Dracula's back! And that's as much excitement as you'll likely muster once you start playing, as our Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 review painfully illustrates…
Published on Feb 24, 2014
We're going to toss down a gauntlet and say that there's no better character for a videogame character than Dracula.
We don't mean just that there's no character with more potential; we mean that Dracula makes for a better character in a game than in literature, film or television.
A complex monster with toolbox of magical powers and a murderous temprament locked away in a gothic castle, reacting violently to a modern world that refuses to leave him to age in peace. As complex characters go, he makes Master Chief look like Morph.
Unfortunately, Dracula is an opportunity that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 squanders not once, but over and over. Nothing about it is broken, exactly - but in following the footsteps of the mummy and daddy of demon-slaying hack-and-slashers, Devil May Cry and God of War, it ends up a child clomping round the house in its parents' oversized shoes.
Where both DmC and God of War do excellent jobs of making you feel like a badass, Castlevania 2's Dracula is a fumbling tribute act.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 - The Problems With Combat
The story, such as it is, is a hammy framing device for the combat, which is a slog for several reasons at once. First of all, enemy design is muddy, making different classes of enemy easy to mistake for one another.
Is that a mutant with a pickaxe, or one with a shotgun? BLAM. Oh.
Enemies also telegraph their attacks poorly and Dracula can be awfully precious about what he will and will not deign to counter, which you do by tapping the block button (L2).
There's none of the fluidity to attacking, blocking and countering you'd find in, say, the Arkham series, and over and over again you'll find yourself absolutely sure that you hit the button in time, only to have some fun-sized enemy knock Dracula ignominiously onto his arse.
As if that weren't bad enough, enemies - right down to the three-foot-high little dwarf things - make persistent use of their special unblockable attacks, which are telegraphed a split second before they're made.
These shatter the flow of the combat - if you're waiting for an enemy to make the first move so you can unleash a devastating counter, having it swoop in instead with an unblockable strike spoils everything, and it's back to hammering Square for your standard heavy chain whip move (or Triangle for, of course, the lighter area-of-effect swing).
Worse, which attacks are and aren't unblockable feel horribly arbitrary - so if the mutant swings his pickaxe sideways I can parry, but if it's an overhead swing my magical demon sword is knocked aside and I'm catapulted across the room? What?
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 - Awful Stealth Sections
The good news (sort of) is that it's not all combat.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 also crowbars in, for no reason whatsoever, some truly horrible stealth sections. It does this by adding in a single enemy that, for no reason that's ever explained, cannot be killed.
The Golgoth Guard stands about eight feet tall and is covered in armour - but it's a midget compared to some of the towering boss monsters Dracula vanquishes in the course of his quest. It also carries a grenade launcher which it fires with perfect accuracy and that kills you in one hit. Because of science or magic or something.
So instead of tearing in like the vampire lord you notionally are, you - Dracula - are forced to skulk about hiding in the shadows, which isn't terribly Lord-ly. And these sections get longer and more complex as the game goes on, forcing you to use the often awkward climbing system (a linear Assassin's Creed-a-like) and wait for a patrolling guard to pass before dropping down and slipping away unobserved.
Rather than, say, walking up to the guard, tearing his head off and downing his life fluids like a yard of ale.
Getting past the guard relies on your vampire powers - possession, summoning a swarm of bats and transforming yourself into a rat. "Hang on a tick!" you might be thinking. "Possession? Bats? Rats? Now this sounds more like the Dracula we're looking for!" Well, bottle that enthusiasm. Then push it right to the back of the cupboard behind the Campari and Coke bottle of East European fire water.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 - The Power To… Open Doors?
Where a game like Dishonored gave you possession and transformative rat powers and told you to go wild, in Lords Of Shadow 2 there is one solution to these awfully incongruous puzzles - and one only.
The order will change as you are forced to slip past guards over and over, but will be some variation on using bats to distract a guard, scurrying through a single open vent shaft as a rat, or possessing a guard and using his eyeprint to open a door.
Your powers of the night are, for the most part, protracted door-opening sequences.
Worse, it's clear the engine wasn't designed to support these sections: sometimes a guard will spot you while facing the other way, whirling around to instakill you for a teeth-grindingly irritating trip back to the checkpoint.
The rats, meanwhile, control like short-circuiting RC cars, leaping forwards and jerking spasmodically through turns, which would be unpleasant even if the game didn't litter vents with stupid anti-rat puzzles like pools of electrified water - which it does.
Both powers are terrible wastes of ideas that Dishonored has already shown can be awesome, and the game would actually be better without them.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 - Stolen Ideas From DmC
These superpowers aren't the only idea that Castlevania 2 pinches from its betters, either. The main premise seems to have been cribbed wholesale off the last Devil May Cry - but poorly, like both games were in an exam hall and DmC was sitting slightly too far away for Castlevania to properly copy all its answers down.
So you'll skulk about a modern day city, infiltrate demon-controlled front companies, fight monsters in the streets as civilians flee in terror and so on and so forth.
But unlike DmC, Lords Of Shadow 2 is devoid of charm. Dracula himself is a dull, non-character - a coat with a scowl on top.
His entire motivation is his yearning for death and the final rest that comes with it - eternal life having apparently lost its shine. His former demonic associate Zobek agrees to help him so long as he takes care of the demon invasion first.
The writers of The Killing have discarded less bleak ideas than that for being too po-faced. That's the biggest problem with Lords Of Shadow 2: like an overeager drama student, it takes itself too seriously, and ends up looking all the sillier for it.
There's none of Dante's joy in ripping out a demon's heart, none of Kratos' deranged bloodlust. That Dracula is voiced by the Robert Carlyle (he of Trainspotting and Stargate: Universe fame) only serves to highlight how schlocky the pseudo-fantastical nonsense he spouts really is. That Patrick Stewart plays Zobek only makes it worse.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 Review
There's just so little original or exciting about Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 - so little you haven't seen before, so little that hasn't been done better elsewhere.
If you want a hack-and-slash with a sense of fun, buy DmC.
If you want one that's relentlessly brutal, buy God of War: Ascension.
And if you want to creep about with vampire powers you can use outside of ze clearly designated enjoyment areas, buy Dishonored.
But unless you've played the pack leaders in the genre 'til your thumbs have snapped off and go to bed with your hands twitching for a chained spike to fling at something, it's hard to see what you'd get out of this beyond nagging disappointment.
Version Tested: PS3
5.0 / 10
3.5 / 10
3.5 / 10
4.0 / 10
N/A / 10
4.0 / 10
Awkward combat, frustrating stealth sections, lack of originality and a hammy story are a few of the many nails in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2's coffin.