Thursday, October 14, 2010
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
In his farewell post for PopMatters, L.B. Jeffries said something that resonated with me: "In games, more than any other medium often the problem is just you."
Whenever I dislike a game, especially one that other people seem to like, that's how I feel -- that, far from being flawed itself, the game is illuminating inherent flaw in me. In theory, I like the idea of being the guy who goes against the grain, but when it actually happens, it's cause for a lot of sad-bastard navel-gazing on my part. I won't subject you to it here, except to say that my review of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does have me questioning my own sanity.
I have been reading many positive tweets about this game from people I respect, and it has a healthy Metacritic score of 83. But there really wasn't one thing I liked about it. Rookie mistakes like putting checkpoints before cutscenes rankles (yes, you can skip the cutscenes, but it's a more cumbersome process than it needs to be). Constant and needless hints on the screen prove to be a distraction (how many times do I need to be told to "press RT to grip?" I got it). The platforming was bland. The combat had promise but lacked any visceral impact. Nobody else seems to be making this complaint, so maybe I'm just crazy, but I swear that half the time it didn't even look like my weapon was making contact when I did damage.
Sort of like with Metroid: Other M, a large part of how you approach this game depends on what your mental picture is of a Castlevania game. As a Symphony of the Night fan, I certainly would have preferred a new Castlevania that took more of that game's approach. If anything, a back-and-forth platformer that borrowed more from Prince of Persia than from Devil May Cry would have hit the spot for me. I enjoyed how overpowered Alucard was, and the fun of Symphony is in exploring. The castle is your enemy more so than its inhabitants. But that's not the game Konami wanted to make in 2010.
And that's okay. In a lot of ways, Lords of Shadow is more of a throwback to the original Castlevania, and to Super Castlevania IV, which I also loved. An action game is not a radical departure for this series. But, I don't know, Castlevania or not, this isn't one of the best action games around. This is a case where I feel like the scores actually do tell the story: I scored Lords of Shadow two points lower than God of War III and Devil May Cry 4, and scored both of those games two points lower than Bayonetta. That sounds right to me.
I am clinging to Ben Kuchera's review of LoS like a life raft. He makes many of the same points that I do, and many more that I didn't, but which are entirely correct. His article has hundreds of comments, most of the "no offense but you're an idiot" variety. The comments also open up the question, once again, of what a game review is supposed to be. That's another discussion, but the real takeaway, for me, is that some readers don't want writers to be honest with them. They want a pat on the head.