After a handful of failed attempts, the good people at MercurySteam — with a little help from Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima — finally figured out how to successfully adapt the 2D side-scroller Castlevania series into a 3D game with 2010’s Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow. Now M.S., sans Kojima, are hoping to replicate that game’s fun factor with Castlevania: Lords Of Shadows 2 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. But while it does misfire way more than its predecessor, it’s still a solid action game.
After an unwanted guest trashes his castle, Dracula decides to take a really long nap. When he finally bothers to get up (and in modern times, no less), he learns that Satan is planning a comeback, and it’s up to Drac to stop him. But to do so, The Prince Of Darkness (no, not Ozzy) is going to have to get back into fighting shape, and take out Satan’s minions in hopes of slowing their master’s return.
Like the first game, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is a third-person hack & slash action game in the vein of the Devil May Cry series (albeit without the guns) and the God Of War games (albeit without the anger issues). Though while having a sword made the first game feel more Devil-ish, you mostly whack with a whip in this sequel, which gives the combat a decidedly more God-like feel. Further adding to the Kratos-ness of it all, you also have a couple of special weapons: the Void Sword, which replenishes your heath with every smack, and the Chaos Claws, which are blunt and thus can break an enemy’s shield or shell (though there’s a limit to how long you can use either).
Of course, being a hack & slash game, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 has plenty of combos you can unlock for maximum carnage, as well as experience points you can spend to make your weapons more effective. You also have a finishing move that has you sinking your teeth into an enemy’s neck and sucking them dry (which, like the Void Sword, replenishes a little of your health).
Of course, Dracula can do other things besides smacking people silly. If you find a nice dark corner, you can transform into a rat that can sneak past someone, or you can posses their bodies and make them doing your bidding. Both of which turn this into a sort of stealth action game for a bit.
The problem is that these sneaky moments aren’t nearly as much fun as the ones where you’re whacking guys in rapid succession. While Sam Fisher and Solid Snake would love to be able to distract guys with a swarm of bats, or transform into some small furry creature that can slip by enemies unnoticed, even they would have trouble with these frustrating bits, where there’s only one solution, and it’s not always obvious or easy to pull off. In fact, they’re so infuriatingly difficult, both on their own and relative to the rest of the game, that most of them made me want to rage quit.
What’s far less maddening in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is how, when not sneaking or smacking, you spend your time jumping and climbing, as well as figuring out how to best jump and climb your way to where you need to go. Though these parts are also slightly problematic since it’s not always apparent where you’re supposed to go. You do have a vision option that highlights things you can climb on or jump to, but it does so with little red markers that aren’t always noticeable, especially when they’re located on something that’s reddish brown.
The game has other issues that, while not as irritating as the stealth action bits, should’ve been avoided. For starters, the story often gets in the way. Rather than have you running from one fight to the next, you often feel like you’re running from one cut scene to the next.
It also doesn’t help that the map isn’t very helpful, since its two dimensional whole the world is all three. Which is why, after taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque, I ended up right back where I started, and had to back track for ten minutes to get where I needed to be.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 also has a problem so common in games these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into almost every game review I do: the typeface. Though unlike so many games these days, where the type is so small that it’s difficult to read if you’re sitting at a reasonable distance from your TV, here the issue is that because they use an elaborate, Gothic-looking font, the menus are difficult to read even when the letters are of a reasonably decent size.
But the biggest issue with Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is that, during frantic battles, the game’s shaky camera is a bit too, well, shaky. Using cinéma vérité techniques can be interesting when used sparingly, but here it gets to be a nauseating.
Such issues are minor, though, and more than offset by everything this game does well. And, in some cases, better than the first one. The biggest of these is the camera, which is now mostly controlled by you — well, when not being all shaky — and thus doesn’t get in your way as much as the fixed position one did in the first game. Except there are times when I kind of missed the fixed camera. Not because I prefer it, but because, by having it, the right thumbstick can be used to dodge, like it is in God Of War. Here you have to hold down the left trigger and move to dodge. Which isn’t the most difficult thing in the world, but using the right thumbstick is easier. Doubly so when the game switches to a fixed camera.
They also did a good job with the music in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2, opting for a dark classical score that, like some of the visuals, recalls the Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s (though you’ll also see visual touchstones from Renaissance art and Japanese horror films). More importantly, the game’s score never overpowers the sound effects or the dialog, though if you’d like to bump the music down a notch, the game let’s you do that as well.
The game also has a mostly impressive voice cast, including Robert Carlyle as Dracula, Patrick Stewart as his pal Zobek, and Jason Isaacs as Satan. Though whoever approved Chupacabras’ irritatingly cutesy voice should be fired.
But the best thing about Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is how much fun you’ll have hacking and slashing all the bad guys. Thanks to the game’s responsive and intuitive controls, beating the stuffing out of Satan’s minions is as satisfying here as, well, beating the stuffing out Satan’s minions is in real life. Sure, this sequel isn’t as solid as fans of this series, or the first game, might’ve hoped. But if you’re in the mood to whack some guys like Dante or Kratos, this will do.