Third person action games aren’t a rarity this generation, having already been treated to the hack and slash delights of Dante’s Inferno, Bayonetta and, of course, God of War III in the last twelve months. It looks like MercurySteam (with Kojima in tow) fancied a slice of the action, so to speak, and have chosen to change their normally two dimensional Castlevania series into three, echoing the very best of the genre staples above in the process.
Indeed, by the end of the game’s first chapter, itself split over five levels, you’ll have destroyed a few dozen deathly denizens of Hell, scaled walls the likes of Lara Croft would have been proud of and climbed (and defeated) an icy Titan the size of a Colossus. Yes, a Colossus. Lords of Shadow is nothing if not a mish mash of almost every great third person title we’ve played recently, and as yet we’re still to see the usual Castlevania furnishings of an old musty castle and a row of chandeliers.
Which is a good thing, because although lead character Gabriel Belmont looks and leaps the way we’re accustomed to, his surroudings are very different – the opening, rain drenched courtyard soon makes way for dense jungle, ancient ruins and, after a meeting with the mythical Pan himself, a rather cold encounter on a frozen lake. All this is just an opening, the game teasing its way towards the inevitable whilst setting up the basis of the storyline in the process.
With Belmont’s slain wife trapped in limbo, and the earth godless and desperate, the exposition looks likely to play with gothic sensibilities whilst opening up the series to a fair amount of pseudo religious undertones; and the visuals certainly match the atmosphere – the graphics engine at play is capable of switching from dark and dank to light and lush in an instant ensuring that both hardcore Castlevania fans and those fresh to the series find plenty to relate to.
Lords of Shadow is a stunningly beautiful game, too, the fixed camera affording some breathtaking vistas and set pieces but also managing to show off detail and emotion up close. Textures are sharp and the colour depth in places is staggering, rivaling anything else in the genre. The cut-scenes that pepper the action show off the graphics the best, as you’d expect, but it’s fair to say that – in places – Castlevania approaches Naughty Dog levels of brilliance.
The controls, familiar to anyone who’s used to quick and heavy attacks, fit nicely with other games of the ilk, with the left trigger used for dodge, the right to grab and (we’re sampling the Xbox 360 version here) B to use secondary weapons, such as Belmont’s daggers. Experience points, gained in combat, are used to unlock the game’s additional combos and moves, and the starting weapon, a cross, can be upgraded during the game too, along with the usual health boosters.
Despite MercurySteam effectively building Lords of Shadow from the best bits of lots of other games, it still manages to have its own sense of identity, especially with the environments seen so far – it also looks like there’s one hell of a game to get through in terms of size, and with each level offering up a percentage score at the end completists will get the most out it. With great visuals and familiar controls, those looking for another Kratos-like adventure will be well served here.
We’ll have the full review as soon as possible.