Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2
Irate Glaswegians are an all-too familiar experience for me having lived in Scotland' second city for going on 15 years. That's a bit of a shame because there are points in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 where Robert Carlyse's voice acting moves from tortured immortal soul to sounding like he's frustrated at having to say the same line so many times.
This is just one of the many details in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 where the game doesn't feel quite as it should.
Don't get me wrong. There's plenty of Lords Of Shadow 2 that is excellent but the high points are punctuated by moments of odd design choices and even a sudden lack of clarity on the overall vision for the game.
In fact, it's the momentary lapses in the game's knowledge of its own identity that are at odds with the crystal clear vision of Castlevania that Mercury Steam has shown over the previous two games.
But first, let's talk about the good things.
There's an impressive sense of scale as there was with the first game. Dracula's castle is huge in and of itself and the modern city that is built around it features amazing architecture that echoes the castle as well as carefully designed modern buildings.
Mercury Steam has managed to build this impressive sense of scale right from the beginning through Dracula's face-off with the Brotherhood Of Light's armies back in the past before he embarked on his long slumber.
This is possibly one of the more exciting tutorial sections that has been made for a while. First it introduces Dracula's combat abilities including the new Void Sword and Chaos Claws. Alongside his main weapon, the Shadow Whip, these allow Dracula tailor his attacks to fit a variety of different enemies.
It's actually a very elegant system that grows into itself nicely as Dracula's attacks are unlocked throughout the game. The Void Sword drains health from enemies allowing Dracula to heal mid-battle and the Chaos Claws allow him to break through enemies shields.
During combat the controls respond well and switching between the different weapons is quick and easy. The Void Sword and Chaos Claws both require magic power to use and each has its own energy bar which is quite clever. It means using one to exhaustion doesn't make the other one unavailable. It also means that you have to make use of all weapons as building up a good set of combos with the Shadow Whip will release magic orbs which charge up the Void and Chaos powers.
It's a pretty good thing that this combat system works well as the tutorial throws you right in at the deep end climbing up and taking down a massive titan of the Brotherhood Of Light and then one of their golden-winged paladins.
It's actually pretty gripping stuff and it fully highlights just how good Lords Of Shadow 2 can be with the combination of Mercury Steam's grand sense of scale and their excellent and carefully refined combat system.
As the game begins proper this is where things begin to get a bit more dicey. Dracula wakes up after a long slumber staggering through the streets following the voice of his old companion and ally Zobek until he's ambused by a demon. Here all of the combat skills you've just learned are no use as Dracula is weak. He passes out just as Zobek's very Devil-May-Cry-looking lieutenant appears to secure Dracula.
This is followed by a groggy-looking scene where Dracula feeds on a terrified family in a darkened room. It turns out to be a room in Zobek's grandiose marble headquarters. The floor is so polished you can see your reflection in it only you can't because Dracula doesn't have one.
Mercury Steam have said that this is to remind players that as tough and impressive as Dracula is he is still essentially evil and the real root of Lords Of Shadow 2 is sending a bad guy to get rid of an even-worse guy.
Once Dracula is reinvigorated Zobek sends him to a chemical plant to set about finding Satan so they can deal with him. This is where the game starts to lose its identity a bit.
The strange thing is Lords Of Shadow 2 swings wildly between making you feel like an all-powerful immortal being and then making him seem uncharacteristically fragile. There are stealth segments where Dracula must either sneak past giant demonic powered guards or possess them. The strange thing is, not too long after these stealth sections Dracula has to fight and take down a massive creature that's clearly more powerful that these guards which makes the game a tad inconsistent.
The stealth itself doesn't feel all that comfortable either. Dracula can distract enemies with a swarm of bats for a short time so he can sneak either past or get into a position to possess them. He can also use certain shadowy areas to turn himself into a rat to navigate enclosed spaces. There's no actual stealth mode or even a crouch like there is in Dishonored or Splinter Cell just Dracula hiding behind massive crates.
The whole stealth mechanic, expecially with the ability ro morph into rats almost feels like Mercury Steam really enjoyed doing that in Dishonored and thought it would fit well in Lords Of Shadow 2 fairly far into the project. It feels completely inconsistent with the game's combat especially if you've just dispatched a particularly large boss.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is big and beautiful and it's not without its fun moments but the moments of identity crisis really eat into what should have been a fantastic game. It's not bad but it's certainly not what we could have hoped for given what Mercury Steam has achieved so far with Konami's gothic series.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 is out on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 today in North America and February 27th in Europe and February 28th in the UK.
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