The new "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" is a very good game with a dumb name, and it's a gorgeous piece of fantasy fiction to behold.
What does it look like?
If you're not a gamer, "Lords of Shadow" will remind you of the lush (New Zealand) fantasy world of "Lord of the Rings" movies, with its spectacular camera angles looking up at towering towers, spiraling-green forests and titans made of stone who stomp toward you with feet the size of my house.
If you are a gamer, "Lords of Shadow" will remind you of "God of War" and "Shadow of the Colossus," because, well, what a complete and total copycat this game is of those two games.
I say that, not as a put-down, but as a compliment. If you're going to steal ideas, steal from the best, and there is no fantasy game better than the three main "God of War" adventures. So if you can't beat 'em, copy 'em.
The plot: You portray a warrior guy in the year 1047. You must battle evil forces to save humanity.
Wait, let the narrator (Patrick Stewart) explain things to you in the opening sequence:
"A storm is coming. Mankind faces ruin and despair!" Stewart says dramatically.
"Is he (your character) The One? He has come far already, but he will be tested -- tested to the very limits of human endurance ... and beyond!"
Wow, those are some fantastic archetypes/cliches, Patrick Stewart.
From there on out, it is your duty to travel the New Zealand-esque scenery ("God of War" anyone?); to slay many beasts with your fists of chains ("God of War" anyone?); to earn currency to buy new combat moves ("God of War" anyone?); to shimmy up rappel ziplines ("God of War" anyone?); and to solve weird puzzles that open magical doors that are in your way ("God of War" anyone?).
Then all of a sudden, you'll have to beat down a big boss creature, a la "Shadow of the Colossus." Big bosses are humongous, and you might have to climb one and slowly take out body parts, piece by piece.
This is one long game, featuring 12 chapters, and it could take even a hard-core gamer many hours just to get through one chapter. That's excellent. If we're going to spend $60 on a third-person, solo action-adventure, it better be long and have lots of replay value.
Fans of previous "Castlevania" games should know this one is not like prior ones, since "Lords" is too busy "borrowing" from "Gods."
I can't think of anything especially stupid or annoying about "Lords." It can sometimes be dull, because there's not enough voice-over narration during action sequences.
But essentially, this is the second-best "God of War" copycat this year, behind "Dante's Inferno." It's not terrifically fun like "God of War." But to paraphrase the immortal words of the "Highlander," there can be only one "God of War."
("Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" by Konami retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 -- Plays fun. Looks fantastic. Very challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, nudity and violence. Four stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.