I’ll be frank right now: I’m still not sure if I agree with the new direction that the Castlevania franchise is going in. Restarting a series is sometimes a good thing, but taking most of the elements that make the original games enjoyable leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth. In this case, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is so much different from its predecessors that you probably wouldn’t think it was a Castlevania game, if not for the protagonist being a Belmont.
Still, the game apparently sold well enough to warrant a PC port, the Ultimate edition, and for the most part it at least gets most of the required portingness done properly, with some noticeable hiccups.
For those who missed it the first time around, Lords of Shadows follows the exploits of Gabirel Belmont, in an early time period known as the End of Days. Mankind has found their link with the heavens lost, and Gabriel, still pretty pissed off about his beloved being killed by the forces of darkness, is sent to fix that by defeating each of the Lords of Shadow. The game includes the original story, as well as the DLC chapters that help round out the plot, all for a pretty affordable price.
Unfortunately the PC version isn’t quite the perfect port that one would hope. The game does still have it’s beautiful environments that Gabriel travels through, from poisonous swamps, to snowy mountains, dark castles, and everywhere in between. It also retains the stellar orchestral musical score, kicking it up when the action gets furious, and slowing down when all is calm. In a sense, the music helps to offset the hit or miss voice acting, as while having Patrick Stewart narrate the opening segments of each stage is a real treat, Gabriel’s pseudo Scottish accent is just unnerving and awkward.
The gameplay switches things up from older titles, departing from the tried and true Metroidvania style we’ve all become accustomed to and using a new, more God of Waresque gameplay style. If you’ve played through Kratos’ adventures at any point, you’ll definitely see the similarities in Gabriel’s combat style, from being able to use weapons employed by the bosses you defeat, to the use of long reaching combos and QTEs in order to destroy your enemies. Really, if you were to replace Gabriel’s Vampire Killer with the Blades of Chaos, the experience would be exactly the same, only with a lot more clumsy platforming and an incredibly awkward automatic camera that feels like it’s being controlled by a heroine addict.
The main problem with porting a game like this to the PC, though, is that the controls aren’t exactly optimized enough for this Belmont. There are a lot of moves and different combos he can do, which makes it tricky to map it all to a keyboard. Playing with a controller is your best bet to getting the full experience, and to help reduce the strain on your wrists. On a somewhat related note, finding a USB dongle for a Xbox 360 controller in stores is apparently a real pain in the ass.
The game itself takes some getting used to in regards to actually playing it, such as learning how to dodge roll at the right times, how to best deal with the incredibly awkward hitboxes monster attacks have that makes a Plesioth hip check look normal by comparison, annoying QTE sequences that have become a forced staple of action games, overuse of instructional prompts that insult the player’s intelligence, and some puzzles that will work your brain unless you pick the option to cheat/be lazy and have the game show the solution to you. There are also trials you can tackle after initially beating a stage, as well as hidden goodies that force you to return to them when you’re better equipped in order to reap their rewards, which just feels more like a cheap way to pad in extra play time.
Of course, the porting part is also victim to a couple pretty glaring issues. Several times during my own playthrough, I’ve encountered sudden and unexplained framerate drops that bring the picture to a crawl, despite my system being more than capable of running the game normally. Even worse, I’ve even experienced cases of lag in a couple instances. Lag in an offline, single player game! How do you even accomplish that?!
Those particular blemishes and my own opinions about the dumbing down of modern action games aside, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition is at least worth the investment if you’re a hardcore Castlevania fan and somehow missed out on the console version, especially since you get both DLC packages as well for a price that won’t destroy your wallet. Still, it would have been nice if Konami included a few neat extras for PC aficionados, such as better controller support, some sort of online component, or even modding support so that someone could find a way to fix the goddamn camera.
It’s hard to call this the definitive version, or even an Ultimate version, when you consider the sloppy porting issues that only covers the basic requirements, and the fact that the game itself is just really subpar, but it at least provides you the material necessary to prepare yourself for Lords of Shadow 2. And it’s on Steam, so if you’re that short on funds, you can just wait for the eventual winter sales for it to go down in price.
Final Grade: C+