I have to admit, when I first played Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on the 360 back in 2010, I remember being thrilled to think that I may finally be gifted the 3D Castlevania of my dreams. Well, that didn’t quite happen. As opposed to the game of my dreams, I was gifted a serviceable 3D hack and slash game in the same vein as God of War, but with a gothic backdrop. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it had a few glaring faults that kept it from standing up on its own. Now, with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition having been released onto the PC, I found myself enthused to play through a cleaned up version of the game that would fix some of these oversights. Well, that didn’t quite happen either.
In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition, you take over as Gabriel Belmont, one of the members of the Brotherhood of Light, who is tasked with keeping the remaining humans safe from the onslaught of supernatural baddies that have plagued the lands. Early in the game, Gabriel is sent on a quest to speak with his recently deceased wife, Marie, in hopes that he can uncover a way to stop the Lords of Shadow and restore the alliance between Earth and the Heavens.
It’s hard to really pinpoint what kind of game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is since it tries to ape the style of other successful franchises. The most blatant comparison is a combat system that would feel right at home in a God of War game. Attacks are split between straight on attacks and wild rotations of your whip, and there is a combo system rife with new techniques to unlock as you progress.
Lords of Shadow tries to add some life to the idea by introducing Light and Shadow magic types, which do add a bit more strategy to the usual “press A repeatedly to win” mechanic. Light magic will recharge a bit of your health with each hit while Shadow magic will add a bit more oomph to your attacks, however, you can only earn magic while you’re not using either one. At first glance, it seems that using the shoulder buttons on a controller to switch between offensive styles mid fight would be cumbersome, but I do have to applaud the ease in which they’re implemented.
Castlevania games have always included heavy platforming mechanics, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow isn’t an exception. There are plenty of times where you’ll be forced to jump over chasms, swing from your whip and dangle by your fingertips as you try to transverse a stage. Sadly, it’s not quite done as well as you would hope. The game world is expressed as a massive open world play area, but you’re funnelled from one area to another thanks to invisible walls and platforms that are inches out of reach. It feels closer to 2D platforming in a 3D world, and it’s just a bit uncomfortable thanks to that.
Lastly, there is a surprisingly high amount of puzzles to be found. Some of these puzzles are incredibly clever and really do a great job of challenging you to think critically about all of the skills you’ve unlocked, however, they do feel a bit forced at times. Many of the special abilities Gabriel unlocks throughout the course of the game go largely unused in practical gameplay, only to be required for a puzzle a few hours down the road. I’m not sure if that’s a knock on the puzzles themselves or the fact that many of these abilities can feel rather useless.
The game was visually stunning back in 2010, however, this was paid for with consistent drops in the frame rate at key points. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition did fix this issue, and even raised the FPS cap to 60. Outside of that, this game still looks amazing. Character models may show a bit of their age as technology has gotten better, but the landscapes and level design absolutely leap off the monitor, creating incredibly engrossing worlds. The addition of x16 anisotropic filtering, ambient occlusion, vertical sync and the ability to adjust shadow quality only improves what was already an undoubtedly gorgeous experience.
As stunning as the game is visually, the audio falls a bit flat. The voice acting is uninspired and more than a bit corny at times. Patrick Stewart shows up often as both the narrator and one of your order’s elders, Zobek, but his performance was much closer to “community college drama department” than something you’d expect from an award winning thespian.
The soundtrack for the rest of the game is good. Not great, just good, which is in itself a bit of a failing. Castlevania has played host to some of my favorite video game songs, and to walk away from this without having anything sticking into the back of my head is a bit of a letdown. It carries a great theatrical tone, but it’s not something long-term fans would have hoped for.
This really lends into my largest gripe with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition: it doesn’t feel like a Castlevania game. It’s a fine game in its own right, but had the main character been named anything other than Belmont, I don’t think I would have even realized this was a part of that series. Between the button mashing combat system, the lack of that signature soundtrack, and enemies that could have just as easily been from any gothic themed game, there’s nothing here that feels in line with the title’s lineage.
It’s really a shame that MercurySteam couldn’t find the time to fix some of the glaring faults that were in the original game when it released way back in 2010. I understand that PC gamers are basically getting this now as a way of marketing Lords of Shadow 2, but it’s disheartening to see that they couldn’t be addressed. The fixed camera still manages to obscure the player’s vision, the cut scenes lack any sort of anti-aliasing, and the combat still feels uninspired.
In the end, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition feels like a bit too little too late. The game has simply been surpassed by other titles in the genre, and there’s no doubt that this is anything than a port of a three-year old game with a few more visual options tacked on. If you never got the chance to experience the original, this is as good a time as any to play through the story before Lords of Shadow 2 releases in February. However, if you’ve already sunk your teeth into the title, there’s really nothing here calling you back for another playthrough.
This review is based on a PC version of the game given to us for review purposes.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition adds a bit of polish to a three-year old title, but not quite enough to cover all of its rust.