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.
Out this week on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
Version tested: PS3
– Challenging combat
– Oscar Arajuo’s soundtrack
– Patrick Stewart
– 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.
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.
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.