Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will probably kick ass

Wayward franchise may have finally found its new direction

Developers have been chasing the elusive %26ldquo;good%26rdquo; 3D Castlevania ever since the 1999 N64 game failed bring the series up to speed. Later, a canceled Dreamcast attempt and two fairly competent but ultimately flawed PS2 entries pushed the franchise back into its 2D comfort zone, where it cranked out excellent (but predictable) sequels on a near-annual basis. With Lords of Shadow, Konami and developer Mercury Stream are once again trying to pull one of gaming%26rsquo;s biggest franchises into the modern day, and hoping they can bring back some of the enthusiasm gamers once had for a series that%26rsquo;s been on autopilot for years. Based on what we saw this week, we think they may have finally done it.

Based on the footage shown, which was a mix of gameplay and cutscenes, Lords of Shadow will combine key Castlevania concepts (power-ups, gothic architecture, moody music and nasty bosses) with the flair and dramatic impact of modern action heavies %26ndash; most notably God of War. Hero Gabriel Belmont can use his Combat Cross to execute upgradeable combos, extend a whip-like lineto strike multiple foes at once or use spells from a Light/Dark magic system that further bolsters your attack capabilities. Gabriel%26rsquo;s aggressive move set suggests a much more intense and action-oriented experience than Lament of Innocence or Curse of Darkness, which is entirely intentional %26ndash; Konami is actively trying to bring in new users to the franchise with Lords of Shadow.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Shadow of the Colossus-style battles against towering monsters that dwarf anything we%26rsquo;ve seen in prior 3D Castlevanias. Based on the footage, you%26rsquo;ll actually climb and systematically destroy these hulking beasts. Imagine a middle ground between Colossus%26rsquo; slow-paced but rewarding crawl-stab-crawl gameplay and God of War III%26rsquo;s acrobatic titan takedowns. If they nail the balance, these battles could easily become the highlight of the game.

%26ldquo;But at what cost!%26rdquo; you series diehards might be yelling right about now. %26ldquo;Where%26rsquo;s the exploration, the backtracking and the semi-open world charm of Symphony of the Night and the other GBA/DS titles?%26rdquo;

While it%26rsquo;s true the game appears to be on a fixed path (boasting 50 %26ldquo;levels%26rdquo; and 15 hours), it%26rsquo;s possible the various relics and power-ups you acquire will allow you to revisit previous areas. The lengthy trailer we saw showed Gabriel riding a horse and a massive bird, suggesting a sprawling world that requires some form of mobility. Or they could just be animals from cutscenes that move him from scene to scene. Have to wait and see.

We definitely saw Gabriel use some franchise-standard weapons and abilities, from the whip (extending from the Combat Cross) and daggers to a dash and double-jump. Again, those moves imply a need to go back and use them in areas you previously couldn%26rsquo;t access, but the trailer really did make it seem like you%26rsquo;re always moving forward. Which we think is totally acceptable, by the way, because the series began as a straightforward action game %26ndash; the NES Castlevania, along with Super Castlevania IV and Dracula X are all move-forward affairs that are every bit as true to the series as the Symphony clones.

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