Surprise package doesn't even begin to cover it. At the start of the year few would have pegged this 3D reset of Castlevania, Konami's long-in the-tooth (vampire joke intended) gothic adventure franchise, to be among the biggest and best PS3 games of the year - possibly of this generation.
Yet here it is, unashamedly sitting next to the likes of Uncharted, Assassin's Creed 2 and Shadow Of The Colossus as one of the finest adventure games we've played.
What makes it all the more impressive is that Castlevania doesn't have the mega-budget backing of, say, an Uncharted. Nor does it have the vast team of Assassin's Creed.
It's a stunning achievement by relatively small Spanish developer Mercury Steam, who many had automatically written off following their last outing: the lacklustre Jericho. Remember that? No? After finishing Lords Of Shadow, neither do we...
Then again, why should we be too surprised? This is a game Kojima saw at a Konami meeting and demanded to be a part of. His influence can be felt everywhere - though the bulk of the credit must go to 8-bit Castlevania fan Producer Dave Cox and devs Mercury Steam.
A camera pan here, a framed set-piece here, a restrained bit of virtual acting there - the Metal Gear creator's cinematic touch, directly or not, is all over the new Castlevania. Ok, love letter to Konami, Mercury Steam and Kojima over: just what is Lords Of Shadow?
GOD OF WHAT?
Many will make comparisons between Castlevania and God Of War 3. And yes, the similarities are there for all to see: whips, monsters, orbs, titans, QTEs... the list is longer than one of Metal Gear's cut-scenes.
Both games are epic stories, told across fantastical worlds, and punctuated with increasingly epic boss fights. But there's one key difference that, for us, sets the games leagues apart and puts Castlevania on top.
GOW3 is a product. It's aimed at the 18-30 demographic of key games buyers, it showcases revolutionary 'zipper' tech to make enemy guts fall out more realistically, it was a key Sony release for Q1 of 2010.
Lords of Shadow, on the other hand, is a game. An incredible, epic, story-lead game that never tries to sell itself, or show off.
It's lead character, Gabriel Belmont has more personality than every character in the God Of War series combined, and his touching story of love and loss - which spans a glorious 20+ hours of game - manages to evoke more emotions in one scene than Kratos can ever dream of in his hours of grunting and roaring.
God of War has cutting-edge tech and mass-market appeal. Castlevania has soul. You feel this from the very first scene, where Gabriel - dripping with menace - emerges from the shadows to help villagers expel a pack of Lycans from their town. The rain pummels down throughout the fight, and every crack of your combat cross feels as if it's tearing the life out of your enemies.
The fight concludes with you impaling a giant werewolf on a shaft of wood. You feel like a complete badass as the blood oozes down your makeshift spear. And that's the first scene of the first level.
By the end, you feel like an absolute god, having beaten down so many enormous (and we do mean enormous) opponents on your quest to resurrect Gabriel's dead wife.
Along the way you encounter classic Castlevania fare, like zombies, ghouls, ogres and vampires, as well as some disgustingly imaginative creatures we won't spoil here.
WHIP IT UP
Fighting is intuitive yet complex. Attacks and items are mapped to face buttons, with grappling on R2 and blocking/evading on L2. Mix it all together and you can string plenty of combos to smash the evil you face.