For better or worse, over the years Castlevania has nearly been exclusively a 2D platformer. A few attempts have been made to bring the franchise to the realm of 3D; however most of them were met with lukewarm reception. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow looks to bring the franchise back into 3D, where it truly belongs. Does Castlevania: Lords of Shadow slay the competition, or buckle under the weight of its lofty quest?

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow begins with our hero Gabriel Belmont partaking in a typical quest to save the world from the impending swarms of darkness. His wife Marie, who was slain, only a few days before his quest, has filled Gabriel with, regret, sorrow, and a thirst for revenge. If the narrative sounds boring and cliché; that’s because it is, in the beginning at least. The beginning of Gabriel’s tale is filled with cliché story elements; however that soon evaporates, as Mercury Steam does an excellent job of pacing the main story line, while still keeping the sub- story elements polished and relevant. There is also something to be said for the way Mercury Steam handles background story as well. Scrolls, like audio diaries in Bioshock, are Mercury Steam’s go-to device in regards to telling background story, along with offering helpful hints for combat and puzzle sections. The entire story in general is well told, and has a strong sense of pace.

Other reviewers have been quick to point out the similarities between Castlevania: LOS and God of War III, and while that may be true in some basic instances, it’s not indicative of Castlevania’s combat and puzzle sections as a whole. Castlevania’s combat system has a lot more depth than God of War III’s and a bit more quickness, which makes the combat in God of War III; seem slow and cumbersome in comparison. Magic also makes an appearance, and is implemented well into all facets of the game. Some clever puzzle sections require the use of magic in interesting ways and on the combat side it feels like a more integral part of the system rather than padding to add some empty depth. As you kill enemies and complete puzzle sections you are awarded with currency to unlock new combat skills, or magic abilities. These can range from more advanced combos to more complex abilities which require magic and artifacts. You gain artifacts by progressing through certain parts of the game or defeating bosses.

These artifacts are implemented in to the structure of the Castlevania: LOS extremely well; both in combat and platforming. Speaking of platforming, it’s another strong gameplay mechanic in Castlevania: LOS. There’s a lot of depth to the platforming and Mercury Steam refused to cut a lot of corners where other games have, and this is due to the phenomenal level design. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a linear game, but the developers have done a magnificent job of masking this, by providing tons of extra areas to explore, and areas that appear larger than they really are.

All of this leads to the presentation, which is breathtaking. The art style and graphics are fantastic, with some back drops that appear to be photo-realistic. The music is also one of the strongest elements of this title. Considering how excellent every element is, the fact that the music stands out, only proves that it should be nominated for Soundtrack of the Year, or Best Musical Score. The sound design in general blows away everything in the genre, with epic music booming in the background during boss fights, and quiet serene music playing during the platforming sections. It’s engrossing, enchanting, and downright phenomenal music, and I truly can’t tell you how amazing it is.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is not perfect, and bogged down by some unfortunate issues. There are some strange clipping occurrences, and frame-rate drops, along with some other graphical glitches. Also, some platforming sections can be needlessly difficult. For instance, I found myself sliding off certain pieces of terrain and falling to my death, which led to some frustration. Other than that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a well polished title.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a title that doesn’t come along very often. It takes elements from other titles like God of War III, Shadow of the Colossus, and even Legacy of Kain and weaves them into a comprehensive package with its own identity. Despite its little issues, it’s a legendary title, and an obvious contender for Game of the Year. This 20 hour epic action adventure deserves your attention and fan or not, you owe it to yourself to experience this title.