Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Hands-On

Gabriel Belmont fights off the warg hordes in the Castlevania E3 demo.

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Up until this point, we've only seen the trailer of the latest installment of the Castlevania franchise, but we recently had a chance to go hands-on with the E3 demo on the show floor. But just as a quick recap: In development at Mercury Steam (with some assistance from Kojima Productions), Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a reboot of sorts for the classic franchise as it features new characters and, most importantly, 3D action. But whereas previous 3D Castlevanias fell short in terms of delivering the kind of action and adventure that fans of the series expect, Lords of Shadow looks like it just might change all of that.

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The demo begins with a storybook presentation narrated by the recently knighted Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame). We're told that the year is 1047 and the world has become a dark place. After the setup, we see Gabriel Belmont walk into a small town overrun with werewolflike creatures, and though the townspeople do their best to fend off the beasts with torches, they're no match. Naturally, this is an opportunity for Gabriel to strut his stuff as the demo guides us as to what he can do--the first being his two basic attacks. These attacks stem from a weak and strong system where pressing one button will produce the corresponding type of combination, but when you mix the two together, you can perform an even more devastating combo (and you can also perform aerial combos, if you happen to juggle your foes into the air).

If you're thinking that this sounds a little bit like God of War, you'd be right--the combat system is pretty similar. But, in addition to his basic whip attacks, Gabriel can pick up items left by fallen enemies. The first item we see is a set of daggers, which Gabriel can then throw at his attackers. They're not terribly strong and you have a limited number (unless you pick up more), but they're strong enough to take out some of the smaller enemies in one shot. Lastly, Gabriel can also grab his enemies and throw them by pressing the right trigger and then waiting for a series of circles to align before pressing a face button. When done properly, Gabriel leaps into the air, enemy in hand, and throws it to the ground. It's also worth noting that when you defeat enemies, you gain experience points, which you can then use to purchase new attacks and other abilities for Gabriel.

Of course, our hero also has a set of defensive moves. In addition to a regular block, Gabriel can perform some evasive maneuvers by holding the block down and pressing a direction on the analog stick. He can also execute counters if you happen to time a block just right. You can then mash a button to get a counter-combo off. Also, if you happen to need some health, you can run up to a health statue and press the right trigger to gain a little back, but these health statues seem somewhat few and far between--at least, in the demo.

After coming to grips with the controls, we took care of the creatures invading the town. This particular scene in the demo looked quite amazing as rain came pouring down on Gabriel and the townspeople fighting at his side. In fact, it was one of the best rain effects we've seen, and when combined with the great lighting effects, it produced a nice sheen on everything. But we didn't take too much time to gaze at the environment--once we finished off the initial wave of enemies, a huge warg came crashing through the town gates. This beast can't be defeated as easily as his smaller counterparts. You have to make extensive use of Gabriel's blocking and pay attention to when the warg is about to launch his unblockable attack and evade it at the proper time. We launched every combo we could at him to take his health down, but just as we were about to defeat him, the warg made his way to the top of a small rock pile in the town. From there, we were told to grab a massive pike of sorts by pressing the right trigger just as the warg leapt toward Gabriel. The quick-time event ended and the warg was defeated. Gabriel questioned the townspeople before moving onto the forest.

Once there, we got our first taste of horseback riding in Lords of Shadow as a mythical-looking horse jumped from a portal and told Gabriel he could guide him to his destination. The horseback riding was on a fixed path, and in the demo, you have to combat enemies that come running beside you. It seems as though you can stay on your horse, but in the demo, you fall to the ground if you get hit too many times. From here, we fought more of the same creatures before the horse reappeared and we moved onto a similar section of the forest. The demo ended with the horse telling Gabriel he couldn't go any further, leaping through a crowd of wargs, across a ravine.

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There's definitely a God of War influence in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but it just fits the game so well. We're interested to see just how Gabriel's list of attacks grows throughout the course of the game, as well as how the exploration element will fit into all of it. But at the very least, the game looks absolutely great at this point, and we can't wait to see more.

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