Castlevania Lords Of Shadow 2 PS3 review – How do you kill Drac? With robots, apparently
Playing the first hour of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is like speed running through the three emotions you feel throughout the rest of the game: amazement, frustration and disappointment. A searing opening introduces you to Gabriel Belmont’s brilliant new arsenal – the Void Sword, Chaos Claws and Shadow Whip – and then asks, “can you stick them into that golden angel bloke, and this golem the size of a small mountain range?” With pleasure. It’s a perfect tutorial – grandiose, mildly challenging and an instant reminder of why we loved the first game so damned much.
Then comes ten minutes of stuffy exposition followed by a scene shift to the modern day, the opening’s yawning gothic sprawl yanked away in favour of telephone pylons, potholes and pavement. Anyone who played to the end of the 2010 original will know this makes perfect narrative sense, but sadly it also makes for duff gameplay. The Belmont of the modern age starts out as a shrivelled, limping husk – this is essentially developer Mercury Steam’s way of doing the classic ‘take all your powers away’ trick that always plagues action sequels such as CLOS2.
The modern realisation of the first game’s twist ending fail to deliver on the promise.
And so, after a trio of false starts and a very unpleasant first-person sequence (you’ll know it when you see it), CLOS2 begins in earnest. It feels like a game of compromise. Success can be a tough act to follow, and you can almost hear the suited execs at Konami howling ill-advised opinions at the dev team: “The kids like stealth, I said. Have you put in the robots yet?” Unfortunately, they listened. The present day portion of the game is suffocated by horrible stretches of grey interiors patrolled by hulking androids. But – and this is the real kicker – you can’t fight them.
You can almost hear the suited execs at
Konami howling ill-advised opinions at
the dev team: “The kids like stealth, I
said. Have you put in the robots yet?”
Instead Gabriel is forced to turn into a rat, just like Dracula doesn’t, and scurry his way past as if he hasn’t just taken down a mythical colossus by ripping its heart out with his bare hands. That, or you can chuck a swarm of bats as a distraction and tiptoe past, high-level weaponry dangling from your vampiric hip.
It’s stealth gameplay that’s both achingly poor and completely out of place, a flaw made all the more obvious by the gleaming quality of everything else the game has to offer. Because when Mercury Steam gets back to doing what it does best – letting you whip enormous monsters into pulpy puddles – CLOS2 throws up wow moments that outdo anything else in the genre.
At the heart of everything good is a meticulous combat system that refines, expands, and ultimately improves on that found in the original CLOS. The aforementioned Void Sword and Chaos Claws replace light and dark magic respectively – the former an icy blade that replenishes your health with every hit, the latter a set of fiery gauntlets that make short work of armoured opponents. You need to absorb magic orbs to power them; the ingenious twist being that enemies only drop these after you’ve smacked them about while simultaneously avoiding any damage.
Castlevania’s combat system encourages skill to maximise your effectiveness as a monster killer.
It’s a system that coaxes you into a practised, intelligent fighting style, rewarding the use of intricate and varied combos by feeding you the power to perform even better moves. Belmont may be slower than both Dante and Kratos, but his moveset is more nuanced and satisfying to pull off. This is, for my money, the best combat system on PS3.
What Mercury Steam has managed to wring out of PS3 for CLOS2 is incredible. It’s just the inconsistencies – naff stealth and a badly paced story – that costs the game a higher score and prevents this sequel from scaling to the epic heights of its predecessor. Unevenly brilliant and infuriating, CLOS2 combines incredible, tight combat and some spectacular visual treats with ropey stealth and a clunky narrative. Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad.