-development, isn’t saying much.

It’s not all bad, though. When its not getting too new-age pretty, the scenery is very nice. The early levels have definitely been cribbed from Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but this time the appropriation is done well and feels more like the Lord of the Rings of Peter Greenaway’s Water Wrackets than Peter Jackson’s plodding, chromophobic gloom. While I have a soft spot for ancient bogs, ruined castles and the like, there’s no denying that the art style is straight out of the most clichéd high-fantasy schlock. And because of the beefcake heroes, the violence and the general “bigger is better” mentality, the whole thing has the slick, dazzling veneer of the 1980s.

And then there’s the Belmont, wearing what looks like a clay wig on his head. He really doesn’t look good at all; his bulky armour gives him the silhouette of a fat man in a dressing gown. Above all else he’s a bore. I don’t care about him, his quest, his dead wife or his stubble. What might have been more interesting would have been to make Pan the player character. Pan is a variation on the god, taking here the form of a large yak on it’s hind legs. He’s only occasionally in the game, helping Belmont every now and then and transforming into large animals, but I was far more interested in him than the same broody player character from every game ever. He looks more interesting, he’s better designed – his bulkiness is far more convincing – and the concept of a warrior yak sorcerer fighting Dracula sells itself.

Oh yeah, Dracula. He’s in this game isn’t he? Yes and no. Without spoiling it – although anyone who cares enough about the storyline by the end would have to be the kind of person who is impressed by a light switch – the whole game is a prologue to the next one, the real Castlevania game.

Overall, changing the baroque anime style of the Metroidvania 2D platformers was a good idea, but merely swapping it for the same old high fantasy of The Lord of the Rings is a let down. The chain whip “combat cross” thing makes the fighting passably entertaining, but the real enjoyment comes from exploring the environments. The camera is controlled by the game, which is sometimes irritating, but this means that the game can hide things from you, making the discovery of hidden areas all the more satisfying. If you can ignore the “Did somebody order A LARGE HAM?” voice acting, the mind-numbingly unoriginal plot, the unattractive character models and one unforgivably dire Portal reference, then you might want to spend some time with this. It’s probably the best 3D Castlevania game, but a 3D Castlevania minus Castlevania.

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