It’s been some time since the point of a game was entirely lost on me. So thank god that Castlevania Lords Of Shadow 2 has risen from the crypt to remind me that this game making business isn’t such an easy thing.
Developed by MercurySteam, it’s the sequel to the surprisingly popular 2010 game. The original has a Metascore of 85/100 which is no easy feat for a relatively small studio. It was liked for its great combat system and smart level design. There were criticisms thrown at it but it was considered a great action game.
The sequel was meant to correct the flaws of the original and I can’t help but feel that a pivotal choice sent the game reeling off course and put it somewhere between Metal Gear Solid and Remember Me.
You reprise the role of Gabriel Belmont, a Vampire who was defeated by his own son Trevor and left to slumber for centuries. He wakes in modern day by his old enemy Zobek and warned of Satan’s return. This forces him to seek to destroy the desolate one yet again as his family are in jeopardy.
Upon going through the tutorial (opening scene) it was surprising that there is a combat system that is slightly different but no less satisfying than other action titles. Blocking and countering is a necessary action to learn and the fact that you can farm health by drinking an enemy’s blood is a great and organic mechanic. The use of hard and weak attacks allows you to mix the fighting up much in the same way most decent 3D action games manage. The use of the three weapons – whip, sword and claws makes you think about which tool is required for the job. The Claw and Sword also have limited use gauges so you have to think tactfully about where and when to use them.
When he awakes he finds himself trapped in a box with an innocent human family. Famished and weak he has no choice but to deplete the poor innocent people of their blood levels. It was a great opening that suggests that this isn’t a typical good vs evil plot. Sadly, that the games last dip into a deep and morally grey story arc. The rest is simply Gabriel versus Satan’s minions which takes it back into typical gaming fare.
Design-wise the game looks great. The characters, clothing and weaponry are fantastically gothic. When traversing through the ye olden day levels it looks just as good but then loses something when it’s fast forwarded to modern times. This was likely a conscious design choice so that Gabriel was significantly more at home in the past. Sadly it just comes across as lackluster in the modern era areas and takes you out of the moment.
There are plenty of times when the camera would zoom out and show off the epic size of some of the castle levels. This worked to its advantage as it was clear there is some great design on show. Sadly if they had kept the grand style and over the top action flowing the game would not feel so dis-jointed and messy.
The real bone of contention is the incessant stealth parts that feel completely out of place. Castlevania games are a mix of platform and action that blend together and it usually works quite well. So why they felt this game required an excessive amount of stealth sequences that really suck the fun out of being a mythical monster with a penchant for the dramatic is beyond me. Not only is it slow but poorly executed.
In order to get around certain enemies you have to find a darkened corner and transform into a rat. From there you then have to go through air vents, avoid obstacles and chew through power cords.
It’s as boring as it sounds. I had hoped it was a sequence I would have to endure once but when it kept happening I realized I was going to be subjected to some poor design choices repeatedly. I can’t help but think somebody during the production process felt that putting that extra level of gameplay would interest a larger number of gamers but sadly it just puts you off.
Traversing the environment was not always a joy either. Bats would appear and form a swarm to highlight the way but they did not always work and there was several times I would follow them to a point where I would then be lost as to where to go. It was another reason why the action was slowed to a snail’s pace.
Certain parts of the game were enjoyable and the characters like the Toy Maker helped blow some dust off of the B-Movie style script but they were few and far between. Some of the bosses and animation were fantastic with certain moments feeling like they had really put some thought into it but it all falls short when spread so thinly. Gabriel’s plight to save his family just feels dull. His son’s ghostly appearances just feel like an arrow pointing where to go rather than something I was actually interested in.
This was a shame as there was some great sequencing where the FMV and gameplay would merge almost seamlessly. It kept the pacing between plot and action running smoothly so why they felt the need to stagger it with ill level design and dull narrative was perplexing. I could even forgive the constant decontamination sequences they used to hide the loading of areas as at least I was able to move about. But the fact that the game tries to go from platform, to stealth, to brutal melee, to melodramatic cut scene and then back to stealth without really making an effort to keep it enjoyable is the real crime. I couldn’t wait to finish it and continually kept wondering how much longer it was until the end.
Lords Of Shadow 2 really is a hotpot of ingredients that, once served up, fails to make a decent meal. If you decide to pick this off the menu you will leave unfulfilled and may have to go looking for the nearest fast food chain afterwards.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC Release: 25/02/14
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 7 days on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.