I approached the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow booth with the careful reserve that I normally save for pretty women, or rabid animals. I picked up the controller and promised myself we would take it slow; the last 3D outings were painful.
So, hitting start opened the ominous book floating mid-screen, and I began a new chapter in the Castlevania universe.
Gabriel – the hero – approached the rain-drenched town’s wooden gate; his solemn grimace, and the howls of approaching lycanthropes, reassured their fear. The night wasn’t over.
After the cinematic, I was thrust into LoS ‘s new combat system, and like most of the videos you may have seen, it pulls heavily from the 3rd person action adventure standard we have grown accustomed to in God of War and Devil May Cry. It includes character development with new combos and abilities, and it’s effective – flashing the whip around offers gamers a fair amount of power – but the demo doesn’t provide enough to give the combat its own flavor.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The combat works, and that’s more credit than I was willing to give it before I played. The underlying problem is that the Castlevania series has had resounding success with a mixed focus on exploration and RPG element driven combat. Metroidvania if you will. Yet, that aspect of the series is noticeably absent in the demo.
Instead, I was assaulted with closed room combat, and then an on rail horse chase with limited combat. This sequence finds Gabriel on a mysterious horse chased by wargs with werewolf riders. You can attack the rider or the warg, and after dealing enough damage to the warg – after killing the rider – you can press R2 to jump to an FMV and watch Gabriel kill it.
This leads to another arena zone where I had to kill a bunch of enemies to continue. Afterward, the on-rails horse sequence continued, I had to kill another series of the same warg/werewolves, and the demo ended in an epic slow motion jump over an all too long cliff.
As it faded to black, all I could think about was how underwhelmed I felt. There was a noticeable push toward a cohesive narrative – Gabriel is haunted by a loved one it seems – and the game is beautifully gothic, but I find myself with the burning desire to explore.
It’s been proven with Batman: Arkham Asylum that the Metroidvania exploration style is possible – and can be done well – in a 3D environment with a great combat system. However, as I said earlier, that vital aspect of the Castlevania universe was absent.
The combat system is effective, and if they include exploration it will compliment the game well. Without it, LoS may boil down into nothing but another attempt to capitalize on the tried and true action-adventure combat format.