Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review (PS3)

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Lords-of-Shadow-2-logo-white-backDeveloper: MercurySteam
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3
Price: $60/£35/€50

MercurySteam and Konami return with the highly anticipated end to the Lords of Shadow trilogy: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. But does the Price of Darkness return with a bite, or will Lords of Shadows 2 forever shuffle through the dank halls of Castle Mediocrity? Read on to find out.

STORY
The 35th Episode of The Simpsons, titled “Blood Feud”, sees Bart Simpson donate blood to a dying Mr. Burns. The Simpsons receive no reward and thus Homer writes an angry letter to Mr. Burns. At the end of the episode The Simpsons receive a gargantuan, ornamental Olmec head. Unsure as to the true moral of the story, Homer concludes that there was no moral and exclaims the following:

“It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

Watching Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s credits roll, thoughts of Homer’s wise words come to mind. There’s many things that can be said about MercurySteam’s latest stab at the classic videogame series, all of which can be crudely summarised as “just a bunch of stuff that happened”.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins with a visually interesting yet unengaging tutorial which sees paladin-turned-vampire Gabriel “Dracula” Belmont defeat an army of The Brotherhood of Light. In the clash, the majority of Dracula’s castle is destroyed with Dracula himself presumably defeated – that is until he wakes up many centuries later in a modern day city built upon the ruins of his castle.

Dracula is then told by Patrick Stewart to investigate a pharmaceutical company, which Dracula does until he wakes up again in the past, back inside his castle, where he is literally stalked by his own blood. Many other unexplained events similar to this to occur over the course of many hours until Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 finally and unsatisfactorily ends.

“It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

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GAMEPLAY
Despite a wealth of possible sources of inspiration from previous Castlevania games, as well as the constructive criticisms gained from the first Lords of Shadow, MercurySteam have taken the path of least resistance and created a generic, third person action game with shallow combat, QTE ridden bosses, unnecessary stealth sections and a whole lot of running about.

Near the game’s start players are told by Patrick Stewart that Dracula’s long slumber has left him devoid of his former strength and power. This overused and unsurprising “twist” – if it can even be called that – makes the once mighty Dracula easy pickings for even the weakest enemies. Take too many hits from any enemy’s small array of blockable, unblockable and projectile attacks, and Dracula will be killed, despite his supposed immortality.

Players only have access to a single, default weapon at first, with two more magic fuelled weapons being acquired later. Players of the original Lords of Shadow will immediately recognise the vast majority of purchasable skills for these three weapons and will also know that the majority of them are pointless. Simply mash the the two melee buttons for long enough, dodging when appropriate, and most enemies will fall to Dracula’s visually appealing barrage of flashy attacks without even offering an opportunity for the flashier moves to be used.

As is evident with the combat mechanics, most, if not all, of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s gameplay has been designed with only visual flair. Between fights players are asked to direct Dracula across pre-defined footholds – ignoring the many, many knee-high, invisible barriers – as he climbs across huge, dilapidated bridges, snow swept castle spires and eerie industry installations in scenes that look fantastic in trailers, but are a chore to actually play through. Equally banal are the unnecessary stealth sections which arbitrarily remove Dracula’s ability to attack, forcing players to simply go along with MercurySteam’s delusions that context sensitive possession spells and running around as a rat makes for a cool videogame.

But just to make sure that any potential for player free thinking is eradicated, MercurySteam have littered Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 with annoying on-screen “tips”, visual cues and short cut scenes that exist purely to show players where to go or what to do. This ridiculous level of hand holding is borderline insulting and devolves each of the game’s “puzzle” sections into nothing more than a race to find whatever shiny yellow thing will unlock the next door.

GRAPHICS
From the description above, you’d be forgiven for thinking Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 some sort of knock-off, budget version of the dark, brooding Castlevania we all know and love. But while Lords of Shadow 2 is indeed a boring game, it offers the most visually impressive boredom of its generation.

As mentioned earlier, a good proportion of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is devoted to navigating Dracula through large, expansive-looking environments including parts of his ancient, dilapidated castle and the streets of the modern-day city he has awoken in. The term “expansive-looking” is appropriate as most of these areas contain a single, linear path that cannot be deviated from. Even so, watching Dracula scale the underside of a broken bridge while deathly blizzards blast chunks of snow across the screen is visually pleasing, even if it is lacking gameplay wise.

As with the environments, battles look better than they play. Dracula’s three distinctly coloured weapons flail, stab and explode their way through enemies, sending gushes of blood, ice and fire every which way. Enemy models are well designed, well animated, well rendered and are, aside from the horribly generic mutants, wholly original. Bosses are mostly large, imposing creatures that stomp their way around battle arenas and pull off visually pleasing attacks. But none of this makes Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 fun to play.

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AUDIO
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has impressive visuals which MercurySteam have inadvertently downplayed with unengaging gameplay. In a similar fashion, Lords of Shadow 2‘s audio is of a high quality, but is implemented in a unsatisfying manner.

Lords of Shadow 2 contains some beautifully written and performed orchestral tracks that sonically describe Dracula’s inner turmoil at being the very force of evil he had always despised. It’s a shame then that these tracks are frequently played at almost random points within the game. All too often a pounding, high energy track will play with no enemies or imminent danger in sight. Additionally, the same annoyingly memorable melody is played over and over whenever the game’s weak stealth sections turn up – which is far too often.

Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle return to blurt out the majority of Lords of Shadow 2‘s dialogue, with the latter clearly wishing he was somewhere else. Stewart does his best to bring life to the limp script but is woefully underutilised. The waste of such iconic talent on MercuarySteam’s lackadaisical writing is just another example of their failure to commit to a single, interesting idea; leaving Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 playing, looking and sounding unsatisfying generic .

DOWNSIDES
Dracula, the Price of Darkness, the king of all vampires, the hard-as-nails end boss to countless Castlevania videogames– the character many fans will buy Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 to play as, and the aspect of Lords of Shadow 2 that will find most disappointing.

When he’s not staring at his feet, mumbling at how terrible his life is, or generally wallowing in his own self pity, Dracula is a pretty cool guy who slices bosses in half, drinks the blood of vanquished enemies, and wears a impractical leather coat without a shirt. Unfortunately, the moments in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 where Dracula actually does anything interesting are minimal, and are interspersed by hours of wandering around glum environments in silence.

On top of his bland, self loathing personality, Dracula is a feeble, pathetic excuse for a vampire. One can accept that at the start of Lords of Shadow 2 Dracula is weakened from his long slumber and must regain his power. What is unacceptable is that even by the end of the game, Dracula can still fall prey to even the weakest of enemies. Despite picking up various new spells, skills and power ups throughout his adventure, Dracula never, ever feels as powerful as the Lords of Shadow 2, or the many Castlevania games before it, make him out to be.

And in case you glanced over the rest of the review, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has terrible pacing, a weak storyline, shallow gameplay and is utterly generic – so much so that it gives the impression that its mediocrity was intentional.

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PROS

  • Visually pleasing environments and character models
  • Patrick Stewart

CONS

  • Repetitive, uninspired and boring gameplay
  • Overly drawn out and ill-defined narrative
  • Underutilised voice talent
  • A harrowing waste of potentially good ideas

OVERALL
The first Lords of Shadow was not a perfect game, but instead of dealing with and improving on the weaker aspects of the original, MercurySteam decided to throw poorly implemented and generic gameplay elements into the mix in an attempt to make Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 appeal to as many people as possible.

As expected, the result is a bloated, uninspired mess of a game that is admittedly enjoyable to watch, but horrifically boring to play. The storyline and script are weak, environments change and characters appear at the drop of a hat, and despite being many hours longer than it needed to be, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 fails to deliver an impactful ending to the promising, but ultimately unforgettable Lords of Shadow trilogy.

It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened. – Homer Simpson

FINAL SCORE: 3 OUT OF 10