Game Info:

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Publisher: Konami
Developer: MercurySteam / Kojima Productions
Released: October 5, 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Nudity, Violence
Available on: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
MSRP: $57 new, $48 used


Note: What follows are my impressions of the game based on my experience with the publicly available game demo. I make no promises that my impressions from the demo would be consistent with my thoughts on the full version of the game. That being said, I hope that this first impression will give you some kind of idea of what to expect in the full game.

It was a dark and stormy night. The woods were rife with a dense fog. Never seen in days past, an enormous and haunting castle appeared. Great evil rested within. A young man of the Belmont family, equipped with little more than a whip, set out to purge this evil from the land.

If you've ever played a Castlevania game, this should be a familiar story to you. In honesty, I'm pretty sure that's the groundwork for at least half of the games in the series. Lords of Shadow feels little different at first. Once again, you are cast in the role of a Belmont with a whip-like weapon and out to dispatch a host of supernatural evils. At least, it may seem like just another Castlevania when written that way.

In reality, though, Lords of Shadow does not feel like just another Castlevania. In fact, despite the similarity in the setting (which appears to only be a part of the setting rather than the entirety of the premise), this feels nothing like the Castlevania games I've known.

For starters, this Castlevania was made with the assistance of Hideo Kojima, famed producer of the Metal Gear franchise. The result is obvious as even the demo of Lords of Shadow is highly cinematic in design. The game world oozes with atmosphere. The storytelling takes its time in order to achieve an optimal dramatic vibe.

Though little can be told of the protagonist in my short experience, it is clear that Gabriel Belmont is a driven man. His wife has been murdered, and he seeks to bring her back from the dead. This is intriguing since he is a knight in an apparently revered holy order.

The game is set in the 11th century, in a land where, as the narrator (voiced by Patrick Stewart) says, "God's influence is thin and threadbare, where the older gods still have their way." For those concerned, I'm gonna jump the gun here and say that the supernatural elements of Lords of Shadow will be outside many of your comfort zones.

All the same, I am very impressed with what I have seen of the world that has been crafted. The playable portion of the demo begins in a small village under attack by lycans (werewolves) and wargs (really big wolves). Not only does the little village have a great medieval feel, it looks fantastic.

Without doubt, Lords of Shadow is one of the most visually impressive games I have seen. The sheer level of detail in the character models and structures is exceptional. The world brims with light and life, even in the presence of darkness and death. The lighting effects cause everything to shimmer and shine. Animations flow with grace. Even in the heat of battle, the action never slows. I think I even got distracted from the gameplay by the game's beauty; that sort of thing never happens to me. Yes, this is a very impressive game to see, and I highly recommend watching a video or ten if you want to get the full effect.

Oh, and there's the part about this being an action game, too. This is not exactly the run of the mill for Castlevania. Most of the games in the series have been heavily exploration-oriented. Based on the demo and what I have seen elsewhere, the exploration elements have been reduced. Instead, the game looks to be far more focused on action-packed battles and emotionally-charged narratives.

Being a serious fan of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, with its huge amounts of exploration and working back through old paths to find new secrets, I have been wary of this possible shift in game design. Having now experienced it, I'm not so bothered by it. The game still very much feels like Castlevania.

And yet the battle feels very much like God of War. Usually, I don't compare games like that, but it really can't be helped here. You attack constantly with your whip in various patterns, taking down foe after foe, dodging when a big strike is about to hit you. While not exactly an original action design, the controls are tight and feel good.

Overall, I am very impressed with Lords of Shadow at this point, and I look forward to when I can get my hands on the full game and review it. That said, it definitely doesn't look to be for the faint of heart. Violence and darkness abound. I saw nothing satanic in the demo, but there definitely looks to be a variety of dark supernatural things going on in the full game. I don't recall any particularly gruesome acts of violence, though some enemies, for lack of a better expression, seem to burst into a bit of blood (similar to how enemies died in previous Castlevania games, only in 3D and high definition now). Though nothing sexual is in the demo, immodest dresses and nude beasts (such as harpies) are not strangers to the series.

No, the game definitely does not look to be for everyone, but it does look to get a great deal of things right in rebooting the franchise. Keep your eyes open for a full review as soon as I can get it to you.

-Kenny "Kendrik" Yeager



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