Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

15 ¶ 360 (also PS3)

There are certain gaming icons that everyone knows, like Mario, Sonic etc. A less well known character is Simon Belmont. Despite not necessarily being a character that many gamers have heard of, never mind the general public, Belmont has appeared in over thirty Castlevania games since his debut in 1986. Not only is he a hero with longevity under his belt, heís also got a handful of world records tucked under there too; in the Gamerís Edition of the Guinness Book of Records the series claims 7 world records including ďMost Games in an Action Adventure SeriesĒ.

This latest outing is, to use the buzz word of the decade, a Ďrebootí for the series. Simon is given a well-deserved rest whilst Gabriel steps out from his shadow. Set in the year 1047, the world is facing the end of days. Gabriel, with his trusty Combat Cross (the Swiss Army knife of the weapons world), sets off on a quest after having his wife murdered by supernatural nasties.

He travels this broken land in search of two masks, which when combined create the God Mask. With it he can wield the power to bring back the dead and therefore bring back his dearly departed missus. But his journey is fraught with danger, with the deadliest creatures out to stop him dead in his tracks.

boom game reviews - Castlevania Lords of Shadow
I've heard about these new Gothic discos but I never imagined one being this much fun!

Where previous adventures have been centred around the hunting of vampires generally and Dracula specifically, the plot of Lords of Shadow goes off in new directions. Thatís not to say that werewolves and vampires play no part, itís just that they donít feature as heavily and do little to drive the new story.

That said, keeping up with what exactly is going on can be a bit of a blur at the best of times. Itís a solid, well-told story, if a little on the convoluted side.

One of the first things that grabs you about Gabe and his adventures is how beautiful everything looks. The second thing is scale. Combine the two and visually Castlevania rocks. It has to be one of the prettiest next gen games to date.

In terms of gameplay itís a bit of a scallywag. Gabriel is the physical embodiment of Assassinís Creedís Ezio, with the agility of Unchartedís Nathan Drake and the killer comboís of God of Warís Kratos. It is therefore the ultimate mongrel amongst pedigrees. But it somehow works as it borrows from the very best.

Thatís not to say it doesnít have its niggles, far from it. The camera angles for instance, have a mind all their own; it doesnít help that on occasion Gabe is running in one direction, and when he crosses a certain threshold, heís running in the exact opposite. Suddenly youíll find that youíre pushing him in the wrong direction without really thinking.

And the game certainly likes its boss battles. Itís not unusual to finish one epic fight, only to be confronted within minutes with another. This wouldnít necessarily be a problem if the bosses werenít so tough. The middle difficulty setting is fine for tackling regular baddies, but seems oddly ramped up for the bosses. Many of them certainly look the part, with a huge physical presence that at first can feel quite intimidating, but as is the case with most boss battles, itís just a matter of learning their weak spots and going hell for leather at them. Just donít expect it to end anytime soon.

Along the way, brooding Gabriel picks up many useful abilities. Not only can he upgrade his handy cross, but he also gets to utilise light and dark magic. Using light magic against enemies can help replenish his health, whilst dark magic can inflict more damage on them. Sadly neither last forever, and need to be topped up on a regular basis.

With the fact that his cross can be upgraded, as well as moves that can be magicked up, there are a huge amount of combos that can be pulled off; not only is trying to remember any number of them tricky though, it does feel like you need to grow an extra digit to help out with the myriad of button combos to pull a lot of the moves off.

But no-one can say that no money has been spent on this title. Not only does it look lush, but theyíve also paid up for some extra luvvie vocal talent. Gabriel is voiced by SGUís Robert Carlyle, whilst Patrick Stewart narrates the story throughout. This acting gravitas serves the game remarkably well and certainly helps to breathe life into this new Castlevania myth.

But for every pound thatís been thrown into the game itís been matched with a more important unit of currency: TLC. The developers have spent a lot of love on this project; Not only is it huge, but a lot of thought has gone into making this title stand out from the crowd. Yes it borrows a lot from other games, but which games donít? It also has a nice balance between puzzling, exploring and battling.

More importantly, for the most part at least and hardcore boss battles aside, itís just fun to play. It takes itself seriously, in a retro gaming kind of way, but then itís part of a franchise thatís rich in gaming history. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in heart.

For 360 owners especially, itís probably the closest theyíll get to playing God of War on their system; it shares its respect for mythology, as well as its grandiose scale.

Not everyone will be happy with this re-boot, but thereís simply no denying that it works amazingly well. Itís a little on the hardcore side, but at least it doesnít make any excuses for it.

If you havenít been down Castlevania way in some time, thereís never been a better time to return for a truly enjoyable adventure.

four out of five