Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Hands-on: Whipping Evil A New One

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the best 3D Castlevania game I've ever played at an E3. And I've played two of them—not counting Konami's flirtation with the series as a 3D fighting game.

Yes, developer Mercury Steam's Castlevania does play more like a Devil May Cry or God of War game than the side-scrolling games developed by series mainstay Koji Igarashi (who had his own Castlevania game on the show floor). But Lords of Shadow doesn't appear to ape the style of Lament of Innocence or Curse of Darkness, Iga's last-generation attempts to make a 3D Castlevania.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow feels much more capable in the action department, a solid foundation upon which to build a new set of characters and more highly polished, more beautiful looking than, frankly, I was expecting of a 3D Castlevania game.

The E3 2010 demo of Lords of Shadow begins on a dark and stormy night. Sorry, but it does.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Hands-on: Whipping Evil A New One

Amid the downpour, we're introduced to the newest addition Castlevania family, Gabriel Belmont, armed with a whip (of sorts) known as the Combat Cross. The E3 demo taught us to learn how to use the cross for direct one-on-one attacks and for area attacks. The village Gabriel rode into was being attacked by werewolves and wargs, a set of foes not too difficult to take out with an enchanted whip.

Those werewolves and wargs had glowing red eyes that made them easy to identify in the rain. Castlevania: Lords of Shadows' demo level was dark and wet, rendered with realistic effect that made Gabriel's hair and the matted fur of its beasts glisten in the darkness. The breath of Gabriel's horse was visible in the chilly air and torches reflected off the rain-soaked ground.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow looks spectacular on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is what I'm getting at. It also plays well, like an action game should, as measured against its peers.

The combat in dispatching those werewolves and the boss-like warg was fun, with great feedback. Gabriel locks onto foes automatically, without much effort from the player. Whipping them gives a satisfying hit feel, the action pausing for a frame or two when the Combat Cross makes contact. It's sticky.

Gabriel's also pretty good with a dodge, a press of the left trigger to block, combined with a flick of the left analog stick to roll out of harm's way. He'll also be able to use secondary weapons, like daggers, a Castlevania staple that feels more powerful than ever. Tossing a magical dagger at a werewolf killed it instantly.

Our first mini-boss fight, against that warg—a bigger wolf—involved plenty of whipping, blocking and dodging to avoid unblockable ramming attacks. It ended with a quick time event, as the warg leaped from a ledge, Gabriel picked up a wooden spike as tall as him, piercing the warg's torso.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Hands-on: Whipping Evil A New One

Then, we got a peek at one of the game's horse riding levels. Gabriel hopped upon his horse, riding through the rainy woods as wargs and werewolf riders flanked him. We could whip the enemy steed or its rider, engaging in more quick time events—in Lords of Shadow, a larger ring will shrink down to the size of a second ring indicating when one should press the action button.

At one point, Gabriel was knocked off, meaning more werewolf whipping. These closed off areas tend to drip foes at the player, giving them a singular heath fount at which to regain their strength. It wasn't a difficult battle, a repeat mostly of the training portion, but also a chance to learn a new skill from Gabriel's book. The first new combat skill we acquired was a Guillotine Slash, a jumping move that sliced downward. The book of moves and upgrades looked long, too long to read at E3.

Our demo ended with a cinematic and daring leap across a cavern, Gabriel leaping off a now-mystical horse and outrunning a pack of wargs, just barely of course.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has more promise and better looks than Konami's most recent 3D efforts, in part thanks to the solid-feeling combat and the expensive-looking production values. The loading screen narration from Sir Patrick Stewart and the fine details on Gabriel and his enemies don't hurt.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 game is due some time this fall, promising more than just werewolf slaying and horse-riding, as one can see from all-new E3 screenshots of the game (that are occasionally NSFW).

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