An epic dose of demons

Undead in time for Halloween

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The Spectrum

Grade: A

Konami's history of lukewarm, "almost got it" failures changes with the triumphant release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

Anyone who has paid attention to video games in the past 23 years has heard of Konami's venerated action/adventure series Castlevania. The series' first release hit the NES in 1987, and sequels have been pleasing gamers ever since with their signature 2-D, side-scrolling action and dark, gothic fantasy settings.

While many of Castlevania's old-school 2-D peers smoothly made the transition to 3-D, its own outings in the third dimension have, until recently, failed to capture the adventurous vampire-slaying spirit of their side-scrolling brethren.

Lords of Shadow is a third-person action/adventure title in the vein of games like God of War and Devil May Cry. Whereas Kratos of God of War has his Blades of Chaos and Dante of Devil May Cry his Rebellion Sword, Gabriel Belmont, the protagonist in Lords of Shadow, has his own signature weapon: the Combat Cross.

The weapon, also known as Vampire Killer, is a brutal chain-whip that brings back fond memories for fans of the series. With it, Gabriel can lash out from great distances, unleashing destructive combos, devastating heavy hits, gravity-defying air juggles and satisfying grabs that often end gruesomely for his demonic foes.

Thanks to the ability to unlock new combos for the Combat Cross, obtain new powers and find a variety of side arms throughout the game, combat rarely feels stale. Throw in an impressive variety of enemies that range from werewolves, vampires, and zombies to towering monstrosities the size of skyscrapers, and the result is a triple-A action title worthy of standing side-by-side with the blockbuster titles that developer MercurySteam takes inspiration from.

With that being said, Castlevania has never been solely about combating the evil spawn of hell, and Lords of Shadow is no exception. The game paces itself expertly with brain-teasing puzzles, heavy doses of exploration, and platforming gameplay between the action. The puzzles provide plenty of "A-ha!" moments once finally solved.

Exploration and platforming have always been integral parts of Castlevania, and Lords of Shadow is easily the best 3-D translation of the series. While the levels themselves are fairly linear, the game rewards players for going back to explore previously unreachable areas with newly obtained powers, offering replay value not found in similar games.

All of that exploration wouldn't be fun if the levels weren't interesting to look at and navigate. Thankfully, Lords of Shadow's art style is second to none. The wide variety of stunning vistas will simply blow away players with awe-inspiring detail, and the deep, dark dungeons will leave players shaking in their boots.

The platforming gameplay sends Gabriel swinging over deadly pits using the Combat Cross as a grappling hook, frantically climbing along narrow ledges and making desperate leaps to safety as decaying structures crumble away beneath his grip.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an action romp that will satisfy both longtime fans of the series and newcomers looking for an epic, dark and brutal gaming experience. The game combines tight combat and solid platforming exploration with amazing visuals and a gothic-fantasy story voiced by an all-star cast, including Robert Carlyle (Stargate Universe) and Sir Patrick Stewart (Hamlet). The result is a world-class game worthy of the esteemed legacy of Castlevania.