Great combat, stellar visuals and a lengthy and varied quest make it a great game despite some frustrating design issues

User Rating: 8 | Castlevania: Lords of Shadow X360
There have been many games in the history with unique and inventive new mechanics or ideas, and then there have been many more that have simply used those ideas as a foundation and built upon them. castlevania:los is basicly one of the latter type. But just because many aspects of this game might be a little too familiar to fans of the genre it doesn't stop it from being a really fun, deep and satisfying game.
the story takes you through a long journey (nearly 20 hours on the normal difficulty) to help Gabriel bring her wife back from death and rid the world of of evil army in the process, but while the voice acting is generally good (especially patrick steward as zobek,gabriel's friend and the narrator) the story fails to interest that much until the very end because of how it's told and how much of it is based on clichés and stereotypes. there are some great cut scenes at the beginning and the end of the adventure that give the story a nice cinematic feeling but ultimately it fails to make you care much about the main character and his actions or have any meaningful emotional attachments to them.
But what will really make you care about the game and push you forward is the combat system. it might at first seem like a nice rip-off of something like god of war as you use light and strong attacks in conjunction to unleash different but somewhat few combos on your demonic foes with the chain-like holy cross and also grab them and different objects with it, soon enough a lot of new elements and features are introduced that make it deeper and more satisfying as you progress. the first of those is projectile weapons like daggers and the series mainstay holy water that can help you against most of your enemies but don't do much damage on their own and even have some limited puzzle implementation.
However the greatest and most integral part of the combat is probably the magic abilities. You have two kinds of magic : light and shadow. damaging enemies with the light magic active will heal you and attacking them while the shadow magic is active will do more damage. killing any enemies without using magic will drop some neutral orbs you can gather (in a cumbersome fashion using analog sticks) to fill up either magic gauges. there's also a separate focus meter that fills up as you damage your enemies without getting hit while not using magic which after being completely filled make enemies drop those orbs with every hit you make(and actually encourages you to use varied attacks and mix them up by filling up faster ).
It might seem a lot at first to dig into but thankfully the game teaches these features gradually with a pretty nice difficulty curve. and learning you should , because this is a really challenging(but rarely cheap) game in which you can't just progress mashing the same buttons over and over and just relying on two or three combos. aside from the all-important block and dodging abilities which you should always pay attention to thanks to the nimble and quick foes and the fact that blocking or dodging their attacks(which both unfortunately use the same button thus leading to occasionally doing one when intending the other) at the right moment can stun them or get you out of a tight situation respectively , you should also have a strategy for using magic abilities or building up the focus meter based on the number and types of enemies you are dealing with and the general situation. the bestiary of castlevania:LOS encompasses many different hellish creatures all with their own strengths, weaknesses and behaviors and figuring these things out and getting used to them is a terrific part of the combat.
while the list of mandatory abilities you have is pretty big in its own it's just the beginning because there are many more combos, magic abilities (like sending a devastating earthquake with shadow magic or dazzling your enemies with the cross in light magic), weapon upgrades and so on that you can unlock with the experience points you gain by killing enemies and solving puzzles that constantly give you new strategies and ways to battle it out and keep the game fresh through the end.
but naturally combat isn't the only thing you do in this game. the game is basically a near-linear action adventure with the focus being on combat but there are also a lot of exploration and platforming sections and also puzzle portions to a lesser extent. in most levels you generally move forward in a linear path without any freedom in where you go or how to get there, mostly relying on the abilities you have or unlock to progress. although it feels a bit too narrow minded at most of the times with all the invisible walls and obstacles constantly confining you to where the developers intended you to be in even if you're sure you can reach somewhere else they obviously didn't intend , there are at least some parts of the levels or branching paths with some sort of upgrade or hidden gems in them(which you need for upgrading your health and magic meters) that you can't simply access at your first visit because of a needed ability , which is a good incentive to revisit the levels you've beaten(aside from the different challenges that are unlocked after every level and task you to do a specific thing for bonus experience). While in most parts of the game you use the hook attached to the cross in some neat ways, most of the platforming consists of jumping and grabbing or shimmying along the ledges which don't feel very good because of the loose and inconsistent animations and some bugs that lead to frustrating deaths.
The puzzle sections of the game, while not as frequent as the other elements, don't fare any better. with the exception of a few ones , most of the puzzles aren't very clever or well-designed in a way that just make you think a little and feel smart or gratified after solving them without hindering the pacing much , with some of them featuring very head-scratching solutions or some that just annoy you with trial and error. and their difficulty isn't also balanced well, with the first major puzzle being much harder than most of the later ones. but thankfully all these elements and some other ones like the many boss or mini boss fights featuring big (or huge in the case of the few titan bosses that feel a lot like the ones in the shadow of colossus and are killed in the same way of climbing them and then hitting their weak points) and powerful adversaries including vampires, lycans or witches or the nicely implemented quick-time events(whether during or after the boss fights or in the cinematics) and a few creature-riding sequences are blended nicely together that ultimately lead to a varied and engaging adventure throughout.
And tying this engaging adventure together is an excellent audio-visual presentation. Castlevania : LOS is simply a beautiful game. Whether it's a lush forest with tall waterfalls or a once-peaceful city or village now down the road of destruction or even the vampire lord's huge castle atop snowy mountains the game constantly amazes you with highly detailed, epic and immersive environments; and while the characters or the enemies aren't detailed to the same level of environments and some of them even look a bit generic they still fit nicely within the theme and feel of the game. The music and sound effects are great too with some mild, somber notes when exploring peaceful areas and epic , fast-paced rhythms while dealing with challenging foes. the only thing that sometimes brings this excellent presentation down adds to the frustration is the fixed camera . while it generally gives a good view of the action and the places you need to see and even adds to the epic sense of scale in some parts it occasionally stumbles and leads you to some unpleasant and unavoidable deaths especially in tight indoor areas.
Castlevania has a lot of great things going for it : fun, deep and rewarding combat, huge and varied quest with a lot of unlockable features and nice replayability, beautiful visuals and great sound treatment and some epic boss fights and puzzles. But in the end it also deals with some painful design and gameplay issues like the generally poor platforming and strictly linear level design and a not so great camera system and also some animation or other bugs.but perhaps its biggest issue for the fans of this genre and the popular games that have pushed it forward in the past years(like god of war and shadow of colossus) is the sense of déjà-vu ; like they have seen most of what this game has to offer somewhere else in pretty much the same shape or form. But if you can get past the initial hours of this epic quest, most of that sense will fade away and suddenly you feel totally immersed in a constantly engaging and fun but occasionally frustrating game that despite the flaws it has, still manages to entertain you for hours on end. So to all the fans of the action adventure genre: don't miss this great, epic and fun journey!