MercurySteam’s, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has to go down as one of the last generations most pleasant surprises. Sure, it was more God of War than traditional, Castlevania, but this was a series that had toiled more than most in making the transition into the third dimension, and when it was announced that the makers of the decidedly average, Clive Barker’s Jericho would be handling development duties, it’s not like expectations were exactly sky high. Against the odds though, MercurySteam delivered what, while perhaps not built in the classic Castlevania template, was certainly the finest 3D Castlevania ever made……and by some margin.
Fast forward a few years and expectations have understandably skyrocketed for the sequel. It might not have been Castlevania as we knew it, but the brutal combat, vast world and gothic surrounding resonated with gamers and I, along with many others have been eagerly anticipating the return of Gabriel Belmont. If Konami and MercurySteam could sort out the pacing and sand off the rough edges, Lords Of Shadow 2 could have pushed the series into genuine triple-A territory. Sadly, while this feels every inch the sequel to the original Lords of Shadow, somewhere down the line, the vision for the sequel became muddled, resulting in a solid, but unquestionably flawed and ultimately disappointing sequel.
It actually all starts rather well – the combat is fluid with the combination of whip, sword and metal claws combining for some simple but solid combo combinations while also serving as the instruments for many of the games’ relatively entertaining environmental puzzles. The upgrade system too, while basic, works just fine and keeps progression ticking along nicely throughout.
Cutting your way through enemies is as fun as it was first time around and the boss battles, of which there are many, are arguably even better. They’re on a huge scale, imaginative and challenging without ever feeling unfair or particularly cheap. Great stuff. The environments too, while a little drab in the modern day setting, have largely been created with an artistic flair and a commitment to creating a cohesive, believable game world. Again, great.
The problem is, while the positives are indeed positive, they are all taken wholesale from the first Lords of Shadow game, while just about everything new has contrived to make Lords of Shadow 2 a considerably weaker experience than its predecessor.
One of the originals’ biggest problems was with its pacing with the game coming in at an unreasonably bloated 20 odd hours. Konami promised a tighter experience this time around…….they lied. Clocking in at around the same length, Lords of Shadow 2 is rife with unnecessary padding and a host of poorly conceived design choices.
The worst of these has to be the stealth sections. They are long, boring, auto fail events that are highly irritating. They have no place in this game whatsoever and are enough to put you off the game for good. Almost as bad are the God awful platforming sections which, while not as rage inducing terrible as the stealth sections, are so easy and so obviously sign posted that their existence is genuinely hard to justify. Yes, the great combat still makes up the majority of the experience, but honestly, these sections are bad…..really, really bad.
Still, at least the game looks great, right? Well, kind of. The art design is still great, but obviously there were budgetary as the fidelity is of a poor standard throughout giving the game a worn in the tooth look (technically anyway). The cut scenes too, while largely entertaining, look decidedly old fashioned and somewhat rough in comparison to the majority of modern day video games. Even the game itself, while often artistically gorgeous, does take a hit in the modern day London setting which, despite its moments, is largely drab and artistically boring.
The voice performances too, while delivered primarily by Patrick Stuart and Robert Carlyle, are phoned in throughout and, despite their place as notable voice actors, inadvertently add to the slightly ‘budget feel’ of the whole experience.
Even the combat, which is mechanically very sound and largely enjoyable, is damaged by a another new addition. In replacing the fixed camera of the original with a player controlled one, you will now find yourself at the whim of off-screen attacks on a painfully regular basis. It’s not too bad at the start of the game, but as your progress and the enemies become significantly tougher, these kind of poor design choices start to turn even the most basic of battles into something of a chore.
When Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is at its best, it’s as good as anything found in the first game. The problem is, not only does it never better the original, but for the most part, it’s unequivocally weaker. The combat is still great and the art design (when not in modern day London) is fantastic, but the free camera, horrible platforming and truly horrendous stealth sections all combine to create a game that feels muddled and poorly conceived. MercurySteam had built a great template with the original, but rather than carefully building upon it, they have inadvertently torn it down.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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