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Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Classic series gets a much needed reboot

JJ Abrams' Star Trek was a fresh start - a parallel universe where 50 years' worth of continuity could be pushed aside in favour of a return to Kirk, Spock, and the classic Enterprise crew.

It was respectful, it was successful, it was necessary... and it's exactly what Spanish devs Mercury Steam are doing with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

"Yeah, we wanted to do what JJ did with the Star Trek film and reintroduce the characters and the universe," says Lords of Shadow's producer Dave Cox.

"We wanted to take the eight-bit game as the template and boil it down to what Castlevania's really all about - a lone warrior battling supernatural creatures with a whip."

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And so Lords of Shadow follows yet another Belmont, this time in a world yet to be touched by Dracula's umpteen resurrections. It's a world of whip-swinging combat, puzzles, and platforming, and it's the biggest pure action game in 360 history.

"On Xbox 360 it's on two DVDs; on PlayStation 3 it's on one Blu-Ray," says Cox. Castlevania isn't the first 360 game to ship on two discs, but Castlevania is the first to offer an install option on the in-game menu.

This isn't the typical 360 installation method or Forza 3's DLC-on-a-disc trick; it's a PC-style install where you'll install disc one and can then play the entire game from disc two. Mass Effect 2 chewed up two discs and a stack of Japanese RPGs have adopted a similar method, but Castlevania is a pure action game and it's not cut-scenes that are taking up that extra space - it's all game.

"Yeah, our cut-scenes are pretty short," says Cox. "The longest one is 14 minutes, which is the end sequence. It's not cut-scenes that are taking up the space; the game's around 24 hours long and every level's different."

"We have so much variety and we re-use very few assets. Microsoft actually sent their tech guys to the studio to look at the game and look at (how we're) compressing it, but they said 'okay, it's good, you're doing all you can'."

"I think it's something Microsoft are going to experience more and more - that they need to help developers overcome the storage problem. I mean, each console has its own issues," Cox continues, comparing the 360's smaller DVD storage medium to PS3's large storage with slower loading times. "But you have to work around them."

SMART AS A WHIP
The Lords of Shadow have worked their magic and cast a spell preventing the dead from passing into the afterlife. Guided by the soul of his recently murdered wife, Robert Carlyle's Gabriel Belmont sets off after them with his Combat Cross whip and a scowl, and towards a confrontation that will inevitably involve driving a stake into the heart of the big man himself.

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The game's E3 demo kicks off with a fight in a rain-soaked village, as Belmont and the villagers go to battle against a pack of werewolves, eventually driving the biggest of them onto a wooden stake.

From there Belmont takes off on horseback, fighting more werewolves along the way. It's a combat oriented demo built entirely for show-floor gratification, and shows off only one of Castlevania's three pillars.

"There's a big platforming element in the game that we're unfortunately not showing in the demo," says Cox.

"It's not really all that representative of the game because it's kind of boxed in, but you have to do that for a tutorial."

Castlevania's combat is more button-mashy than Bayonetta but less ham-fisted than God of War and isn't nearly enough to carry an entire game, but as the biggest action game on 360, there's way more to it.

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