Like a rat out of hell.
I’m leaping over electric beams, gnawing on exposed wires and scampering around grime-covered vents with a pack of squeaking accomplices. I am – believe or not – a sewer rat.
“Oh, so you’re a rat now…?” My girlfriend asks puzzlingly. “Aren’t you supposed to be Dracula?”
“Yeah, I am,” I boldly reassure her. “I just have to sneak past these gigantic, armoured guards which look like they were plucked straight out of Quake. Apparently, I’m not strong enough to fight them yet.”
“What’s Quake?” she replies, seemingly even more confused.
“Erm, nevermind.” I return to the rats and carry on with my playthrough.
The next day, my girlfriend returns to find me toiling away, looking dejected and asks essentially the same question but with an entirely different intonation: “Why are you a rat again?”
I shake my head and look towards her longingly as my third rat explodes into a crimson mist, “I don’t know, babe… I just want to be Dracula. I desperately want to be Dracula.”
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins with incredible promise. Sat atop a lavish throne, holding a golden chalice filled to the brim with human-sourced tipple, the player is introduced to the immortal Dracula, formerly known as Gabriel Belmont. With a devilish glint in his eye, and a mouth stained with the blood of his past victims, Dracula’s gothic solitude is rudely interrupted by a band of devout Christians fighting under the banner of the Brotherhood of Light.
Dracula has the power to tear his opponents limb from limb and gorge on their delicious lifestream.
What proceeds is a simple combat tutorial and your first glimpse of how undeniably awesome Dracula can be. Using a combination of three enchanted weapons – the Blood Whip, Void Sword and Chaos Claws – Dracula has the power to tear his opponents limb from limb and gorge on their delicious lifestream. The blood-whip, Dracula’s staple weapon, delivers rangey and varied attacks. The Void Sword is slightly weaker, yet has the ability to drain the energy from enemies and replenish Dracula’s own. The Chaos Claws, on the other hand, are the most powerful of the three, though they’re primarily used for smashing off troublesome armour.
Once you’ve chained a few combos together (though, oddly enough, there’s no combo counter or grading system to speak of), you’re presented with the opportunity to sink your teeth into a stumbling enemy and recreate the iconic scene which Dracula is famed for. After a splash of the red stuff and a satisfying close-up, I was left grinning menacingly as I pondered the slaughter that awaited anyone who dared to stand in my way. When I thought of the epic boss battles, cleverly crafted castles and ancient puzzles that awaited, I admittedly got a bit giddy.
But it was all in vain.
After the impressive opening sequence – where you scale a towering mechanical titan, no less – Dracula is stripped of his powers, leaving him frail and decrepit. After many centuries of slumber, Dracula awakens to find that the world around him has changed. Frail and decrepit, looking like a washed-up rock star, Dracula yearns to be freed from his immortal bonds so that he can finally rest in peace. Thankfully, Dracula’s old ally Zobek is on hand to offer our pasty-skinned friend a deal: he will grant Dracula the sweet release he craves if he agrees to help banish Satan’s armies back to hell, who have infested the world.
And this is where things take a horrible turn for the worse as developer MercurySteam proceeds to shoehorn an abundance of unnecessary gaming mechanics and baffling design choices into a game which should ultimately be about tight, slick combat, exciting exploration and the sinister sensation of punishing enemies as Dracula. Instead, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins to spiral out of control quicker than a bat with two broken wings and becomes almost unrecognisable as it eventually hits the ground.
Where Am I?
During the games arduous campaign, you’ll be thrown back and forth between the game’s modern-day setting, which is as aesthetically appealing as a visiting to an industrial estate on a rainy day, and Dracula’s far more alluring medieval roots many centuries prior – sometimes without any explanation or prior warning. This, understandably, leads to a complete disconnect between two lacklustre stories that rarely co-exist.
On the one hand, Dracula is tasked with helping Zobek; sneaking through factories, riding up elevators and running through underground carparks. On the other, he’s galavanting away in a derelict castle; chasing after illusions and forgotten memories in a bid to restore his original powers. So, by the time you return from wherever it is you’ve been fighting for the past hour or so – often without a compelling reason as to why you were there in the first place – it’s perfectly feasible for you not to care or even remember what it was you were meant to be doing. I frequently found myself utterly lost as to where the plot was supposed to be going, and it’s difficult to ignore the feeling that MercurySteam made up the game’s long-winded story as they went along.
Sadly, the incessant chopping and changing of locations, characters, objectives and time periods is tainted further by the unnecessary moments you are forced to use stealth. To overcome numerous situations in the game, which usually involve one bulky guard stood in front of a door in a confined room, you’re left with no choice but to transform into a pack of rats and tackle some ridiculous rat-based obstacle courses. Sometimes you have to blind an enemy with a swarm of bats, sneak up on whoever’s left and possess them so you can… open a door. But the most insulting stealth section by far, and I swear to God this is true, is when the game punishes you for stepping on piles of leaves. Seriously, leaves.
I’m Dracula for Christ’s sake! Why can’t I just fight these guys!?
During every single one of these game-breaking moments, apart from the first few stealth areas where they just about make sense, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m Dracula for Christ’s sake! Why can’t I just fight these guys!? Or better yet, why are these sections even here in the first place?!” It continues to baffle the stronger you become.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 does have one saviour at least, and that’s the game’s sumptuous presentation and graphical style. Despite numerous shortcomings in the gameplay department, of which it feels there are too many to list, MercurySteam have done a sterling job at ensuring the game runs smoothly and looks appealing throughout. Whether it’s the close-up moments of self-mutilation (where Dracula offers his blood as a sacrifice to gain experience or new items), or the disfigured and grotesque bosses you encounter, I was consistently wowed by the game’s visuals. However, there are far too many redundant cutscenes in Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2 – and Kojima Productions aren’t even involved in the sequel.
Combat is also a plus point, that is, when you’re actually allowed to fight. It’s relatively simple to get to grips with but it quickly becomes repetitive due to the bland enemies you encounter. They all do their utmost to annoy due to the fact each enemy can deliver unblockable attacks. When you consider blocking in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is needlessly difficult and almost a lottery at the best of times, you can imagine how irritating it can be. Boss battles are definitely the highlights, but even those are plagued by cheap move-sets which never make the fights feel fair or fluid.
A review copy of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was provided courtesy of Konami. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 3.
Don’t Give Blood
MercurySteam’s stubborn insistence to deviate from Castlevania’s long-running formula at every opportunity results in a game that lacks an identity and focus. Contrived stealth sections, an incoherent, disjointed story and countless unnecessary gameplay mechanics leave Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2 with squandered potential. This, above everything else, will gnaw away at you throughout the game as you scamper around with your vermin buddies hoping things will get better. Sadly, they don’t.