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Castlevania Lords of Shadow holds back on the bare breasted blood sucking gore. But for all their immature sex and violence Bayonetta and Devil May Cry are still more fun to play, and worth the price of my embarrassment.
If I'm waiting for someone out and about, chances are I'm playing my DS. In an age where handheld consoles are openly advertised to all ages, people still give strange looks when they see a 27 year-old playing one in public. Not that I care, I'm more than proud to wear my gamer badge.
There is, however, a certain type of game I'm embarrassed about playing: the hack-and-slash. While I enjoy the scope of the combat and high level of skill they require, I'm know I can't gush about Devil May Cry or Bayonetta down the pub. Other people don't usually see beyond the violence or breasty women - both trademarks of the genre. It would be like trying to claim that I enjoy Playboy for the articles.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a hack-and-slash game tailored for people like me, who are embarrassed by hack-and-slash games. For a start it's not that gory. While there's blood, stabbing, and the odd bone crack, there's no tearing someone's head off and kicking it into touch. There's no punching through someone's chest, ripping out their diaphragm and using it as a makeshift xylophone (ed: thanks for sharing). Lords of Shadow is violent by definition because it's a hack-and-slash, but it's not so violent that it turns me off.
If the gore of a typical hack-and-slash is juvenile then the titillation is simply regressed. As a returning gamer I'm older than I was when I first played Devil May Cry, so the jiggle physics and dental floss underwear are even less appealing - in fact they are downright sexist and degrading. My girlfriend caught me playing a bit of Bayonetta - hair bodysuits and giant busts - her disapproving look left me mortified.
There are no such problems with Lords of Shadow, thankfully. Female characters are handled respectfully and within human proportions. The lead hero isn't a Schwarzenegger build either, which also helps.
Instead of headlining with violence and titillation, Lords of Shadow leads with atmosphere.
Instead of headlining with violence and titillation, Lords of Shadow leads with atmosphere. Rather than grunge music blasting through my ears, melancholy orchestral pieces reflect the bleak worlds I encounter in the game. The world of Lords of Shadow is ruined and corrupted.
I sift through murky swamps lifted with the corpses of fallen soldiers. I tread through castles crumbling to dust. Even when the game goes for colour - and at times Lords of Shadow is very beautiful - the violin underlines the sadness of a landscape lost to the shadows.
This all reflects Lords of Shadow's story. You play as Gabriel, a descendent of the Belmont line - Castlevania games have always tied into Dracula lore. Gabriel is on a quest to save the world from darkness and to somehow resurrect his recently deceased wife. The story revolves around the twisted trials Gabriel faces and how the darkness affects him on his journey. In a way, it reminded me of Frodo's journey with a treasure that consumes his innocence. As there, beads of hope punctuate Lords of Shadow infrequently.
This is all to the good, but Lords of Shadow's falters with its combat. It never quite hits those classic high notes of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. Maybe it follows the God of War formula too closely with the whip-like Combat Cross and its range and direct attacks. Either way it lacks the addictive layered complexity of moves that I love to learn in other brawlers.
Lords of Shadow plays things too safe. Combat is primarily tied to two buttons, one for circular range attacks and one for a longer straight attack. Attacks are made up of various combinations of these buttons, but on the whole combinations never go past two or three presses, and when they do they usually consist of pressing the same button over and over. While that keeps the game accessible, the real meat of a brawler comes from mastering the more complicated combination moves, and Lords of Shadow is lacking any of these to really sink my teeth into.
Lords of Shadow lacks the depth to really hook me in.
I want Lords of Shadow to be remembered for all the things that it does right, but ultimately I know it's the lacking combat that will stick in people's minds. For all the personal shame it might cause me for enjoying something so base, Bayonetta or Devil May Cry are better games.
It's an odd personal dichotomy because I'm happy to forgive Uncharted 2 for being light on mechanics, yet I demand more from Lords of Shadow. Although Lords of Shadow is a more mature fighting game it's not enough to replace the brasher experiences it sits among. For all their embarrassing tendencies games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry are, quite simply, more fun.
I still get sheepish when someone sees me playing something childish like Professor Layton on the bus. But deep down I don't really care. While everyone else is reading the dreary paper full of awful facts, I'm solving an international criminal mystery using a stylus - who says escapism is just for kids.
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