Sunday, April 3, 2011

Castlevania Reverie confirms my worst nightmares

Whenever people start talking of DLC (downloadable content) I grow wary. For me DLC represents a great opportunity for developers to expand on the story of their game, fill in any plot holes, and reduce the need for a sequel. That is assuming they are assembled with the same love and care that the original title was. Castlevania Lords of Shadow was a breathtaking game. I cannot sing it enough praise. That said living up to the level of excellence that this game generated would be difficult indeed. While I liked Reverie I must warn potential buyers this expansion pack isn’t as good as the game it expands for a number of reasons.

The game’s developers got lazy. Rather than crafting new cut scenes to expand the game’s story and allowing us to be fully immersed in the beautiful world they originally crafted they gave us partially animated 2D stills similar to Sony’s Infamous, which worked for Infamous but doesn’t work here because this contradicts the established art style of the title this DLC seeks to expand and I hate inconsistency.

This inconsistency is inexcusable. They had the character and object models, and their animation rigs already on file. How much more would it have cost to go in and record new motion captures to get the animation needed? I mean they did it for a new death animation should you fall in the water during this DLC, they also did it for a brief sequence where Laura explains a machine. Why not give us real cut scenes consistent with the full length game?

The game also falls short visually as there is much more aliasing than the main game, that said the game still looks beautiful otherwise though when you take control of the vampire Laura her animations are not as smooth as they could have been, evidence of a reliance on key frame animation opposed to the much smoother motion capture.
Given that the expansion pack costs $10 its hard to imagine that motion capture would have been so expensive as to not make this expansion profitable if they had put as much effort into it as they did the main game.

This expansion pack is also a great deal harder than the main game. Enemies don’t go down as easily, there aren’t health recovery stations, and I only came across one magic recovery station and that was toward the end of the three level expansion. Lords of Shadow was at its weakest when it dealt with platform jumping, that weakness is glaring in this expansion as there is a ton of it here, and it can get frustrating because the button commands are not as responsive as they are in the main title. Worse the saw blade puzzle, ripped right from Prince of Persia, minus the dagger of time this puzzle required you to have Laura speed up and slow down a mechanism which would move the saw blades or stop them. Getting through this puzzle is a nightmare and I hope to never see something like this in Castlevania again. This was the only puzzle I found frustrating though. The rest of the puzzles were challenging but fun. I loved the blood puzzle at the end, it was certainly challenging, but unique. There is also a puzzle which requires you to guide one of Laura’s Toys through a mini labyrinth that I enjoyed. Most of the puzzles are completely solvable if you really think and think hard about the solutions.

There are new skills that this expansion unlocks that can be used for the main game, they are, however, outrageously expensive so you won’t likely be able to make immediate use of them.

Despite the flaws this is still a worthwhile expansion and also answers one of the lingering questions from Lords of Shadow’s confusing ending. We now know how it happens… There are still a lot of unanswered questions but that’s what the next expansion due out this month is for, as well as the eventual sequel. Its certainly a significant drop in quality from the original game, which has always been my fear with DLC, and this is the first time I’ve ever done it, but it was still worth the money spent if only to get answers to a lingering question… (Spoiler) How the hell did Gabriel become Dracula? The original game’s ending did not explain this, the expansion pack does albeit with lower production values that hurt the overall presentation and probably should have waited for the higher budget that will be available for Lords of Shadow 2.

3 stars out of 5

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