Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is touted to be a reboot of the aging series. This title is so radically different from the old, it's almost guaranteed to polarize Castlevania fans - some will love it, others will hate it because it isn't 'their' Castlevania. Unlike previous iterations, LoS is much more story-focused.
Hideo Kojima is said to have served in advisory role in the development, so it comes as little surprise that the latest Castlevania outing is quite different. Kojima's influence is felt early on through high quality cutscenes. While not as long as those seen in Kojima's Metal Gear franchise, these are plentiful and well-executed, with topnotch voice acting.
Lords of Shadow sees protagonist Gabriel Belmont on a quest to defeat the titular Lords. The story spans 12 chapters ranging in length from two, to about nine levels. Along the way Belmont comes across familiar faces from classic Castlevanias such as Carmilla and Golem, but few stick around for long.
Where Castlevanias of old would have had you exploring a large castle or mansion, this one has you running through various environments, collecting powerups, and slaying numerous boss monsters, along with other assorted fodder. It keeps you coming back for more, just to see what the game will throw at you next. You will also need to repeat levels if you want to get 100% of the items/powerups, although doing so isn't essential to finishing the game.
Solving puzzles is a matter of trial and error - there are few hints. It can be frustrating when the puzzle involves a health penalty for mistakes; such is the case with puzzles that require a certain type of magic to be selected when pushing a switch. If you have the wrong one it'll take a portion of health.
When it comes to combat, Lords of Shadow is a hack n' slash game at heart borrowing from several titles - most predominantly God of War. Small characters can be dispensed with at ease, while others will take a few hits and a few time sensitive moves to finish. There are a couple of huge boss battles for which Lords of Shadow takes a page from Shadow of Colossus; Belmont will scale giants and attack weak points.
Considering the scale of said bosses, the battles are quite forgiving. Lords of Shadow saves every time you deal a significant blow, so if you die after that you will resume with full health. The only drawback to dying is your mana reserves will be gone. It's a good system and allows progress in the face of a giant troll. Once you've taken out a boss you feel satisfied and excited about moving on.
Visually, Lords of Shadow is a impressive game. The environments look fantastic and the camera does a great job of capturing them. It pans out, and zooms in again when it's business time. Unfortunately, it's not perfect. In some instances the camera can interfere when solving a puzzle, and sudden camera changes in a maze style puzzle is disorienting. An overhead camera or user controlled view would have been more intuitive. Strangely, save collecting mana for your shadow magic, the right stick is left idle.
Although the puzzles are simplistic, and occasionally frustrating, they won't stop the hardened Castlevania fan. The impressive vistas, detailed cutscenes and huge bosses will keep players hooked. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does what it set out to do: reboot an aging franchise with a fresh look and style.