The Castlevania series doesn't stray from its 2D roots very often. When it does, the results haven't been pretty. The forays into 3D (such as Curse of Darkness for the PS2) were some of the weakest games in the series. However, MercurySteam is determined to make vampire slaying fun in three dimensions with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
MercurySteam's strategy is this: make God of War in a gothic setting. That's not something they'll actually come out and say but it's pretty clear what inspires Lords of Shadow. I expect it to be called God of Castlevania quite a bit between now and its release.
The similarities between Lords and GoW's gameplay are apparent almost instantly. Lords is a third-person hack-and-slasher with heavy/light attack combos and a protagonist who wields a chain weapon (in this case, a cross with a retractable whip). He can replenish your healthbar by using shrines scattered throughout levels. Killing enemies gives you points that can be used to purchase new combos.
The game also shares GoW's love of Quick Time Events. Lords handles this in a slightly different manner than other games. Instead of providing a button prompt, the game displays a translucent circle that quickly shrinks. The player needs to press a button once the circle overlaps with a second, static circle to complete the QTE successfully. The QTE is therefore more about timing than about pressing the correct button. It's not a big difference but I like the fact that it shows how fast the player needs to be.
This may be a GoW clone but it's a tightly made one. MercurySteam has done a great job crafting the game's dark medieval world, where peasants huddle in walled villages and ferocious monsters rule the countryside. Protagonist Gabriel Belmont, a member of a knightly order devoted to kill these beasties, feels equal to the task thanks to his flashy, spinning attacks. His strikes feel like they've got some real force behind them, as if he's really drawing blood on these foes. The camera follows tightly behind him as he moves and a brief bit of slow-mo allows players to save the end of their combos. The demo's initial fight between Gabriel and a pack of werewolves in some dingy village is probably pedestrian compared to the rest of the game but the game is technically sound enough to make the scene feel exciting.
After dispensing of the werewolves, Gabriel rides off along a forest road on his horse. Two werewolves riding, uh, larger werewolves, give chase. The player attacks the riders on either side of you with a press of a button. Periodically they try to sandwich Gabriel and a successful QTE is needed to prevent him from getting unhorsed. I'm not sure how many of these types of sequences will be in the full game but I hope they're a bit more complicated than this. Like the Pegasus scenes from - wait for it - God of War 2, this horse bit feels like a minigame. It's not a proper extension of the cinematic carnage unleashed earlier in the demo.
The demo proved that Lords of Shadow can faithfully replicate the mechanics of God of War. I'm curious if and how it breaks the mold, though. What does it do that other games of its ilk don't? Konami and MercurySteam need to answer this question before the game's release this fall.