Sunday, May 12, 2013

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review

I wanted to get the game when it launched, unfortunately I got distracted and went off the radar until I got it for cheap recently. I must say, wow, why didn't we hear a lot about this game? From the reviews it made it sound like an average game, but is much better than the recognition it got. This game is a wet dream for someone who is a huge fan of Dark Gothic architecture flanked by sweeping vistas stretching all the way into heaven; haunting soundtrack along with everything else which resonates with Dark Fantasy.

Lord of Shadow is a reboot of the Castlevania franchise according to I never played previous Castlevania games, I know shame on me, so going into the game I had no idea what Castlevania is all about other than a gothic dark fantasy game. I heard many complain that Lords of Shadow is more like God of War than Castlevania, which might be true but then again I never played the classic games so I cannot draw comparison, nor does it matter as long as it is a good game. So, is it a good game? Lets find out.

You play as Gabriel Belmont, one of the young knights of the Brotherhood of Light. A group of knights sworn to protect the world from any supernatural threat that  casts darkness to the land. Something strange happened, the darkness tipped over the scale of balance and opened the floodgates to abundance of creatures from the knightmares to enter the world and cause massacre everywhere. Among them, Gabriel's wife was a victim. Fueled by rage, righteousness and sorrow; Gabriel sets out on an impossible quest to bring back order to this world.

The game is developed by a Spanish studio called Mercury Games, leading the development was Dave Cox and the mastermind behind the Metal Gear Solid series, Hideo Kojima.

Before we dive into the review, let us talk about understand the differences between fantasy games. There are mainly of two types and are vastly different from each other.

There is high fantasy and then there is dark fantasy. The key to dark fantasy is all about subtle nudges towards beauty as well as something that is mysterious. The whole portrait comes out as something which is ....  very unsettling. Your mind can't decide whether the thing you're looking at is beautiful or something you should be afraid of. The form of communication is also another pillar of dark fantasy. The dialogue between characters tend to be less, however the dialog between the player and the environment take the center stage. It is through the environment the players can deduce the story behind the place and the world around it. So it is very tricky to pull off dark fantasy. If you end up throwing in a lot of magic, myth, creatures and craft a world with the most epic architectures imaginable...even though those are some of the staples of dark fantasy, it looses all the subtle things I mentioned and comes comes out flat. What happens is it tries to say too many things at the same time, and not the right things at the right time, so in the process the whole narration suffers greatly and becomes a mess. The team at Mercury Studios under the guidance of Kojima, aced the feel and look of their dark fantasy world, 2nd only to From Software's Dark Souls, which I think is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow's greatest accomplishment.

Lords of Shadow plays to the ambience most of the time, like the screeching of batmans in a cave or being greeted to shivering howl of werewolves as you enter a dark forest. During these moments the music is nowhere to be found as the environmental sound takes front row and center and creates the mood and sort of warning for the dangers lurking ahead.Then suddenly, the music swirls in and sends shockwaves down the spine...Lords of Shadow sits  at the very top among among all the video games and movies with incredible music that feeds into the very fabric of the atmosphere like a vampire.

At first glance the combat may appear a straight up hack and slash, like the one in God of War series, the very nature of the game itself; first glances can be deceiving. As you will very soon realize that playing like God of War will drastically cut your adventure time and drag you under the dirt. God of war series values attack and urges players to overpower their opponents to victory. However, Gabriel is not a fallen god like Kratos, he has his limitations. That is why LOS believes a strong defence is the key to surviving an encounter and hence eventually, come out as the victor. With that notion, combat is tend to be more slower paced, lengthier and tactical affair where patience see you to the end instead of heroism. The game even has a focus system that encourages defence. Basically the less hits you take which means when you dodge, block or counter more, the meter fills up and can be used to absorb orbs from the enemies which you can spend on either healing yourself or making your attacks more devastating.

Lord of Shadow would have been much better experience if it had a good camera. The static camera sometimes swings wildly, or getting distracted to something else over our hero. I died a few times because I felt I got betrayed by the camera. There are some platforming sections in the game, and some require a degree of precision which is beyond the tuning of the controls in the game, and makes platforming unnecessarily frustrating. I also felt the game

Overall, it is a stunning experience for me playing the game. I honestly enjoyed playing the game more than any of the God of War games to date, that includes Ascension. Do yourself a favor, forget the reviews for a second and get this game.

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