As I’ve stated previously on this blog, whilst I love playing the new-fangled video games, my enthusiasm for them is often tempered by being bloody hopeless at them. And yes, I have tried sucking less, thank you very much.
Some twitch-reaction gamer’s four to six hour single player game can typically take me between ten to twenty hours to finish, so I tend to take a while to catch up with titles which have long-since left the hardcore gamer conversation as they’re ever onto the next thing (the upside of my deliberation and slowness in completing games is that I feel like I get more value from gaming than somebody who plays a couple of levels and trades a game in to get the next new thing – could be delusional on my part, but I prefer my approach).
All of which is a long way round to talking about my initial experiences with MercurySteam and Kojima Productions reboot from a while back, “Castlevania: Lord of Shadows”. I mentioned last week on the blog that I picked this up in the slow implosion of UK retailer GAME’s recent stock clearance and I’m happy to say that it’s living up to my expectations so far.
The gameplay is a lovely hodge-podge of things you’ve played before, with the challenges of redesigning a classic 2D series for the 3D era met in mostly elegant and exciting ways.
The heroic weapon of choice in the series, an Indiana Jones-style bull whip, is redrawn as the Combat Cross – an in-no-way over the top, heavy-duty weapon of Him Upstairs, which can be used to help hero Gabriel Belmont climb surfaces, mete out violent death to arcane supernatural beasties and, perhaps most importantly, to pose moodily in the frequently driving rain.
The major criticisms that I have at the outset of the game are its familiarity – look, there’s a set piece which is quite like “Shadow of the Colossus”! Hey, there’s some art design ripped from the noggin of Benicio Del Toro! – and the locked, unyielding camera system which would try the patience of the Dalai Lama (were he the kind of reincarnated living deity who played modern third-person, action hack-and-slashers). Not enough to stop from playing, although the difficulty spike in the first boss battle had me heading for YouTube for a walkthrough to try to figure out why I was being chucked around like a rag doll and where I was supposed to be jumping (that’s where the flashing blue icons in the title come in – you have to climb up the guy below, chip away at his health by smashing the blue icons on his body and then hang on for dear life as he tries to flick you off his body – it’s a bugger of a gig, let me tell you).
The acting – by the likes of Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Natascha McElhone – is pretty decent for a game, although the scripting and dialogue lean rather more towards ‘overwrought, fan fiction cheese’ than I might otherwise like. I have to confess that my experience with “Castlevania” as a series is less than it perhaps could be but I have to imagine that this kind of archetype-heavy, breast-beating drama is par for the tooth-baring course.
Lots of anguished looking to heaven, wondering why Our Lord has forsaken his servants and let Evil run unchecked – you can probably guess the kind of thing.
I’m really quite enjoying, nonetheless – it’s a gorgeous game, which has characters, environments and animation to rival the leading-edge likes of the “Uncharted” series on the PS3. The music’s quite lovely, too and the gameplay, whilst ever so bloody derivative, is still good stuff – it might be based around combat, puzzle-solving and exploration which you’ve seen executed elsewhere, but the standard of that execution is key to the success of this game. Everything’s done so expertly and with such love for this kind of action experience that any memories which it conjures of previous titles can be set aside.
On the evidence of what I’ve seen so far, Mercury Steam are a video games developer to keep a close eye on.