Wednesday, May 04, 2011

30 Minute Playtest: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

I know, I should have reviewed this months ago.In the midst of the Gamerscore Challenge, however, while trying to pick up a constant drip feed of points, a two disc game with frustrated movie director Hideo Kojima onboard as executive producer didn’t sound like it would be short, sweet and satisfying, so I put it aside.

Now it may just be that I’ve been feasting on short, sweet and satisfying rather too much lately, but by comparison Castlevania: Lords of Shadow seems incredibly long winded. Patrick Stewart pops up every now and again to read some typically pointless videogame narration, while the game itself stops for cutscenes with astonishing frequency, although surprisingly for a game with Kojima’s name on it, they are at least brief. So, when you’re not listening to the dialogue equivalent of Laura Ashley wallpaper (florid, overwrought but strangely bland) or watching a cutscene the demonstrates the next yard of terrain, what do you get?

Fortunately, you get fast and fluid combat with plenty of combos and an array of extras including grapple moves and ranged weapons. You also get some climbing, jumping, rope-swinging platform sections, a few puzzles and some magical combat buffs. It’s great fun, but laughably familiar-there’s not a hint of subtlety in its cribbing. The combat is straight out of God of War, the ledge-hopping is like a titless Tomb Raider and the magic system comes from Dante’s Inferno.

All those imitations are literally dwarfed by the inclusion of Titans (rumour has it there will be three of them, but in our half hour we’ve only met the one so far). An enormous stony knight emerges from a frozen lake, adorned with handy ledges, grapple points and glowing weak spots. Which is nice, because I’ve been wanting to have a go at ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ for ages.

Ordinarily, a game so filled with egregious rip-offs (by which I mean they’ve been so blatant as to copy the ‘feel’ as well as the ideas themselves) would be subjected to some merciless mickey taking, but in the case of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, I’m inclined to turn a blind eye to it. The game bolts its pilfered elements together seamlessly: the combat is as fluid and enjoyable as it was in God of War, and the ledge-hopping captures the look and feel of Tomb Raider whilst being marginally less prone to fixed camera facepalm frustrations.

On top of that, it looks gorgeous. There are varied environments rendered in effulgent colours with bags of detail. Honestly, I’ve never before looked at spider-infested forest littered with the corpses of dead Knights and thought ‘Gorgeous’ before, but in C:LoS I wanted to build a holiday home in one.

There are gentle stabs at the traditional Metroidvania style retraversing, and of course you’re wielding a crucifix-whip, but in the end it’s easier to talk about Lords of Shadow in the context of the other franchises that it feels like, rather than the Castlevania
franchise it’s supposed to be rebooting. That crippling lack of a personality of its own is why Castlevania doesn’t sink its teeth into you-it doesn’t call you back every time you put the controller down, but it’s still enough fun that I’ll be carrying on for a long while yet.