Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Sony PS3)
by Alex Lucard on October 11, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Mercurysteam
Genre: 3D Platformer
Release Date: 10/5/2010

Usually we start out reviews here at Diehard GameFAN with some teasing opener that is basically, “Maybe the game is good or maybe it’s bad: read on to find out.” Not this time. I’m going to be up front with my opinion of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: I HATED it. After the first three levels I was like, “I hate this game. This thing is awful. This is just poorly designed in every way.” But then I stopped and thought, “Maybe it’s just me.” I HATE platformers after all and this game was 85% platform jumping and 15% combat. The entire genre is my least favorite in gaming, so maybe it was just my disdain for the genre coming through. So I talked to Jon Widro, our publisher who was also playing LoS (and for whom platformers are his favorite genre), what he thought of the game.

He hated it. I asked DJ Tatsuijin, our head of PR, what he thought. He hated it. I asked our newest staffer “The 7th Level” what he thought of it. He hated it. In fact, everyone on staff I talked to that had so much as touched either the PS3 or 360 version of the game HATED it. Even Aaron Sirois, who adores God of War style games was so unimpressed by even the demo that he decided not to touch this until it was bargain bin material. With such a wildly diverse group of gamers, it is rare that we all share the same opinion on something, especially when it comes to hating something. In fact, it has only happened twice so far: Daikatana and Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust. That’s some pretty damning company to be in.

So is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow as bad as those two aforementioned games? No, it’s really not. So the real question is whether or not LoS is a PoS or just simply a lackluster game.
Let’s Review

1. Story

Lords of Shadow is a complete reboot for the Castlevania franchise and if this is where the series is going, then consider this my last game in the series and I’ll be taking my name with me thank you very much. Usually I’m pretty lax with Castlevania storylines as story has always been secondary to the gameplay, but when a game is longer than some RPGS and has more cut scenes to boot, then I’m going to be a little more critical.

LoS is the story of an orphan named Gabriel Belmont who grew up, became a holy warrior, found love, got married, and then woke to find his wife beheaded like a common French aristocrat. Gabriel then becomes blind to everything else in the world save for returning his wife, Marie, to life. At the same time, Earth has become drenched in darkness due to a barrier between Heaven and Earth. Now evil rules the land. How do the two stories tie together? Thanks to a magical MacGuffin called the God mask that has been split into three parts by the triumvirate of evil known as the Lords of Shadow. Combining the mask will supposedly give one the power of God itself and even restore life to the dead. So of course, Gabriel goes through twelve zones, and nearly fifty levels of platform jumping and the occasional boss fight to reach his goal. Yes, that’s the entire plot of the game.

There is no actual character development in the game. Every character remains exceptionally shallow and two dimensional. Gabriel never grows as a character. Even with what feels like limitless cut scenes breaking up the action every few minutes, Gabriel never gets a personality other than unlikeable single minded angst-ridden killing machine. You never learn anything about him – only that he wants this mask. The same too for all the other characters in the game. Marie has no personality other than to be a pure saint like character who cheers Gabriel on from the other side. Claudia is a mute telepath but she never even gets the chance to develop a personality. Baba Yaga shows up for two levels and then she’s killed off camera in a narration for god’s sake. The closest thing to a character with ANY personality Is Zobek, and that’s only because he narrates every level of the game, shows up on occasion, and gets a really long monologue at the end which is used to flimsily tie everything together.

Another awful part of how this unfolds are the would-be “shock turns” the game takes with the story. You can see them all coming from the very first chapter in the game. Before I had even gotten to my very first Lord of Shadow, Widro and I were on IM mocking the game’s story and taking sucker’s bets as to what was going to happen. We got every bit right because that’s how badly the story is told and how cliché each bit it. Who actually killed Marie? You should know within five minutes of playing the game. Who is going to make a heel turn? You should see both of them coming almost immediately?

Then of course there is the last level. Gabriel unites the MacGuffin and gets to come face to face with his arch enemy…only to have the arch enemy killed by some brand new super duper mastermind that you fight instead. Now granted said mastermind is about as evil as evil gets, but you wouldn’t know that from the game. He just shows up, kills the bad guy and then you two fight. The only reason you know he’s eeeeeevil is because of his name and the universal value it has. If said last boss was named Frank, EVERYONE playing this game would be sitting there going, “This is the stupidest %^^& ever.”

The ending(s) are pretty bad too. Not only are they filled with some weird evangelical nonsense, but the first ending just…ends and you sit there torn between going, “I think he’s crying here, but there’s no sound save the music. His body is just jiggling. Maybe he’s having a seizure.” and “Wait, this is stupid, and totally leaves Gabriel in the literal worst place anything or anyone could be.” Then the credits roll and you want to kick your own ass for having gone through this. After the credits you get a VERY tacked on ending that is not only horrible, but has brought back a VERY dead character to life without any explanation and shows not only what happened to Gabriel, which was what Widro and I said would be the stupidest thing the game could do, so of course they did it, but it also tacked on a Dracul reference which was nothing more than a, “See, this really is a Castlevania game? SEE?”

Overall, the story was so bad I was either cringing, groaning or laughing from beginning to end. The developers and writers just picked random monster names to give to their characters even if they were totally a 180 from the correct usage. Don’t even get me started on the Chupacabra and how it’s not actually some undead Kender or how the game mixes up necromancers with liches and so on. Just putting a line about the actual monster in a “glossary” just cements that names for the creatures were picked from random when Konami decided to make this a Castlevania game while it was already in development. About the only the thing the game did right plot wise was use Dracul instead of Dracula and had it mean the literal Romanian definition of the word rather than Stoker’s Count or a tie to Vlad Tepes. What I truly hated though is the admission from Konami and Mercurysteam that the game’s cliffhanger ending is there so that to get the game’s REAL ending, you’ll have to buy the eventual DLC for the game. So yeah, you have to pay above and beyond what you already have for extra content that promises to explain things and give a satisfactory conclusion? That is one borderline unethical business decision right there.

I’ve played through every Castlevania game ever and Lord of Shadows is easily the worst ever when it comes to story and that including the insane Time Reaper plot from Castlevania: Judgment.

Story Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

I will say this about Lords of Shadow: This game has some of the most amazing backgrounds I have ever seen in a next gen title. Seriously, I was in awe of some of the views, the castles, the scenery and the like. The game’s breathtaking in this respect and occasionally I just had Gabriel stand there so I could soak up the view.

Then there are the monsters in the game. It’s like the exact opposite or as if two totally different development teams worked on this. The monsters were atrocious. I can honestly say that this game has the worst werewolf and vampire designs I have ever seen in a video game. I’m all for artistic license, but it’s almost as if the people who made the game had no idea what either was and just slapped stuff together until it was “edgy.” Ghouls with massive underbites? Chubacabras as comic relief characters? Second-rate Ringwraiths as “swordmasters.” It was just really bad. Worst of all were the bosses. None of the Lords of Shadows looked menacing or even interesting. Carmilla looked like a mannequin in a robe and the final Lord of Shadows looked like he was from a high school drama production. Whether it was the Evil Butcher or one of the two titans you face, the monsters were either blah or awful. Even the SWERVE ENDING surprise last boss was just stupid looking. There was so much artistic direction with the backgrounds and so little attempt to make any of the monsters (save for one, who is the second to last boss in the game, and is magnificent to behold) that the game felt piecemeal, especially when the one was lain atop the other.

Swinging the pendulum back, humans are very well done. Well, okay – the male characters are well done. Marie and Claudia are okay, but Claudia’s cheeks are just weird (as is the fact she’s supposed to be mortal but is also centuries old somehow) and Marie has this really bad blue effect around her to represent that she’s a ghost. Gabriel, villages, and Zobek all look very impressive though.

At the end of the day, you have some jaw dropping backgrounds, some of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen in any video game and some nicely done humans. Basically, the game gets two out of three things right and as long as you’re super big into monster accuracy, you’ll find LoS’ visuals to be pretty nice indeed. (Funny, Microsoft Word autocorrected indeed to undead for some reason. It knows me too well.)

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

Whenever someone first talks about Lords of Shadow the first thing that seems to come up is, “OMG! Patrick Stewart is the narrator.” That he is. He also plays Zobek and the third Lord of Shadow. Unfortunately, Stewart phones it in for most of the game, having little to no emotion in his voice, especially in scenes where the character should be highly animated. Instead Jean-Luc Picard gives us more of a Ben Stein role than anything else. I have to admit I was really disappointed here as I was hoping Stewart would flex his acting chops here.

The rest of the cast is equally famous but also equally wooden. Gabriel Belmont is played by Robert Carlyle who s best known for either his role Dr. Nicholas Rush in Stargate Universe or Hamish MacBeth is the series bearing the same name. Jason Isaacs aka Lucius Malfoy does a passable jobs with the few lines ascribed to Dracula and so on. Perhaps everyone phoned it in because they looked at it as “just” a video game or else they read the script and realized how terrible THAT was. The best actor in the bunch was easily Aleksandar Mikic as Pan as he actually put some emotion into his voice. The worst was a three way tie between Emma Ferguson as Claudia, Ève Karpf as Baba Yaga and whoever did the voice of the chupacabra. These three were especially grating as they just wouldn’t shut up through any level they were on and you just wanted to punch them like they were the dog in Duck Hunt. So yeah. Mercurysteam assembled a great cast, but they all gave shockingly mediocre performances across the board, which only helped to deepen my level of disappointment with the game.

The music of this game, which is very good, was also nowhere as impressive as what we’ve seen from nearly every other Castlevania game ever made. Not that sounds harsher than it is meant, as again, the score is tremendous, but considering I can’t remember the last time a Castlevania game didn’t have a “Soundtrack of the Year” award contender, Lords of Shadow pales by comparison. Taken on its own however, the score really is reason enough to go after the collector’s edition of the game…as long as you’re willing to get a substandard game to go with it.

Again, although there was definitely room for improvement with all aural aspects of the game, what’s here is good enough for government work. Neither the voice acting nor the soundtrack will win any awards this year, but it does a fine enough job for the most part to keep one entertained.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

This is really where Castlevania: Lords of Shadow goes to hell. Figuratively speaking, that is. The literal going to hell does happen though. I tried LoS with three different controllers on two different PS3s and the result was the same – sloppy, poorly laid out controls with noticeable lag between command entry and performance on the screen, as well as collision detection issues, awful camera angles and just a poorly designed engine from beginning to end. Much like my original feelings on hating the game, I thought, “Hey, maybe it’s just me.” But the unresponsive sluggish controls was a problem everyone seemed to have and god knows that no one seems to be happy with the camera angles or even some of the level design choices in this game (Titan Graveyard anyone? Ugh.). In terms of actual gameplay and engine quality, Lords of Shadow was pretty horrendous in every way it could be.

So let’s start with the controls. I mentioned they are sluggish, yes? Well there is a very noticeable lag with the controls. Now I primarily play 2-D fighters and SHMUPS, so I know how vital it is for a game not to lag in this area. With Lords of Shadow there can be up to half a second lag between a button press and it taking effect on screen. Now that may not sound like much, but it will be the primary cause of you dying, especially in the platform sections or in a very big battle on higher difficulties. Case in point, if a fighter or shoot ‘em up had that much lag between control and effect, the game would NEVER be released onto the market.

There’re also button detection issues that are separate from the lag. This solely occurs with the analog sticks in the game. Sometimes you will press up once…and the character will go up twice. This can get you killed in some situations. Other times you’ll have to press up two or three times and the character still won’t budge. Again this can get you killed. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times I swore at the game ignoring my double tapping of the analog stick so I could run or where it would instead act as if I clicked down on the pad and had my character try to absorb magic energy that wasn’t there. The lack of responsive controls is a big issue with the PS3 version of the game and although you can still get through the game with this huge flaw, it’s because you’ll eventually compensate for the game’s poor detection…and also swear a lot on some jumping puzzles because of it.

As long as we’re on jumping puzzles, Lords of Shadow suffers from the usual issues that plague 3-D platformers. You know what I’m talking about. Horrendous camera angles where you can’t see your character or your opponents at times, jumps that sometimes make it and sometimes fall short, even when you’re in the exact same spot and use the exact same button press. Although the latter is a minor quibble, the camera angles are very bad in this game. Sometimes they are awkward, sometimes you’ll be in a spot where the camera freaks out and does a constant 360 spin until you move, and sometimes the camera is centered on something other than the action going on leaving you to have to guess where you actually are. Again, this is a badly designed game, and all these issues combine into one giant problem.

Combat can be a problem as well. You see Mercurysteam included a LOT of moves in the game – far more than anyone would ever need. But they are almost all things you have to unlock and if you’re after a particular trophy, you’ll have to get them all. However because of the control issue, the lag and the button detection issues mentioned earlier, coupled with the fact that most of these moves have VERY similar input schemes means that a lot of times you’ll be doing a move other than the one you wanted to. It’s as if you are being punished for spending your hard earned experience points, and that’s not cool.

I also hated the quick time events. Now I normally hate most games with QTE, but Lords of Shadow does them in the worst way I’ve ever seen in a game. Sure occasionally it’s a button mashing affair, but most of the QTE are done with two highly transparent circles and you have to wait until one crosses the other and then jam on any button you see fit. The problem with this is not with the event themselves but the fact the colour of these events, and thus the circles themselves, can easily be obscured by the background visuals, ESPECIALLY when it’s during a cinematic. A flash of light or a cloud the same exact colour as the circle and you’re screwed the first time you do it, especially sicne against bosses, the QTE is an automatic succeed or instakill situation.

There are several bugs in the game, but they are minor ones. These include Gabriel freezing in mid jump, getting stuck in places, spinning around repeatedly or detection issues that come and go such as trying to move your character in place for a jump, but Gabriel acting as if there is a wall there only to have him be able to progress a few seconds later. Everything in Lords of Shadow is spotty and comes across half-asses, especially when compared to the legion of games this title rips off. I think DJ summed it up best when we were talking Thursday, “If this game didn’t have the Castlevania name attached to it, no one would be giving it positive marks and everyone would be bashing it.” Very true indeed. The entire engine needs an overhaul. Most of the problems mentioned are minor, but when you have a litany of minor problems, things add up quickly.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

5. Replayability

One of the things I hate about platformers is the illusion of replay value. These games all but forces you to replay previous levels to get items or to locations you couldn’t previously access. Lords of Shadow is no exception, as you’ll have to play each level at least twice if you are a completionist. You’ll need to go back to each level after you’ve beaten it to endure a “trial,” which is a special submission that is unlocked for you to accomplish in addition to beating the level normally. However, it sucks if you fulfilled all those conditions in your original playthrough because that first time through doesn’t count for the goal. Again, the game all but forces you to play through a second time as if it was a punishment instead of rewarding you for doing something extra well the first time. You’ll also have to play through certain levels to get gems that were inaccessible the first time along with “Brotherhood Arks,” that will let you carry more of specific items like holy water, fairies and silver daggers. However none of this is truly replay value as every level is utterly linear and things will always unfold the same way they did before – you can just get about three percent more content on select levels. Even the trials involve doing things you did before, just with new rules and stipulations. This is not true replay value – it’s creating OCD.

Now besides that there are reasons to go back through the game – all of which are trophy based. There are trophies for beating things on the new difficulty level you unlock once you’ve beaten the game. There are trophies for unlocking everything, which can’t be done on a single playthrough unless you count going to the same level over and over again for extra experience points part of a “single” playthrough. There is even a trophy for getting 100,000 experience points which like the unlocking trophy, can’t be done if you just zip through the game without repeating any levels. Again, to me, none of this counts as replayability; it’s merely forced repetition. But at least there is something to go back to.

Thumbs in the middle here. There is no reason to replay the game once you’ve beaten it unless you are really into trophies, but if you do, at least you have a level select option, four difficulty settings and a Solid Snake skin to play with.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Lords of Shadow has four different difficulty settings, one of which needs to be unlocked. Unlock a lot of other games there is a noticeable increase in the challenge for each level. Of course the challenge is limited to Gabriel doing less damage and enemies doing far more, but that’s okay. As well, you get the same ending regardless whether you play esquire (easiest) or paladin (hardest), so gamers of all skill get “rewarded” for beating the game. The problems lie in the fact the challenge is all over the place due to shoddy controls, laggy controls, and strange level design. The game actually isn’t in free roaming 3-D as it might look, but it’s actually a 2.5D scrolling game with 3-D backgrounds, so you’ll find yourself limited as to where you can actually go. This last bit isn’t a bad thing save for the levels where the path you are supposed to choose can’t really be seen due to camera angles while something that outright looks like a path is actually just background visuals and so you spend time thinking this is the game’s usual horrid camera and detection issues preventing you from grabbing a hand-hold or a grapple point.

Another odd thing is that bosses are much easier than rank and file opponents. I had a harder time with say, a dozen reapers (enemies that have little health but do a CRAZY amount of damage) over the Prince of Darkness himself who was actually the easiest battle in the entire game as long as you’re not colourblind. I found the leader of the werewolves and the leader of the vampires to be laughably easy, where the only challenge came when they sent in flocks of their rank and file cannon fodder to help them. All the boss battles were beatable with an easy pattern of get three heavy whip strokes in, and then do a defensive roll as it’s about time for them to strike after that. Every one. On any difficulty setting. It just took longer on the hard levels. If I got hit, I just used light magic to heal myself by killing ranking and file guys. You have a special anti-boss weapon called the Dark Crystal that summons a demon with large exposed breasts (still not sure why that is in there save saying, “We want that M rating, by god!”) that takes out one fourth of their life. I never needed to use it in the entire game since AI patterns were always the same and that easy to avoid. The challenge in Lords of Shadow only comes when you are hit by a group of enemies en masse and even then only because of the damage.

Then there are the three titans in the game. These are actually harder than the bosses, which makes no sense to me. Yes it’s a rip-off of God of War and even Shadow of the Colossus to some extent and only the last one makes any sense as to why they are in the game or shows any logic to its existence, but these battles are really just intricate platform jumping disguised as boss battles. You’re just jumping up the creatures and occasionally striking or doing a quick time event. These were not hard – just long and dull. Much like most of Lords of Shadow, these were an attempt to recreate something from another better title, and instead they were done nowhere near the quality of those other games.

I bitched about QTE in the gameplay section but honestly, nothing unbalances a game more than having to do a QTE in a cinematic. Unless the game is Heavy Rain, because the entire game is cinematics. When I get to a cut scene I want to be able to enjoy the visuals and watch the scene unfold. With LoS, I was instead greeted with horrible storytelling and the need to be on edge through it all just in case it had a QTE unfold on me. That’s not fun, nor is it enjoyable. It’s like a really bad Dragon’s Lair.

Finally there is the pacing of the game. This, to me, is the worst part of the game because it is all over the place and the game ends up feeling like it was thrown together without any rhyme or reason. Now I’m not talking about the fact that some chapters have six or eight levels and some have one or two, but rather. You play for a couple of minutes, then you get a cut scene that interrupts the flow. Often these cut scenes are just showing the scenery and have no real function. They’re pretty but meaningless and actually throw off the enjoyment of the game. All of this could have been assembled better by the team and I’m not sure if it’s that Mercurysteam wanted to play to their strengths (the visuals) or they don’t really have a clue about pacing. Considering this was a problem with both Scrapland and Clive Barker’s Jericho, it’s probably the latter or else their “style” of doing things. The pacing issue does get better for the last third of the game, but for the first third it’s pretty awful and will be reason enough or some people to drop the game entirely.

So yeah, a page and a half of balance issues. That’s pretty bad when you look at it that way. In truth, most of these issues are minor quibbles; it’s just that they add up quickly and combine with the gameplay issues to give you a lackluster experience.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

Okay, even before LoS was released, people were saying the game was completely and totally bereft of originality and ripped off God of War. Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, the game is actually ripping off Dante’s Inferno in terms of specific controls, some platforming levels and even most of the story right down to the endgame. Now Dante’s Inferno was the God of War rip-off and as LoS is a second rate Dante’s Inferno, that actually makes Lords of Shadow a third rate God of War.

Anything and everything about this game is ripped off from something else. The narrator bits and even the twist as the game goes on with it? Taken exactly from Icewind Dale. Hmm now I want Patrick Stewart to re-voice Belhifet. The plot twists with Gabriel and Zobek? Taken from any episode of Pro Wrestling in the Attitude era, preferably scripted by Vince Russo. The gameplay? Taken almost entirely from God of War and Dante’s Inferno. The story? Dante’s Inferno. The Titans? Completely stolen from Shadow of the Colossus. The second to last boss? Forgotten Realms. The only thing and I do mean ONLY thing that is actually original or not blatantly taken from some other, better, game is the “Vampire Wars” strategy game, which was actually the highlight of the entire game for me. As a side note the key to dominating with the game is to never move your necromancer BTW. Play defensively. This little add-on and unlockable is the ONLY reason Lords of Shadow isn’t utterly worthless in this category.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

Look, this was not the game for me. It happened to hit every pet peeve I have in gaming. Laggy controls? Check. Way too much platforming? Check. Incredibly easy boss fights? Check. QTE in cut scenes? Check. Puzzles that are just thrown into the puzzle to make the game longer and have no actual bearing on the story or any logic like a vampire’s castle having sun based puzzles to get around? Check. A poorly written story full of contradictions and two dimensional characters? Check. Pacing issues? Check. A lack of originality? Check. Withholding the real ending of the game as DLC in an attempt to force gamers to spend even more money on their product? Check. With all that in mind, you can imagine the amount of profanity coming out of my mouth from beginning to end with Lords of Shadow. For fun and to keep my sanity, I started posting videos of “hilarious” glitches and issues with the game to my Facebook which even had people who thought the game was okay saying, “Yeah, I can’t defend that.” Now I’m sure some people will try and troll with, “You obviously sucked at the game,” which is the standard rebuttal from the immature and highly defensive who will be unable to accept that someone doesn’t share their opinion on a piece of electronic entertainment. However, considering I’m talking about how easy LoS is even with numerable flaws and I have 110% completion on nearly the entire game, something tells me that those statements will be made by people who didn’t read the actual review and just went to the scoring section. That said, if you liked the game as much as I hated it, there’s nothing wrong with your opinion being different from mine and I’ll respectfully disagree.

So with all that in mind you might be surprised that I hunkered down and beat this game in three or four sittings. Sure I had to take a break after each chapter to keep from going mad, but I wanted to keep playing because I had high hopes that things would get better. Truth be told the first third of the game was one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve had this year. The second third was a little better and the last third was either much better (The final Titan battle) or craptastic (Titan Graveyard and the lackluster and pathetically easy final boss battle). As with the pacing,t he quality of the game was all over the place. Like many gamers however, I stuck it out to the end because of my love for the Castlevania franchise. It’s kind of like our own Sean Madson and his sad horrible experiences with Final Fantasy XIV. So was it addicting? Partially, but only because of my love for the series and my sheer spite for the game kept me going.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

You know generally with a Castlevania game I’d say something like, “The franchise name alone will sell this game to the majority of gamers that pick it up.” But here, that’s not entirely true. After all I didn’t like the game. No one on staff here at Diehard GameFAN liked the game. Everyone I’ve talked to thought the game was forgettable and mediocre AT BEST.

Now with that said, every game is someone’s favourite, no matter how bad someone else finds it. As well, even the most popular games have a legion of detractors who hate the title. There’s no doubt that Lords of Shadow sold well and I have even less doubt that there are gamers out there who were able to look past the myriad of issues this game has and still have fun with it. Part of it might be they are easy to please, part of it might be a zealous love for all things Castlevania, and part of it might be they just liked and enjoyed the game for what it is, warts and all. Hell, I LOVE Koudelka and god knows very few people stateside have played that…much less enjoyed it. Although all of my criticism on Lords of Shadow is not only well deserved but also documented by many other gamers that have played this thing, at the end of the day it’s enough of a God of War and Dante’s Inferno that diehard fans of those games or Castlevania in general will be able to play their way through this thing? Will it be a keeper for many of those gamers? No, probably not, but they’ll get a playthrough out of it, and that’s what matters. When it comes down to it though, this is definitely going to be considered one of the worst CV games of all time by fans and/or historians of the series.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, for me, has been an interesting ride, culminating in one of those train wrecks you can’t look away from. Konami used a developer that was well known for making mediocre games and hoped to sell/sucker gamers into loving it solely based on the franchise name and the graphics. The game decided to eschew all the usual trappings that made Castlevania popular in the first place and try to sell itself to the God of War crowd. You have a story written by people that didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were doing or even a middle schooler’s knowledge of monsters and/or Dracula. You have a game where it is WELL DOCUMENTED that Konami had Mercurysteam cease work on the title because of quality issues and brought Kojima in to basically save the project, as well as the fact that Lords of Shadow was never meant to be a Castlevania game and was turned into one only partway through development. All the warning signs that this game was not going to be up to the usual Castlevania standards were there, and yet everyone ignored them; myself included. Well, we get what we deserve and the fact we all turned a blind eye to Konami’s handling of this title and still shelled out full MSRP for this thing says a lot.

At the end of the day Lords of Shadow isn’t a terrible game, or even a bad one. But it is a decidedly poor one, whether you compare it to the older, better games it blatantly plagiarizes from, to other entries in the Castlevania series, or just put the game under a critical eye like reviewers should be doing. If you enjoyed this thing, more power to you, but as for me, this might be the final nail in the Castlevania coffin for me. It kind of makes me more than a little afraid for the Devil May Cry reboot as well.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Poor
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is more Frankenstein’s Monster than Dracula. After all, it’s a patchwork creature made from pieces of other, better, games in a misguided attempt to make some super awesome title. Unfortunately, much like Peter Whale’s cinematic masterpiece (rather than Mary Shelly’s novel), Konami decided to use an abnormal brain in Mercurysteam and the end result is a very pretty but jarring title bereft of any originality as well as the fact that each of the pieces taken from previous games like Dante’s Inferno or Shadow of the Colossus are second rate compared to their inspiration. Wrap up this package in a very shallow story filled with two-dimensional characters and a plot straight out of a middle school creative writing class and you have a recipe for disaster that only diehard fans or the action-platformer genre or Castlevania zealots will truly be able to love on its own. For everyone else there will be a LOT of nitpicking at the lack of originality, the repetitiveness and the plot…along with some Castlevania message boards no doubt bemoaning the lack of continuity and the reboot of one of the longest running franchises in gaming.



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Alex Lucard

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  • Hemal

    I have this game, and I am in Chapter 7. So far its pretty addiciting, and I like the story line. I don’t mind the fighting style since GOW ripped Ninja Gaiden. I don’t agree with some of the review, but now that I have played the game (At least half of it) I can see that some things you have come up with are valid. I hate/love that you can’t control the camera, but overall I think it deserves more than a below average. Maybe a Mediocre, if not good!!!

  • http://www.alexanderlucard.com Alex Lucard

    Hemal – it’s okay to like something I don’t or even be less forgiving than I am. ;-)

  • Richie Belmont

    All take note– this review is sadly quite accurate. Castlevania fans spend years between titles, waiting for a new title to be released that plunges deep into the bullseye, and it certainly hasn’t happened with LoS. It took several hours before I actually *SAW* a castle in this “castlevania” game, instead spending my time fighting through Fern Gully in broad daylight. I’m at Chapter 10 now and I couldn’t care less about finishing. Castlevanias are the only videogames I play– and I sincerely hope the series can be resurrected after this forgettable muddle of ad hoc fantasy with so few drops of gothic horror.

  • Selrahc Namrheb

    I am one of the die hard castlevania fans who waits and waits and waits for a new adventure. After completing lords of shadow my craving has been unsatisfied to the point where I broke out my nes to play some real castlevania. It saddens me to see franchises like castlevania get repeatedly destroyed by ignorant developers. I bought the collectors edition (360) for $86 and would have been less dissapointed burning my money.

  • PosthuMouse

    I think I wrote this review in my head (verbatim) before reading it. Excellent work. Wish I’d read it before I dropped so much cash on this game. Blood-related or not, a Belmont should not spend half a game prancing through sunny fields.

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  • savage

    Alright here’s my take, you guys are as bad as IGN in your review. OMG I didn’t see the castle till chapter 7 or it wasn’t true to the story. And it’s omg NOT SOTN. Alright I been playing this series since it first came out. So here’s the deal the game is amazing! Graphics, story, etc. It’s a reboot but they hold some key elements to the actual storyline.

    I am truly die hard Castlevania and played every game. People compare this game to SOTN, which lets be honest you did. This isn’t ur PSX game, it’s new and they are trying.

    The N64 was the crap turd that was pushed out. Really you sound to focus on the core series. Look at it this way he is the FIRST Belmont, so they are going to reboot it. Now you know how the name got started, you have the whip though reformed.

    I don’t know why you complain it’s basic Castlevania, whip kill monsters and get through the evil that is with the time. Here’s another thing, in this storyline DRACULA ISN’T HERE YET, so surprise surprise he is not the focus on the major baddie. GASP, sucks I know right. NOOOO.

    Sound way to much of a fan boy snob then an actual reviewer. You and the editor.

    Whelp won’t be coming back here for reviews ever again.

  • http://www.alexanderlucard.com Alex Lucard

    Savage – I don’t see anywhere where I

    A) Compare the game to SOTN. In fact, you’re the only one mentioning it out of all the commentors.

    B) Gabriel isn’t the first Belmont. This is completely outside of continuity. The first belmont was established decades ago gaming-wise.

    C) No one is complaining Dracula isn’t the final boss. In fact, some very good CV games haven’t had Dracula in them. People are complaining about SATAN showing up out of nowhere to be the final boss.

  • Mark B.

    Oh no! Someone who doesn’t actually read our reviews and presents straw man arguments we didn’t actually make as a way of proving how wrong we are and how right he is won’t ever be coming back? HOW EVER WILL WE LIVE?

  • savage

    Alex: Look it’s easy to see how someone sets the pre-notion like everyone who reviews a Castlevania game has set. That’s why so many of the new ones fail, everyone wants SOTN. You don’t have to type to see it.

    Also Konami stated the first known Belmont with rumors of Sonya flying around some where. Also it’s a new storyline.

    Also Satan showing up out of no where, really isn’t surprising. Most games have a surprise end boss. Look at the great games like Final Fantasy 4 with Zemos popping in at the end.

    Alex I do though give you credit for defending what you wrote. But a lot of reviewers are slashing games for being rip off artist when truly every game is a rip off of something else. Think on it.Remember Castlevania is never ever the same game, it’s like the Castle it is forever changing.

    Now Mark, I actually do read your reviews and that comment right there. Makes you sound like a tool. You want readers right? You want feedback right? Well when you make it public for the people then we are going to say something and as a writer you need to shut up and take it. If not you shouldn’t be writing. Sound nothing more like an middle school kid getting a writing gig on a no name site. Sorry Mark, but you sound like trash.

  • http://www.alexanderlucard.com Alex Lucard

    Savage – I can understand making the “I WANT SOTN 2″ assumption, but I can definitely tell you that’s never in my mind. To be honest, I love that game, but it’s not in my top 3 CV’s. Those would be CV3, CV2, and Order of Ecclesia. SOTN is #4, but I would be more interested inf leshing out Shanoa than another Alucard game, even if the latter makes me money. :-P

    Lords of Shadow is actually out of continuity with the rest of the series. it’s a reboot, so to compare it with the plot of any other Castlevanias is unfair since it’s not connected. it’s starting over. Like how Batman: TAS has nothing to do with The Batman or Batman: The brave and the bold save for the batman character.

    I would also make the same complaint about FF4 or ANY game that pulls a final boss out of its ass without it being connected to the actual game or developed story. It just smacks of lazy storytelling to me. There’s no development or characterization. It’s just “Hello! Vince Russo-esque twist.” or “Hey, it’s SATAN! SURPRISE!” and even if I had liked the rest of the game I’d have hated that. Unfortunately, I didn’t like anything about the game, so that’s just insult to injury to me.

    If you read a lot of my reviews, I’m very big on innovation, outside the box ideas and being creativer. For me, being part of the LoS process from the very beginning, I’ve seen how the game was a thrid rate title to begin with and How Konami just slapped on the CV brand name and patched it together with Kojima to try and sucker people into purchasing it and/or defending it when even Konami knew it would have been a critical and financial disaster had they not done that. Playing through this game just made all of that feel very apparent especially since it had nothing to do with CV in any way, shape or form but was also a third rate version of games like GoW and Dante’s Inferno, which did nearly the exact same things as Lords of Shadow, but better. Then you factor in the fact that the developers of LoS are infamous for making awful games and you have me wondering what people actually like about this game. It’s totally cool if someone does, as every game is someone’s favorite, but when all two dozen+ people on staff here were like, “Holy crap, this game is awful” to LoS, that seems to spell out for me that I’m not necessarily in the minority here.

  • http://www.myspace.com/pawjacktheripper Aaron Sirois

    I want Castlevania V, but that will never happen. :(

    Stupid Metroidvania.

  • http://www.alexanderlucard.com Alex Lucard

    Castlevania: The Adventure – Rebirth dude. That’s basically CV V.

  • savage

    Now I agree it is far from the best Castlevania game. My favorite being Simon’s Quest. Just nothing beats that one for me. I liked SOTN and thought it was an amazing game. Personally didn’t care to use Alucard that much.

    Honestly the voice actors they got for the game was pretty good. I did enjoy noticing that Satan was Jason Issacs.

    The game is becoming and you either LOVE IT or you HATE IT. I fall into love it and you fall into hate it.

    The good thing is for the people that do hate it, is the fact that if they do get a green light on another they can hopefully build on their mistakes. Camera angle, story, etc. Compared to some of these action games now-a-days that are over in 5-8 hours, this one at least is pretty long.

    Also I liked some Easter Eggs in the game like Baba Yaga’s. Yes it’s a German Fairy tale, but I was first introduce to her in Hero’s Quest: So you want to be a Hero now known as Quest for Glory series. That scene made me happy.

    All and all it wasn’t a bad game, story was better then N64 and I really did enjoy the game play.

  • Mark B.

    Now Mark, I actually do read your reviews and that comment right there. Makes you sound like a tool.

    Lots of things make me sound like a tool. I’m surprised you were able to narrow it down to one specific thing. Of course, I respond in an equivalent fashion to the tone of that which I am responding to, and hey, you called us “as bad as IGN” in your first sentence, so you brought that upon yourself buddy.

    You want readers right?

    So I’m told.

    You want feedback right?

    Depending on your definition of “feedback”, sure.

    Well when you make it public for the people then we are going to say something and as a writer you need to shut up and take it. If not you shouldn’t be writing. Sound nothing more like an middle school kid getting a writing gig on a no name site.

    You’re making this assumption that you came at us with some sort of valid reasonable argument that isn’t borne out by evidence. You made multiple ad hominem attacks, sarcastic comments and baseless accusations in your “feedback” of the review. If you come to us like we’re actual people on the other end of the monitor we’ll talk to you like a person and have a conversation. If you come at us like we’re some whipping boy for your personal disagreements of the game then you’ll be talked back to in kind. That’s life. Deal with it. If you have something constructive to offer, by all means, comment away, but if all you’re going to do is make snide comments about things you don’t like you’re going to spend a whole lot of your life angry.

    Something to think about.

  • savage

    Mark,

    Feedback is feedback positive or negative. Honestly if you want to be professional you need to take it. Dude I run my own business and have my clients treat my employees and myself like trash at times. Though that’s what makes us better and what we learn from.

    Also I am a son of an ex newspaper owner so I know a little bit about reporting, reviewers, etc. Think about it, how many times to you read a review from a movie and totally disagree?

    It’s not that I am treating you like a monitor and not a real person. I am just being straight with you. It’s your job to make me happy, not the only way around their champ.

    In fact you never who you are talking to on the other end. I could high paying sponsor or someone from that gaming company it’s self.

    When it’s public and you are apart of this site you can’t act the way you did. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

    Though I do give Alex a lot of credit for honestly answering and taking the time to reach back on me with it. See that’s respect, he took my negative thoughts and made me go, okay this site isn’t full of tools like you Mark.

    Again my comments are not in anger or hate or whatever. You need man and not respond like a child.

  • Mark B.

    Feedback is feedback positive or negative. Honestly if you want to be professional you need to take it. Dude I run my own business and have my clients treat my employees and myself like trash at times. Though that’s what makes us better and what we learn from.

    So, wait, you spend your day being treated like crap by clients and then turn around and essentially do the exact same thing to businesses you frequent? Is that what I’m taking away from that statement?

    Also I am a son of an ex newspaper owner so I know a little bit about reporting, reviewers, etc. Think about it, how many times to you read a review from a movie and totally disagree?

    Plenty, but I don’t send the reviewer an E-mail informing him that he is wrong and I am right. Also, so your family used to deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis, and knowing how that would make them feel do this to other people? Again, am I understanding this right?

    It’s not that I am treating you like a monitor and not a real person. I am just being straight with you. It’s your job to make me happy, not the only way around their champ.

    No, no it isn’t. My job, as it is, is to play through video games and report my observations of them, in a manner that is not libelous to the developers and publishers of this product. Diehard GameFAN is a non-profit organization run by industry enthusiasts who want to enjoy themselves and provide a non-corporate perspective on games and the industry. Which means that while I’d certainly LIKE to make you happy, I am not under any obligation to accept someone’s derogatory comments as anything other than that. Sorry, but this isn’t Best Buy.

    In fact you never who you are talking to on the other end. I could high paying sponsor or someone from that gaming company it’s self.

    Sure, let’s play that game.

    Assuming you’re a sponsor: Okay, so why would you comment on the review itself instead of, say, pulling your sponsorship of a website that hosts a review you’re opposed to? Again, this isn’t an instance where you submitted reasonable observations about the game and I came at you like a freight train. You flamed the author and the website. Why even keep your sponsorship and respond in the first place?

    Assuming you work for Konami: Okay. How is your parent company going to feel about you attacking reviewers in this fashion? It CERTAINLY doesn’t look good for a Konami employee to come onto the website, badmouth two review organizations, and basically act like the reviewers are a joke, does it? It certainly wouldn’t reflect well when we published it as a news piece and pointed out that the company employs someone who would slag the reviewer for their scores, would it?

    When it’s public and you are apart of this site you can’t act the way you did. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

    Just because you say that doesn’t make it so.

    Though I do give Alex a lot of credit for honestly answering and taking the time to reach back on me with it. See that’s respect, he took my negative thoughts and made me go, okay this site isn’t full of tools like you Mark.

    I am a reflection of that which I am asked to deal with.

    Again my comments are not in anger or hate or whatever. You need man and not respond like a child.

    Again, I am a reflection of that which I am asked to deal with.

  • savage

    Marc,

    Really dude, get a life. If I was you, I would have just let it be and not have jumped in.

    It’s your job on this site, even it’s your full time or fun to make the readers happy. If I disagree with Alex here, then so be it. Shut up and take it like a man, if not you just sound like a smart mouth child.

    You can review any game you want, but once it’s public and people can respond. We can truly say whatever we want and you are going to take it.

    Also when I said sponsor, I was actually talking about going to sponsor sites like yours. And yes, personally I have two or three clients looking at sites right now. I am a media buyer dude, so thanks for making this choice easy on your site.

    (I’ll wait your normal cry baby response)

  • Mark B.

    Eh. Bored now. It’s been fun, I guess, but not really. Peace out Osmium.

  • http://www.superbusnet.com Christopher Bowen

    Oh boy. We don’t have some pretentious asshole “sponsoring” our site. Whatever will we do! No, Widro, put the knife down! No! Nooooooooo! WIDRO!!!!!!!!!!

    Seriously. We – Alex, MarK, or anyone else here – don’t need your bullshit. You’re telling MarK to get a life, yet talk about how we should feel bad because someone calling themselves a “media buyer” won’t buy us in the comments to a video game review.

    If you were hoping we would change our tune about you because you – someone using an email address from a Cocos Islands TLD – are some big-shot media buyer, then shove it up your ass.

  • savage

    Ohh you guys told me. You know honestly, I am not an ass and honestly. You guys look like douche bags.

    Again I keep my real name and everything else quiet for a reason. You’re name is on the line here not mine. Also Widro is spelled Weirdo.

    Bunch of game boy kids who have no idea what they are talking about. Why do you think i snapped back at Mark? Really think about it Chris. He acted like an jerk and people get mad.

    Did I act like one, yea a little BUT, I don’t run the site or is my name on it. Be professional. I can see why no one values your thoughts or reviews. Seriously want to be taken serious, then man up and take the feedback like mine not whiny gamers.

    And yes Chris Media buyers do read your reviews like myself and it’s the attitude that drives people away. Already have you guys on a black list from other companies.

    Oh and great job looking for my e-mail, sadly you failed. Cause I based out of the states and no bullshit here. You’re little site, well is a joke. Only one who actually responded correctly was Alex. The rest of you guys just bashed the crap out of someone because he got tired reading your crap reviews. And was reviewing your site for a possible deal.

    Seriously guys, you need to grow up here and act like professionals even if you don’t know what that word means.

  • ZeroCorpse

    I hated it. It was essentially an interactive movie. I made no decisions, I had little to do with where I went, what I did, and how the story played out. The QTEs just feel like a scripted cinema that he designers “let me” have some part in; Press the button at the right time and the story progresses. Whoopee. If I wanted that, I’d go play Dragon’s Lair.

    I’m glad this is NOT Castlevania canon, because it flat-out sucks. It’s just a button-masher. No finesse required. You’re just following a track, mashing buttons, following prompts on the screen, and doing everything the designers tell you to do in order to progress the cinematic story.

    It seems to me they just wanted to make a Castlevania anime, and then decided to allow us to mash some buttons along the way to make us feel like we had something to do with what happened on screen.

    This game sucks. Only buy it if you’re a major fan of God Of War, or other lame button-mashing, dumb-ass games that keep you on a track and spend more time “dazzling” you with cinemas than actually letting you play the game.

  • BossChaos81

    I am only 4 chapters in and I just want to say that your review nailed it. I pretty much agree with everything you wrote. This game is actually feeling more like a chore to play through but dammit they just had to slap Castlevania in the title,which unfortunately for me means I must beat it. Anyways this was a great review and I can honestly say that this will be my go to site from now on.

  • progste

    I don’t get why this guy is bashing the game so much, I’m playing it right now and I’m liking it.

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  • Voodoo Child

    Thank you. I often have to argue with people who enjoyed this game, and you have encapsulated absolutely every problem I had with it. Never before have my thoughts and feelings for a game been this eloquently phrased by someone else.

    In short, you took the words right out of my mouth. I know it’s not very kind of me to say such a thing in such dark economic times, but I honestly hope Mercurysteam goes under, at least so that Konami outsources to a developer who both has deep love for the series as well as talent developing video games. A developer like WayForward making a Castlevania game would seriously be a dream come true.

  • JJ

    Excellent I agree with every point here. I am glad that people with knowledge of the series and of game design spoke out about what a mess this was. Any thoughts on the fact that they are making a sequel :( ?

  • jaebionic

    I agree, kind of.
    Its not a terrible game, its certainly playable if your in need of a gap filler until something better comes along. It just doesn’t feel like a castlevania and does not do the series justice. there have been other worse castlevania games though. As with all games, the good ones are developed by people who love games, with respect for the game and the gamer and this and other disappointments are merely made as cash cows. It is a shame that the cash cows are often reboots, remakes or sequels to great titles with deserved fan bases that deserve better treatment, and comes down to the developer not understanding, or more likely, not caring that much about there target market, the hook is in the title and the game just needs to be “good enough”.

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