Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a complete tease of a game. While you will be amazed at just how beautiful the world is, the fact you can’t explore half of what you can see will no doubt cause some frustration. Thankfully, a well-crafted battle system accompanied by a huge list of abilities and voice acting by Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle will soon make you forget about the linearity of the game.
The hero of Castlevania: LoS is Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, who is on a mission to save the world from the evil beings that have become a nuisance recently and try and resurrect his murdered wife. Armed with a special weapon named the Combat Cross, which is a heavy iron crucifix with a retractable chain for long range combat, Gabriel must defeat the three dark lords and their armies consisting of vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night in order to complete his task. From time to time you also encounter some of the titans, colossal beings that protect certain areas, and unlike regular enemies you need to use your acrobatic skills and quick reactions to climb them and destroy their runes in order to kill them. Despite the name, you will find that you spend equally as much time outside in the forests and bogs as you do inside castles and fortresses. Although you will come across invisible walls, ledges you can’t climb and platforms you fall short of with your regular jump, the world is huge. The downside is it's just quite linear, so be warned.
Hidden throughout the twelve chapters of Castlevania is an array of different items that allows you to improve Gabriel’s skills. Light, dark and green crystals allow your light magic, dark magic and health bar to increase every time you find five shards and Brotherhood Arks reward you with increased capacity for items such as daggers or holy water. You will also find scrolls on the bodies of fallen heroes which, if you choose to read them, can give you tips on the most efficient way to kill a certain enemy or how to solve some of the puzzles in the game. Doing so though means you will lose the experience reward. Experience is essential to gaining or upgrading your abilities and you will need quite a lot of it, so it is well worth taking the time to work out the puzzles.
One of the best aspects of Castlevania is the battle system, which has been polished off very nicely and I couldn’t find much to moan about. At first I was getting my arse handed to me as I tried to simply run in and dish out damage but I soon learnt that dodging and blocking play a huge role in the outcome of the battles. Once I had got to grips with the quick flicks of the analog stick while holding the left trigger to dodge and timing the counters, I was the king of the castle and even on the hardest difficulty the battles were a breeze. There are well over thirty different combos in the game which can be unlocked using experience points, gained from killing enemies and solving puzzles. These combos use all the relics Gabriel has collected, such as his gauntlet which allows devastating punches and his Cyclone boots, which give him a speed boost to perform swift counters. Some combos are reliant on light or dark magic and drain the magic bars through use. The only awkward mechanic in the game is refilling these bars which requires you to push either the left or right analog stick; in the heat of battle this can be quite tricky to execute and result in Gabriel being starved of magic power.
You won't spend all of your time fighting as the game can sometimes feel as if you are playing Tomb Raider or Uncharted - but this is no bad thing. The game requires you to have fast reactions and a keen eye in order to navigate your way through tunnels, across canyons and around ancient ruins. The route you are meant to take can sometimes be a little hard to see, but usually the ledges or hooks for your grapple are lit up and it's just a matter of following the guided path. There will be times you come across multiple routes, but these are usually in place to hide some of the collectables that are spread throughout the world and in most cases you will need to revisit areas when you have acquired a certain ability in order to collect them.
While exploring the beautiful world that is spread across two discs, there is a wonderful soundtrack and narration by Patrick Stewart. As I said in the beginning, it’s very hard to hate Castlevania for being somewhat linear, as the rest of the game impresses that much. With a brilliant story filled with some surprising twists, an in-depth battle and combo system, tons of collectables, the option to replay all the chapters on harder difficulties and try complete the time trials associated with each chapter, Castlevania: LoS really is worth every penny. If you are looking for a game which will last you a good thirty or so hours then buy it now!