From a narrative perspective, the game's cinematics and voice-acting are top-notch. Even the dark, European gothic style is inviting. But the gameplay doesn't quite live up to the presentation's precedent.
The demo opens with a medieval town eclipsed in a tropical storm. The protagonist Gabriel Belmont rides through the rain, clutching a large cross under his arm. He joins a group of men, each clasping a large torch, and stands in front of a gate. Visually the game looks stunning. It appears to be running on its own proprietary engine, and the cut-scenes have a real cinematic style to them. Water is particularly impressive.
As Belmont waits at the gate, a large werewolf climbs to the top, and looks down on him. Belmont tightens his clutch on the cross beneath his arm, and the camera pans away. We're into the game — first-up is an arena-based tutorial against a horde of these werewolf enemies. The combat handles similarly to God Of War; Square initiates light attacks, while Triangle issues more powerful swings. It's telling that the Square-Square-Triangle combination popularised by God Of War unleashes a devastating sequence of attacks in Lords Of Shadow. The combat feels fine, but it hardly has the silky smooth execution of the God Of War franchise. The game pauses with each connection made, making the combat appear more brutal. But the frame-rate appears to hinder some of the satisfaction.
The sequence concludes with a giant werewolf character, which requires a little more skill to defeat. We must roll around the environment to avoid the monster's unblockable attacks. A few swings later and the beast is defeated. It's clear a lot of time has been put into designing the enemy creatures, and it's to good effect.
The second part of the demo places us on horseback of a mythological creature. As we ride through a vast swath in the forest, werewolf style creatures try to flank us from the sides. We can attack them but the input feels slow and clunky. We kind of ride our luck into the end of the sequence, which cuts our demo surprisingly short.
The cinematic presentation of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow has us extremely excited, but even during our short time with the game, we could feel ourselves pushing for the next piece of story. That might be a testament to the strength of Castlevania's delivery, but it's also telling that the gameplay couldn't quite hook us in the way we'd hoped.
There's still potential for Lords Of Shadow to be a pleasing package. The demo seemed early into the game, and there looks to be plenty of character progression. Likewise, MercurySteam's promising some huge Shadow Of The Colossus-like bosses. We hope the game's able to deliver a gameplay experience in-line with the cinematic presentation - but for now we remain sceptical. The story's certain to hook us, we just hope the gameplay does the same.