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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a game of conflicting duality

Tuesday, 25th February 2014 08:50 GMT By Dave Cook

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 brings Dracula into the modern age, but has Mercury Steam delivered the solid sequel we hoped for? Find out in Dave Cook’s final PS3 verdict.

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CLoS 2

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Out this week on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
Version tested: PS3

Pros:

- Challenging combat
- Oscar Arajuo’s soundtrack
- Patrick Stewart

Cons:

- Horrendous stealth sections
- Modern day setting is jarring
- Camera can be a problem
- Difficulty spikes galore

The ending of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was one of my defining moments of the last generation. It was an incredibly brave finale that took over 25 years of series lore and spun it entirely off its axis, and I can still recall the feeling of sheer excitement as Gabriel flew threw that cathedral window and into the present day. In an instant the studio had written a big cheque, and none of us were sure if the team could cash it.

I interviewed Konami producer David Cox about the ending back in 2011 for another site, and he told me that Mercury Steam was never guaranteed the chance of a sequel, so it decided to go for something truly mind-bending to go out on. That ending has since become canon, and the studio has been given space to elaborate on its story. While the modern setting is clearly at odds with Castlevania’s medieval backdrops – save for the futuristic Sorrow series – Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t all skyscrapers, cars and technology. Far From it, in fact.

Once you get past the game’s rather epic tutorial – which is essentially the demo released by Konami a few months back – the plot begins in current times with Dracula awakening in the ruins of his castle, which now serve as foundation to a vast British city. He’s old, feeble and still reeling from defeat at the hands of his ancestors in Mirror of Fate. So out into the new age he goes, looking incredibly out of place and bewildered by the tattered empire before him. All he really wants is to die and to be freed from his immortality. His old pal Zobek emerges to cut him a deal: halt Satan’s return and he’ll deliver him to death’s door personally.

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Gabriel agrees and sets off to restore his lost power and kill Satan’s four acolytes, who have since become great power-mongers in the business world. The first thing I noticed about the game’s modern day components is just how similar they are to those found in Bayonetta and DmC. The environment is littered with menacing gothic spires, intricate stone archways, peppered with neon signs, parked cars and red phone boxes. You’re in Britain, remember? I like the concept of moving to the present day, but there’s something a little jarring about seeing a shirtless vampire lord whipping beasts on a city high-street. This isn’t ruinous mind you; it just takes a little suspension of disbelief.

It’s not long before you start jumping back between the present and past thanks to a vision of Gabriel’s son Trevor who appears before him as a child. If you prefer your Castlevania games set in the dark ages then you’ll appreciate these moments, which see you fighting a range of nasties in the bowels of Dracula’s castle in search of power-ups and Mirror of Fate shards. The contrast between the castle’s former glory and the metropolis it’s now become is quite stark, and if you’re invested in Gabriel’s sorrow and regret, you’ll likely be taken aback at everything he’s lost. That’s only if you become invested.

And that’s a key point, because Mercury Steam really wants you to feel bad for Gabriel; a man who went on a crusade from god, only to become the antithesis of everything he fought for. He’ll often look mournfully at his crumbled empire, or ruffle Trevor’s hair in a rare display of affection while Oscar Araujo’s genuinely beautiful orchestral score rumbles throughout. You’ll feel for him a little, but then in a heartbeat he’s back to his savage, thoughtless and murderous self, biting the necks of innocent human scientists or thrashing beasts with his whip. He’s a hard character to side with, and maybe that’s intentional, but this could stop you from becoming fully engrossed.

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When you’re not watching cut-scenes you’re either climbing around the scenery or battling enemies. Platforming is as you’d expect with plenty of hand-holds and dusty old beams to shimmy along. It’s pretty standard, uninspiring fare that is occasionally let down by the game’s free camera. Your perspective does tend to get tripped up in tight spaces, and this is something I’ll touch on again in combat, but because nearby climbing points are flagged by a screeching swarm of bats, you’ll have little trouble figuring out where you’re supposed to go. There was one quite infuriating puzzle involving chains early on, and a few sections involving swinging cages that felt really clunky, but neither were game-breaking.

Stealth sections do bog the game down significantly, and the first example sees Dracula trying to infiltrate a laboratory protected by hulking demonic guards. Your tool-set allows you disorientate patrolling targets so you can slip by undetected, but while they are screaming and thrashing around, their comrades go about their duties within earshot, entirely oblivious to what’s going on. You can even possess a guard and shuffle your way past locked doors unconvincingly or transform into a pack of rats and scurry through vent shafts without raising alarms. Detection results in near-instant death, making these poorly designed and tiresome sections something of an unfortunate feature.

One stealth encounter in Pan’s garden is hands-down one of the most frustrating sections in a game I’ve played for some time, and it smacks of a poor understanding of the genre. As your enemy tries to track you by smell and sound, you must shimmy along the edge of stone fixtures to avoid standing on dead leaves, while hurling daggers at bells to create distracting sounds. It’s fine on paper, but in practice it’s a nightmare. Your pursuer catches up with you all too fast, and there are sections where you can’t help but trample on the dried-out foliage. I don’t know if this is intentional or simple a mistake of design, but you will die here often and curse the studio for it.

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20 Comments

  1. miles97

    i liked the game but story is real mess at times it doesn’t make sense and that ending disappointed me , combat , lore, soundtrack are good

    #1 10 months ago
  2. YoungZer0

    So many amateurish mistakes by what seems to be a competent developer. I think that’s unforgivable. I thought now, that they are on their own – without Hideo – it would get better. They would choose their own priorities, do their own things. And while it is true that the art-direction seems to have gotten a lot better, the rest doesn’t seem to be.

    Granted, I only played the demo, but that alone showed me the duality you seem to have encountered, Dave. While the combat is challenging and at time ridiculously hard, the climbing parts are not at all.

    Again, I can only speak of the demo, but there was so. much. handholding.

    Camera comes in, camera pans around, camera shows you where you need to go.
    Camera pans around, shows you each part of the things you need to destroy individually.
    Again. And again. And of course, all of it is un-skippable.

    What a waste, seriously disappointing.

    #2 10 months ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @YoungZer0 @2 so many of those moments, camera swoops slowly to mask loading times, showing you where to go, and is unskippable. The game loads often, and the way they hid it is naff, usually a slowly unlocking door.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. miles97

    @Dave Cook those doors its annoying , and pans garden that is pain in the *** though , and story wise certain characters are real friendly who are not in mirror of fate , to me mirror of fate has better story than this game .

    #4 10 months ago
  5. YoungZer0

    @Dave Cook

    Ugh, I remember playing the first one and the game would always pan out to show me a certain area. When I entered a new ice area and I could skip it, I did it immediately, thinking there was nothing interesting to show.

    Suddenly I was in a boss fight with an ice giant.

    Great, really, really great.

    I think they need a better engine, as even Mirrors of Fate had ridiculous loading times and we all know what that game looks like.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. Ode

    Hey Dave ,how long are those stealth sections(all together)?

    #6 10 months ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @Ode Not long, but chances are you’ll die often trying to fudge your way through them. Very annoying.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. Ode

    @Dave Cook
    That sucks(pun intended)and reminds me of the awful stealth sections in the DLC for the first one.How long is the game?

    #8 10 months ago
  9. Obernox

    I’m having an absolute blast with the game. The combat and music is really the strong points, my only problem is the force stealth sections, but thankfully they’re very few in between and short. I think LoS2 is going to be yet another underrated gem like Remeber Me, Alice: Madness Returns, Gods Eater Burst, and many more.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. Obernox

    I’m also vety grateful Mercury Steam didn’t commit franchise rape like Ninja Theory did with Devil May Cry.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. zoopdeloop

    @Obernox +1
    At least those guys at Mercury Steam know how to make a good combat system adding challenging enemies and a good ammount of inspired boss fights

    #11 10 months ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @Obernox DmC: Devil May Cry was perfectly fine and had better combat than CLoS 2, by some margin.

    #12 10 months ago
  13. Mike W

    @Dave Cook

    Now that you played both (DMC and CLOS 2) which one you believe has the better story? Because DMC was pretty weak.

    #13 10 months ago
  14. Armitage Shanks

    Was gonna jump straight into this on hard mode,not sure sure i have the patience to do so now,can you max out your life bar and skills and then replay on hard in new game plus or whatever?

    #14 10 months ago
  15. Michael Ireland

    Maybe I’m missing something, but what exactly is this game game doing that’s making it such a low scorer? It seems to be going over my head,

    #15 10 months ago
  16. Hcw87

    @15

    Horrible setting, horrible stealth scenes that have no place in a hack ‘n slash game, boring enemies. That’s what i gathered from reading IGN/Eurogamer.

    It’ll be a Steam-sale buy for me in a few months.

    #16 10 months ago
  17. Mike W

    @Michael Ireland

    I’m trying to figured that out myself. From what I gathered is that it improved on everything that was wrong with the first game.

    #17 10 months ago
  18. Mike W

    @Hcw87

    Why won’t you be judge of the game instead going off other people’s opinion. :D

    #18 10 months ago
  19. Hcw87

    @18

    When pretty much every review has something this negative to say (and the metacritic is so low) i won’t pay full price for it. It’s not that high on my wish-list atm.

    #19 10 months ago
  20. Mike W

    @Hcw87

    So you purchase your games based off other people’s opinions and the score it has on Metacritic?

    #20 10 months ago

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