GAME NAME: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): February 28th, 2014
You may have read, it was quite a while back, what I thought of preview code of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. So, hopefully without repeating myself, or suing myself for plagiarism – I wonder who would win that case – read on and see what old Gabriel is up to.
Time has passed, and the medieval world of the previous game has been replaced with a modern city built on the bones of Dracula’s castle. Skyscrapers lined with black marble interiors replace old ramparts, the grounds of the keep replaced with busy streets and the dungeons are now the foundations of the sewer system. The gist of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is that evil has grown with the times, however, and is hiding in plain sight in large corporations, working furiously towards their goal: Their goal is to summon Satan into the world. Now you must regain your lost powers and build up your strength if you hope to stand a chance.
Gabriel is a tortured individual; his memories and even his own blood working against him. Pools of blood swallow up whoever they can, turning them into monstrosities that want to kill you to keep you trapped in your castle, which seems to exist in another dimension or plane. The curse in your veins, the centuries of ire, fury, regret and loathing have been made manifest here, attempting to hinder you at every turn. The lore you collect, through diaries of fallen soldiers of the light, to entries on your abilities under the lore section of the menu, paints an amazing picture with a wealth of entries and extra artworks. Sadly, all of that can be skipped, meaning most players will not understand the aching chill of the Void Sword, or the raging heat of the Chaos Claws.
Through these trials and tribulations, Gabriel regains the powers that he lost when he was defeated and left for dead so many years ago. It was only around 12 hours in that I started really feeling like a badass, killing bosses with cinematic flair. A lot of his strength is tied to his mental condition and his guilt about his family, and the game pays a lot of attention to these familial connections, with a hefty helping of symbolism and metaphysical imagery throughout his castle.
It is in this world that the graphics shine through. The drab, modern day city gives way to a magnificent castle, with rivers of lava, imposing towers and hosts of statues, stained glass and magnificent masonry. It’s here, in this unnatural realm, that things feel most alive. It’s also here that most of the important character interaction takes place, allowing MercurySteam to show off their animation prowess. From the Chupacabras’ dance or his idle animation of picking his nose and eating it, through to the Silent Hill-esque movements of the gorgons, a lot of effort has been put into making characters come to life. This level of detail was also afforded to the combat, which is fluid and graceful, even though often hidden by spell effects and gushes of blood. Movements never cancel one another, and there are no dead frames as Gabriel tears into his enemies.
Unfortunately, a less than perfect camera detracts from the experience MercurySteam were trying to convey. Nevertheless, the game can be forgiven for its wonky camera, which manages to zoom in almost every time I engaged in melee combat with several enemies trying to surround me. It can also be forgiven for overly simplified stealth sections, with only a single approach possible and little room for error. Hell, you can even overlook the fact that when you are a rat, every plank, brick and other random detritus is oddly impassable. This is exacerbated because you are often crawling around in abandoned, dilapidated buildings that look like they have just survived an airstrike. However, I cannot forgive a game for including a mechanic just to use it once, nor for making a player struggle through something without any logical reason to do so. Add those two failings together into a single encounter and you have the most infuriating pre-boss event in the whole game.
What am I on about you ask? The circumstances are these: You have to use stealth to get through a small garden maze, avoiding the big bad, who is tracking you. The floors are covered in piles of noisy leaves, meaning you need to either jump over them or clamber around the edges of raised gardens. Stay still for too long and the enemy will find your scent. Get spotted in the open and he will run at you. Touch the leaves and he will jog towards the noise. Getting caught deals some damage to you, before you teleport to the beginning of the garden, ready to try sneak by again. A few scattered bells on the walls can be hit to lure your opponent away, but there aren’t that many of them. After a dozen or so botched attempts, I finally found the ‘correct’ path through the maze to reach the next area. At which point you go toe to toe with the big bad you had just been playing cat and mouse with. There is no revelation, no help from the outside, just a change of location and now you are ready for a fight, meaning that stupid section you just failed so many times was absolutely pointless. Seriously, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 could have done without this entire event.
The world is a lot more open than the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, thanks to you no longer needing to replay chapters if you are missing a secret. The world map details how many secrets you have collected in each area, out of the total number you can currently reach with your powers. This is brilliant as you won’t hang around looking for 10 more treasures when only one of them was available at this point in the game. Moving from one area to another is made easier thanks to several map rooms, which allow you to teleport from one map room to another. This is helpful if you really don’t want to go through that one section again right now or if you remember something from near the beginning of the game. You can also open the menu and change the objective to map room, store or the portals that allow travel between the modern world and your castle.
Get ready to do a lot of exploring, as the game is full of collectibles. From shards that increase your health and mana bars, to unlocking challenges, artworks and lore, there is a lot to be done. To help this along, the game allows you to continue playing once you are finished the main story. Or you could start a New Game + on Prince of Darkness difficulty, if you are so inclined. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 took me 20 hours to finish, though my playthrough of the 10 hours I had previewed before took considerably less time to finish the second time around. According to the game, which tracks collectibles, weapon skill mastery and the like, I have finished 61% of the game. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is by no means the next ‘must-have’ action-adventure title, but it is still an enjoyable romp through the city as the ever badass Dracula, even if it takes him a while to remember how much of a badass vampire lord he really is.