Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Contemporary Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

    When I saw Castlevania: Lords of Shadow at E3 last year I couldn't care less. It was being developed by some no-name studio out in Spain with enough minimal involvement from the famous (if controversial) Hideo Kojima so that his name can be on the box. I didn't become interested until this years TGS. The trailer showed a Castlevania III-esque journey with the quality of narrative I would expect from a game with the name “Kojima” it. After watching the trailer I thought that this game might be a positive future for the series. Castlevania has lived under the shadow of it's great success for the past decade (Symphony of the night). I wasn't expecting this to be a success story on par with Metroid Prime but I certainly thought it would fare better than what happened to Silent Hill (I get angry just thinking about it).

 Unfortunately it turns out that's Castlevania Lords of Shadow has as much substance as a rich chocolate cake courtesy of aperture science.(In layman's terms completely hollow)

For example that story had such a good feeling about, I can explain all of it in one sentence: beat up some big bads to collect the pieces of a magical doodad to revive your dead love interest/fix everything. Only the middle portion of the game feels like Castlevania and that's because you happen to be in a castle inhabited by vampires. Every character in this game including its hero is concerned about one thing, and I mean only one thing; furthering the plot. I mean that in the most robotic way possible every single character either doesn't have the time or can't be bothered to emote. There's Too Much about the Script in this game for me to complain about here it is my new poster boy for bad writing in video games.

While Lords of Shadow borrows some good ideas from “Devil May Cry” and “Ninja Gaiden” it lacks the strengths of either game. Instead it inherits all the weaknesses of God of War.  The game opens up with a variety of ways to attack but if you try to play aggressively, like in Devil May Cry, you will fail. This is because there is no such thing as “hit stun” in Lords of Shadow unless of course you are getting hit. And against big groups of weaker enemies there not even needed, it's faster just to grab every individual enemy. You even unlock the ability to grab at range early in the game!  The only attempt to “address” this problem is phasing out smaller enemies for bigger ones who can block. The only way to beat them is to play defensively, like Ninja Gaiden. except the time it takes to kill them is within the range of “soon” and “when it's done”. If you somehow fail the QuickTime event that enemy will heal itself and you have to fight even longer. This applies to boss battles to accept you HAVE to do there QuickTime events. (One boss recovered half his life gauge because I failed the QuickTime event after the fight.) And sometimes the camera is pulled so far out I might as well be playing Starcraft.

There only two things Lords of Shadow is truly good at: looking pretty and stalling for time. While the environments look really good even the aforementioned castle only feels like Castlevania by coincidence. Because it just happens to be, you know, a big imposing Gothic castle that's inhabited by vampires and other monsters. The rest of the environments feel like you're made by artists who spend their entire lives up to this point playing Diablo while listening to Lord of the Rings audio books. (The enemy design also reflects this.) The enchanted Forest and ancient ruins especially feel like they been pulled from a canceled game. 

And on the topic of stalling for time, there is no excuse to have no less than three levels that amount to collecting keys to open a door, to play hide and seek with a little gremlin creature because it stole my magical toy things, regular enemies with enough hit points count as med boss, pointless puzzles that can be solved through trial and error, insultingly easy puzzles that take longer than needed because something important was hidden and puzzles that involve the use of an ability that is never explained.

 While past attempts at making a Castlevania game in 3-D were far worse than this game they have the saving grace of a wonderful musical score by  Michiru Yamane, Lords of Shadow does not. Since Ms. Yamane no longer works at Konami what we get instead is generic Hollywood background noise. The only music from the game I can recall is a music box rendition of “vampire killer”. Otherwise I think I heard some violins and trumpets at certain points.

Lords of Shadow is ultimately guilty of one inexcusable thing: everything I do is to fulfill a preset script. There will always be only one way to climb up/around an obstacle and even when you are fighting sometimes you will be required to do a Quick Time event (a staple of slothful game design). I progress through the game because I guess what the developer wanted me to do rather than finding a solution to a problem.Worse yet I've been penalized for even slightly deviating from this script. You better pass a QuickTime event at the end of any boss fight or be prepared to suffer close to half of the fight over again.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow is supposed to be the start of a new castle being a series. This new series is showing about as much promise as the future of Silent Hill.

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