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The perfect boyfriend doesn’t necessarily have to be an obsessive, moody, telepathic vampire with permanent bed-head. He could be a vastly proficient chain-whip wielding defender of holy virtue, and did we mention he comes with long-flowing locks and knowledge of light and dark magic? Ladies, meet Gabriel Belmont, the strapping young hero of CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW (Mercury Stream, Kojima Productions, Konami).
Described as the “end of days,” the story opens in mid-9th century amidst a battle between the Brotherhood of Light, a group of highly trained holy warriors protecting innocent earthly inhabitants from supernatural beasts, and the Lords of Shadow, a demonic force hell-bent on flooding the earth with bloodthirsty, evil monsters. Players walk in the shoes of Gabriel Belmont, a highly combat-adept member of the Brotherhood, as he seeks vengeance for his beloved Marie, brutally murdered at the hands of this devilish horde. Gabriel learns that Marie, along with any recently deceased, is trapped in Limbo, her spirit constrained through a spell cast by the Lords of Shadow. Through a series of spectral encounters, Marie guides Gabriel on his quest to break the spell and rid the world of the Shadow’s malevolent stronghold.
If you can’t tell from this brief plot description (believe me, I wish I could tell more, but there’s too much risk of spoilers), the script has the depth and complexity Kojima Productions (Hideo Kojima, famed producer of the critically acclaimed METAL GEAR series) has now trademarked; and coupled with a powerful script, the solid voice-acting from t he cast really serves up a shining highpoint of the game. Gabriel (voiced by Robert Carlyle of TRAINSPOTTING and STARGATE UNIVERSE) and Marie (voiced by Natascha McElhone of RONIN and CALIFORNICATION) sound painfully believable as a couple torn by death. Sir Patrick Stewart (STAR TREK: TNG, X-MEN) provides the voice of Zobek, Gabriel’s adopted mentor and partner in battle, and also narrates the game in between levels. And everyone’s favorite Hogwarts tormentor, Jason Issacs shows up in a nefariously diabolical role highly befitting of his acting past (can’t say the character – trying to be spoiler free).
The development team has previously stated that LORDS OF SHADOW is a reboot of the CASTLEVANIA franchise, attempting to reach a newer, broader audience (read: fans of GOD OF WAR, SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS, DANTE’S INFERNO). While it doesn’t seem that LORDS OF SHADOW tries to hide any comparisons– the main character is a crusade-like warrior, carrying a weaponized holy cross and fighting otherworldly creatures in divine warfare, all while on the quest to avenge his fallen love –it doesn’t fail where the action counts, and never seems like a “cheap rip-off” of the combat-evolving, button-mashing action-games that the GOD OF WAR series has come to redefine. Likewise, the battles against the Titan bosses (highly reminiscent of SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS) share familiarity not only with game play but also with frustratingly pulse-pounding intensity, beautifully animated AI mechanics, and satisfying reward.
The combat consists of Gabriel throwing daggers (a nice throwback to longtime series fans) and wielding a chain-whip that extends from a cross, all while having magic at his disposal. Much like the previously mentioned titles, Gabriel gains experience that translates to in-game currency used to upgrade his powers. His cross-chain-whip delivers some brutally visceral and blood-splatteringly satisfying death and destruction. Felling larger enemies usually brings about a mini-game, often resulting in Gabriel jamming the cross in a beast’s mouth and releasing a neck-breaking, teeth-removing, blood-gushing final blow.
Gabriel’s journey takes place against a lush, gorgeously rendered backdrop of the expected associated elements of any medieval fantasy journey. From the forest home to Pan and the Lake of Oblivion to the Land of the Lycans and later the Land of the Necromancers, the lengthy time required for each level (LORDS OF SHADOW comes packed with 20+ hours of game-play across two discs) will give gamers a chance to appreciate the environment that looks straight from Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth or Guillermo Del Toro’s underworld of PAN’S LABYRINTH. Kojima Productions really took the Belmont name to a journey of epic proportions, as this might be one of the largest scale action games to date.
While borrowing heavily from popular games of the genre, CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW doesn’t disappoint in the way cheesy clones looking to ride other games; coattails often do. Instead, it gives players an excursion on a grand fantasy scope set in a comfortable environment of controls and game-play mechanics they know and love. If you can get past comparison, LORDS OF SHADOW delivers a great story in beautiful atmosphere, told the only way a story of lost love and vengeance should – through brutal medieval warfare.
CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW is available now from Konami on Sony PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360.
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