keskiviikko 8. elokuuta 2012

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow DLC Guide

Gabe Belmont > Gabe Logan.
I have just one loose end to tie up before going for a swim in the sea of retro.

I mentioned Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in the last entry as a game that would deserve another look - if I was one to ever look twice. Well, I went into the DLC with high hopes that through a DLC Guide, I could bring my new found respect for the game to light. I mean, how bad can a few more levels carved from the same wood as the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow be?

Once installed, the DLC initially makes no notion of its existence. It's unlocked once there's a completed save file of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which means that if you're yet to finish the game, you'd do good to stop reading now and come back later - there are spoilers abound.

In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Gabriel Belmont, one of the Brotherhood of Light, sets out on a long journey to recover a relic called the God Mask, which he thinks holds the power to resurrect his wife Marie, brutally murdered just days before the game's events. The three Lords of Shadow each hold a piece of the mask; Cornell, the Lord of the Lycans, Carmilla, the Lord of the Vampires, and Zobek, the Lord of the Necromancers. Zobek, the final Lord, actually follows and assists Gabriel the whole time, and disguises himself as one of the Brotherhood to claim the power of the Lords of Shadow all for himself. Zobek is defeated by Satan, who reveals himself to be the mastermind behind "Zobek's plan", and steals the God Mask to exact revenge upon God. Gabriel defeats Satan, but is devastated to find that all this time, he has misinterpreted the God Mask's power. Marie's ghost assures Gabriel that his journey was not in vain, as he saved the world, before vanishing, leaving Gabriel crying in agony.

After the credits, a hooded figure is seen entering a church, obviously looking for someone or something, and eventually reveals himself as Zobek. On a throne in the highest tower of the church sits a brooding, ghostly figure once known as Gabriel Belmont - now known as "Dracul". Satan is expected to return, and Zobek (somewhat arrogantly) asks "his old friend's" help in his fight for freedom. Gabriel attacks Zobek, but is quickly countered and thrown through the window - to the middle of a street in a modern metropolis. Zobek promises to free Gabriel of the burden of immortality if he agrees to help. Gabriel vanishes, without giving a straight answer.

How the hell did this happen? How did Gabriel become the immortal king of vampires? What happened to Laura? How overtly difficult and tedious can a boss battle be these days? What is a man? Answers to these and many more questions are found in Reverie and Resurrection - I wish I could go tell my past self to just wait for Lords of Shadow 2 to come and explain things.

The two DLC packs are two parts of a short story that could've just as easily been released as one single pack, and should've been, especially since the first one seems to hog all the remotely good parts of the whole story, as well as all the remotely good gameplay elements.


Tell me, child... do you know the term
"deathlike silence"?
RELEASED: March 2011
PRICE: €7.95 (PlayStation Network EU), $9.99 (PlayStation Network US) 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

As he's reflecting on the remains of his miserable life after defeating Satan, Gabriel hears Laura calling out to him telepathically, summoning him back to the vampires' castle. In vanquishing the three Lords of Shadow, Gabriel has unknowingly unleashed an ancient demon known as the Forgotten One, imprisoned somewhere beneath the castle. Gabriel and Laura are very likely the last two survivors powerful enough to fight this abomination that has its mind set on destroying humanity.

The first thing that hits you about the DLC, and does it surprisingly hard, is that the cutscenes are totally different from those in the game, being the kind of animated, rough concept art that made Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker's cutscenes boring to watch despite their own kind of beauty. It all feels so detached from the game. My friend - who's a huge fan of Lords of Shadow, he considers it one of his favourite games of all time, which means he's very defensive of the DLC as well - theorized that this was done for financial reasons, but my theory is that a relatively realistic cutscene depicting brutal violence towards a child just could not get past censors, and that cutscene was absolutely necessary for storytelling's sake.

Both of the packs have their own sorts of weaknesses, and not much strengths. Even enjoying the game to the max doesn't guarantee you'd want anything to do with this expansion of the story once you've got it out of the way just that one time. In theory, Reverie is a balanced mix of tough puzzles, tricky level design and tense action. However, there are no boss fights, and the puzzles... well, there are a couple of clever ones, but a good chunk of simply dumb ones as well. When it comes to the level design, I simply HATE the part where you have to guide Gabriel across a wall with rotating blades that move in all directions, and command Laura to either speed the blades up or slow them down, with both commands being necessary. The quality of precision controls swung back and forth in the original game, and unfortunately, Reverie is nearly all about precision - Resurrection takes the cake, but more about that later.

Laura is an occasionally playable character. Finding out about this was like getting a flare shot in my groin. Like most child characters in video games, Laura is fatally annoying, and she never shuts up. She had tagged along for less than a minute when the first true puzzle came up, and I couldn't concentrate at all with her yelling out her absolutely pointless clues throughout the puzzle. I had to mute the TV just to get past that first puzzle. I hoped that I wouldn't be stuck with her much longer, but no, she's there throughout the whole thing - and then suddenly she's a playable character, who runs slowly and can't jump at all. Being a vampire, she has some skills which some people will surely consider neat, like regaining health by sucking her enemies' blood and electrocuting the hell out of them, but I simply didn't enjoy playing as her.

Reverie is filled with subtle plot inconsistencies on the top of everything else, and halfway through, the only reason for me to keep playing is finding out what happens in the end. Well, there is no ending. Just a cool plot twist which I liked a lot, but then I found out that instead of being somewhat of an ending, it merely sets the stage for the final battle which takes place in the second DLC pack - for which Konami charges even more! There's no actual climax. It's like: "Here's four additional levels for ya, without a real ending though - wanna know the conclusion? Pay up!" Well, let's pay up; it's not fun, it's a fatal blow to my budget (a total of 1600 Points for all of THIS? SICK!), but I guess that after all I've been through, I might as well go all the way. Bring on Resurrection! ...Oh, my God.

RATING : 6.2


You should've remained forgotten.
RELEASED: June 2011
PRICE: €9.95 (PlayStation Network EU), $9.99 (PlayStation Network US) 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

Gabriel's new found immortality is his key to the dimensional rift, once a prison built to seal the Forgotten One's power. The demon is now awake, and Gabriel is about to come face to face with his most destructive foe yet.

First of all, Resurrection is more expensive than Reverie on the European PSN (it's priced the same everywhere else), which makes no sense, 'cause there are only two levels, no collectables at all (Reverie had the Frankenstein Fingers for Trophy/Achievement hunters) and it's extremely straightforward. The main themes here are combat skill, stealth and precision. Well, that can't bode well, and it doesn't. I'll get to the combat later, but stealth and precision, especially the two combined, are not Castlevania: Lords of Shadow's strong suits, that much is known from the beginning. You can expect more than one or two unforgiving platform jumping sequences, which last for a decade each. The awkward camera angles that made their presence known in the original game are back worse than ever, to put a serious cap on it all.

How does stealth fit into the picture? Well, most of the DLC is about following the Forgotten One's trail as he makes his way out of the prison, until he gets into a wide open area where it would be the least unhealthy for Gabriel to challenge him. During these times, you need to hide from his gaze in every way possible, either by finding a safe, shadowy gap in a wall, or circle around a block of stone he's planning to use as a battering ram to make himself a doorway. I guess he's really not too bright, it's so easy to avoid a straight line of sight. At least it would be, if the controls responded properly and precision jumping worked 100% of the time. Especially when you have to jump towards the screen - God, how I hate when that happens - across some platforms floating in the lava. One slightly false move, one slightly false double jump, and you will burn. The "circle around the block" sequence ends with a series of QTE's which is made almost impossible to nail the first time by the QTE circle's fast, excessive movement, to as far as off-screen.

Resurrection is the most difficult chapter of the whole game, as expected, but before the final boss fight against the Forgotten One, it's for all the wrong reasons. I expected this DLC madness to end on a high note, and at first it seems that the Forgotten One is an epic, truly challenging boss... until his very final phases. Screw up in any of the three final phases (there are five in all, counting the first fight in the first level) and you're always pushed back to the third-to-last phase. What makes this fight extremely tedious is that there's absolutely no fail-safe way to recover any magic or health in this whole God damn pack! You won't have any chance against this fucker if you enter the final battle with any less than max health and max magic, and the only way to understand this is to do it, try, fail, go back to some other level to fill up (and complete that level, otherwise the game won't register your efforts), restart the whole level, do the enfuriating lava dance all over again and hope you're still at max health when you finally face the big cheese. And he's STILL HARD! Why? Because the controls have a tendency to suck, your enemy is completely unpredictable, AND he's getting harder to hit and more likely to hit you with every passing phase!!! I know it sounds like a good old school challenge, but the thing is that even point blank hits are not always registered as such, as long as you're the hitter - and this guy's AOE attacks are almost impossible to dodge without taking the slightest hit, even though you SHOULD be out of harm's way. I swear, I haven't cursed this hard and loud in years. There's not even a feeling of accomplishment in making this dude bleed. There's no sure-fire strategy when it comes to the final phases. It's all about good fortune.

Resurrection comes with five new Trophies/Achievements, one less than Reverie that had those collectables to add up to one more accomplishment. Whereas Reverie might just barely be applicable for another playthrough for a serious vampire bloodmonger, Resurrection just simply isn't worth the futile effort. Both of these add-ons could've been laid to eternal rest before they ever saw a slight glimpse of daylight, but Reverie is almost satisfying on some level - Resurrection is just plain horrible, considering its high price at the very least. If you still haven't paid your ass off to get these, be glad you haven't, and don't. Wait for Lords of Shadow 2, I'm sure it'll all be explained again, and in better context. Even the guys at MercurySteam have admitted this DLC was a mistake they'd gladly take back.

RATING : 4.3

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