Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 ReviewJoe Shaffer
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the kind of action title you would expect it to be. It features a wealth of button mashing, button combo experimentation, over-the-top action, constant dodging and/or blocking, and moments that beg you to stop and take in the awesome monster designs that occasionally crop up. Understand that I'm not in any way bashing the game; quite the contrary. Rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel, developers Mercury Steam have refined their original hit into a lean, exciting experience.
Once again, you take the role of Gabriel Belmont, who has by this point fully become Dracula. The once-proud warrior has mysteriously awoken in a high-tech future, beckoned by his old ally Zobek. Under Zobek's supervision, Dracula attempts to topple three powerful acolytes of Satan before they can resurrect the fallen angel. As you can imagine, gore and graphic imagery ensue...
Although Dracula has now seemingly taken an "unlikely hero" role, make no mistake: he is no good guy. There's one disturbing cutscene early on in the campaign that perfectly paints him as such, in which an emaciated and severely undernourished Dracula slits a man's throat and drains an innocent woman of her blood. Yet, Drac isn't quite a villain, either. Lords of Shadow 2 occasionally shifts between the aforementioned futuristic realm and Dracula's dilapidated castle. There he meets the apparitions of his wife and son. It's through his interactions with them that we see the most human side of Dracula. Be it rescuing Marie from the seductive Carmilla or going out of his way to please Trevor, Dracula's devotion to his family shows an unexpectedly likeable side of the brand's antihero.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story is standard fare. For instance, there have been numerous games that involve a cult resurrecting a demonic force. What's worse is that most of the storyline consists of Zobek barking orders at Dracula, and Drac reluctantly slithering off to obey. Were it not for the scenes that involve Dracula and his family, not to mention a not-so-surprising plot twist (that was enjoyable, regardless), Lords of Shadow 2's plot would have been among the game's forgettable aspects.
If you're like me, though, you're probably not looking for an overblown narrative in Lords of Shadow 2 anyway. Rather, what I desire most from an action title is--get this--lots of action. On that end, the game pays in spades. Combat is similar to the game's predecessor, down to the control scheme. Returning players will also find that there's a lenient learning curve involved, which is thankful. That way they can get right into the game and commence whipping, slashing, and punching with gusto. What's most impressive about Lords of Shadow 2's mechanics, though, is just how tight and stable its engine is. Foes frequently surround you, each of them cutting loose a dazzling spell or a devastating attack. You, in turn, respond to their malice with well-timed whip cracks and picture perfect leaps and side rolls. The battlefield eventually becomes a symphony of maneuvers and attacks, and all the while the animation remains solid, not once descending into a mess of lag.
Although Lords of Shadow 2 plays like its predecessor, there are some distinct differences. For starters, its campaign is a bit shorter. Although that might sound like a flaw, I'm actually thankful that Mercury Steam trimmed it down, as I thought the previous outing was a little drawn out. Better than that, Lords of Shadow 2 features more variety than the original title. While the game is still centered on combat this time around, there aren't many instances where you battle the same group of enemies several times over or engage in the same activities repeatedly (e.g. mounting a troll to break down a massive door, throwing goblins' grenades at a structure, etc.). Rather, the game sports a decent array of new grotesque adversaries, and does a fine job of mixing up battles.
When not locked in an altercation, Lords of Shadow sends you through some pretty intense scenes. For instance, there's a segment on a train that has you literally dodging bullets, fighting an immense demon, avoiding the notice of heavily armed troops, and eventually evading hanging lights while resting atop a train car. Top all of that off with a handful of crazy boss battles, some of which include classic Castlevania villains like Carmilla and Death, and what you have is a tight, action-packed experience.
Among the attempts to bring variety to the experience, the only one that sticks in my craw is the addition of stealth missions. I'm not saying that the stealth is horribly broken or terrible in and of itself. Most of stealth events require a bit of problem solving, which is nice. Mostly, they involve you trying to slip past heavily armored guards carrying deadly artillery. Seriously, a blast or two from one of these suckers and it's lights out. The problem with stealth missions in Lords of Shadow 2 is that their inclusion makes no sense whatsoever. Why would someone as powerful as Dracula need to sneak past armored guards? How is it that a warrior who once felled Satan, sliced a tremendous demon in half length-wise, and is able to bring down titanic monsters and golems needs to sneak past armored guards? Are the guards really that much more powerful than the aforementioned villains? Somehow, Dracula can withstand projectiles from the devil himself, survive a fall from hundreds of feet in the air, and bounce back from beating after beating, but he isn't able to tolerate a couple of blasts from a conventional (albeit high-tech) weapon... One final question: why is Satan sending demons to deal with Dracula, rather than a legion of heavily armored troops?
No, the stealth segments don't break the game. More than anything, they're an unwanted interruption; not quite despicable, but certainly not pleasing. Regardless of their presence, they do little to harm Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. With a snappy combat system and exciting moments, the game is a genuine pleasure to play. And to believe that I was skeptical of the Lords of Shadow brand, thinking that it would bring ruin to one of my favorite series of games. Instead, I feel nowadays that the series is in good hands.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.