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Okay, this Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 review is late and most of you won't read it. I couldn't let this game pass without saying anything, though. It's too weird not to be reviewed.
The first Lords of Shadow distinguished itself with swift, combo-driven combat. The sequel continues the tradition. The player swaps between a whip, a health-regenerating sword and armor-breaking gloves. The second and third weapons draw from finite energy pools that you build up by landing combos and avoiding damage. It's a fluid system that rewards you for mastering both offense and defense.
The boss fights are still fun, too. The bosses are a mixed bag but generally have deep selections of abilities that test your accumulated skills. You can't just strong-arm your way through the fight. You need to understand the mechanics to get by.
There are still Quick Time Events for certain acts, like feeding on a weakened enemy. MercurySteam to their credit, does give you the option of turning them off though you still have to sit through the animations. It made me realize that the button prompts are only the second-most annoying part of QTE's, next to the wasted time of seeing the same action over and over. Maybe they could take out QTE's altogether instead of just making them suck less?
The real problems start when Dracula has to stop killing things. For example, when he has to talk to people. The story is hot garbage. The premise is that Dracula woke up after centuries of slumber and now has to battle Satan and his minions. If they just committed to that idea, the plot would be passable. However, MercurySteam decided to tell this story in the most confusing way possible by throwing in some amnesia, time travel and dreams. You bounce without warning between reality and fantasy, medieval times and the future. It's a winning card in Strange Plot Device Bingo.
Dracula's story in the Lords of Shadow series is a tragic one. He's a champion against evil who becomes what he hates. That whole transformation happened in the first game, though. What we're left with in this game is a mopey vampire in gigolo garb who sneers his way through every scene. It's like he resents being brought back for another game. I suppose that makes sense - he's saving the world solely for a chance at ultimate death - but he makes for a boring travel companion. His murder of an entire family at the start of the game doesn't help his likability.
By the way, don't play Lords of Shadow 2 if you're planning on ever playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Early in Shadows 2, there's a 10-minute cutscene that just explains the entire plot of that game.
The two time eras featured in the game offer a surprising lack of interesting locations. You spend most of the time in gray hallways, sewers or alleys. The number of interesting set pieces - like the volcanic caves beneath Dracula's castle - can be counted on one hand. MercurySteam managed to make Dracula's castle and a demon-infested futuristic city both seem boring, which is quite a feat.
Perhaps the biggest failing of Shadow 2's story is that it fails to convince you of the necessity of the various stealth segments. Dracula can kill armies of demons but can't fight the pseudo space marines guarding the corridors of the future. Instead, he has to distract them by throwing bats in their face or sneak by them by turning into a rat. Becoming a rat opens up all sorts of interesting gameplay possibilities, such as jumping over electric wires, gnawing through electric wires or running into electric wires. It's just the sort of epic medieval fantasy action that made us Castlevania fans in the first place.
MercurySteam said in the past that this is going to be their last Castlevania game. I think that's the right call. When you add rat stealth and space marines to a Castlevania game, you should take it as a sign that you've run out of ideas. It's time to let some other developer take over the reins.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
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