Lord of Shadows 2 starts in such a way that you’d easily think the surprising hit from last time round had ramped everything up to 11, poured a large bucket of awesome goo over it and sprinkled it with chocolate. After an introductory tutorial which outlines the basics of combat there’s a decent sized slab of plot, introducing the voice acting work of the excellent Patrick Stewart, and the slightly less excellent but still passable Robert Carlyle, before a rather worse for wear Dracula goes onto the streets of a relatively modern, open looking city. Dracula in a modern setting, in an open city? Oh yes.
But no. It doesn’t really work like that. In fact most of the game is along a similar theme: a bunch of ideas which try to build on previous success, and try to put everything together to be something of a God of War beater, but never really blend in such a way to create a convincing final product. It’s an enjoyable game much of the time, but it doesn’t take long for some frustrations to start creeping in and you’ll spend much of the game trying to shrug off other annoyances.
Visually there’s little complaint – the environments are mostly beautifully put together and give an extremely atmospheric feel to pretty much every location you end up in. Whether you’re in Dracula’s castle, out on the dreary street or in one of the underground areas that you seem to end up in there are visuals in place that make it obvious we’re at the business end of the PS3’s life; there’s very little the developers could have done to make Lord of Shadows any prettier. The soundtrack too is stirring and perfect for the occasion, whether it’s adding tension to a more stealthy moment or making a huge fighting sequence appear all the more epic, and when the larger enemies rock up looking for a good time you can be guaranteed a few minutes of big music while you’re trying to take them down.
So what of this stealth that I mentioned a moment ago? Well our vampire friend can, when met with certain dark and smokey locations, turn into a rat. Yes, a rat. My first attempt at this was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had with a game for some time, with a sequence of events requiring me to dodge some broken electrical cables then doing several failed runs through a ventilation fan, before realising I’d totally missed a region to try in order to disable the fan. With this being in the first hour of the game, and the first real time I’d faced the option of becoming a rat, it didn’t bode too well for what had potential to be a fairly good stealthy mechanic. Later ratty moments worked slightly better, but it never felt like a water-tight way to play those sections.
Similar annoyances were brought about by a few of the more tricky traversing sections, climbing walls at awkward angles or trying to judge the timing of a jump so as to avoid getting killed again in a way that will make your controller magically turn into a window-breaking missile. Another early section which involved leaping over chandeliers to get across a room turned what initially looked like an Uncharted-type section into a series of moments which actually offered far less finesse than Castlevania’s gaming cousin.
And then there’s the goat maze. Good. God. A more annoying gaming hour doesn’t exist in the current world. Sneaking around a maze, trying not to make a sound all while trying to figure out where the hell you’re meant to be going. It’s insanely difficult, but not in a way that makes you more determined to get through the level. You’re more likely to want to hurl your controller at a passing pet or family member. It’s balanced though by the times you’re actually allowed to get your weapons out and smack people with them – mixing up various types of enemies and weapons that shred armour or steal health from opponents makes for some fun combat, so it’s just a shame that we keep getting forced to rat around the place.
It’s quite a chunky game too, weighing in comfortably at 15 hours, more if you fancy digging around for all the extra pickups, powerups and collectibles dotted around the place. As such it’s a difficult one to judge overall – one the one hand you’ve got a long lasting, gorgeous game with some good combat system in place. But on the other, there are the crappy rat sections, the nightmarish maze level and some annoying limitations which stop it being easy to recommend with any real conviction. Fans of third person hack and slash games might really enjoy it, as will those with the patience of a saint, but it’s not really the best way to sign the franchise off on the outgoing consoles.
Reviewed on PS3