Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
PS3, Xbox 360
“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” opens with a fantastic sales pitch that essentially boils down the best playing parts of 2010’s “Lords of Shadow” and serves them up hot in an incredibly exciting prologue.
A screenshot from “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.” — Submitted image
Players whip their way through fanatical armoured knights in a gorgeous throne room; they pound on them with three devastating weapons and learn how to effectively dodge and parry and counterattack with vicious precision.
They scale a massive titan as it attempts to bludgeon its way into Dracula’s lair, avoiding arrow fire and leaping through clockwork machinery en route to the top, where they bring the beast crashing to the ground — all in an effort to finally sink their fangs into a Golden Armoured Paladin who has been dogging them from afar the entire time.
And while I can’t honestly say that the rest of the game pales in comparison, it does fail to keep pace with this superb slobberknocker of a sneak preview; even if the rest of the game is greater than the sum of its parts.
SPOILER ALERT: In the wake of the first “Lords of Shadow,” Gabriel Belmont has been corrupted by the dark power he was forced to wield to force Satan back into the abyss. Before and after the events of the 3DS sequel “Mirror of Fate” — which are thankfully truncated down in a delicious little cut scene before the main game begins — Belmont has waged war on humanity, carving a bloody swath of vengeance against the followers of the God he believed betrayed him, taking on the name of Dracula.
Along the way, his son Trevor and Grandson Simon are brought into battle against him, with one being cursed with the very same vampiric immortality, and the other going on to continue the famous Belmont clan of monster hunters.
In “Lords of Shadow 2,” players will be cast in the role of Dracula himself, who now seeks to repent for hundreds of years of blind vengeance and evil deeds, and has been promised true death should he stop the acolytes of Satan from summoning Ol’ Scratch back once more from the depths of hell to conquer the world.
As you can gather, “Lords of Shadow 2” loves shovelling out exposition and world building, to craft a mask of respectability around itself. This reflects the game play as well.
There is a palpable disconnect between the lavishly designed castle/sections, and the segments that have Dracula skulking through uninspired modern-day areas, forced into boring stealth sections where he completes remedial puzzles with rats and bat swarms as distractions, and possession spells to force baddies into opening doors.
A single slip-up means a punishing instant-kill and a load screen while Drac is returned to his last checkpoint. Now, imagine my disappointment when the very first section after the game’s powerhouse opening was creeping into a boring warehouse. Boo, I say! Boo!
“Lords of Shadow 2” makes up for the anemic stealth puzzles with beefy combat that often wades into the promise of being legitimately cerebral.
Dracula can dodge in all directions with a speedy dash that is a huge improvement over the last game’s clunky roll.
The immensely powerful and satisfying parry mechanics make a triumphant return, asking players to time their blocks properly to leave enemies wide open for reprisals so punishing they might as well be described as cruel.
There are two additional weapons beyond the series trademark whip: a sword that can refill life for every successful strike, and a pair of fiery gauntlets that smash through shields and deal hellacious damage.
These weapons must be powered through a focus bar, which can only be filled by landing successful hits and making successful dodges. It oozes with risk and reward, and I live for that sort of game play.
Enemies attack with bestial ferocity, and unleash unblockable attacks (highlighted by a telltale red sigil) that must be dashed around. Combat, which is easily the best part of “Lords of Shadow 2,” is all about chipping away at your foes until they expose themselves to violent retribution.
It is indescribably fun to parry and dodge around their attacks before crushing their defences and sapping their blood for a small health boost.
I had woken up this morning with the intent of savaging “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” for its haphazard environment puzzles, weak stealth sections, and boring modern-day corridor stage design.
However, just writing about the crunchy, immensely satisfying combat, and remembering the glorious castle sections, has inspired me to give it another go. It’s a great-looking title (with the exception of Drac’s PS2-era WWE game hair), with a fantastic voice cast, a fun story that manages to tie Castlevania lore into the Lords of Shadow reboot, and some great boss battles and set pieces that make up for the less polished portions of the game.
Like Dracula himself, “Lords of Shadow 2” is a misunderstood monster that steps up late in the game to repent for its earlier trespasses.
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (360 version reviewed)
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2014
Rated: M for Mature.
Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via firstname.lastname@example.org.