On those days when the boss has been nipping at your heels, the car won't start and the face you're staring at in the mirror only bears a passing resemblance of a human being, it's a common fantasy to wonder what it would be like to snag a black-market passport and hop a one-way flight to just about anywhere else to start fresh. You know, reboot.
More and more, instead of slapping a double-digit number after a familiar title, game developers are taking flagship IPs back to square one. Every once in a while the strategy pays off. Case in point, Konamiís Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which moves the venerable side-scroller series into a 3D action-adventure space occupied by such games as God of War, Dante's Inferno, and Shadow of the Colossus.
It's a reboot that's almost entirely successful. Provided you're not the kind of gamer who rigidly insists that a Castlevania game has to be in 2D and concern itself with pixelated vampires, you'll appreciate Lords of Shadow's beautiful and imaginative environments and artistic detail, its generous story, and fluid game mechanics.† There's no denying that the game reinvents itself largely by patching together bits and pieces of other successful titles, but at least it borrows from the best.
Spread over two disks, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow combines platforming, exploration, puzzle solving, and immense boss battles in a lengthy single-player campaign that demands at least 20 hours of your time before enticing you back for a second visit.
It may be elegantly voiced by Patrick Stewart, but lead character Gabriel's quest to resurrect his dead wife is told through a marginally coherent story that primarily serves to introduce the next incredible environment. Lush forests, frigid ice fields, moody caves, Gothic ruins and many others are rendered with an impressive commitment to detail and artistry. The game never fails to be a visual feast, and this extends to Gabriel's many, and varied, foes, from the smallest goblins to the titanic bosses capping each level. Human models donít fare quite as well, unfortunately.
Like his original 2D counterpart, 3D Gabriel's weapon of choice is a versatile chain-whip with a variety of combos and special moves, supplemented this time around with some magical enhancements. Combat is lively, satisfying, and enjoyably brutal. Like Uncharted 2, there is a fair degree of platforming, but whether jumping or rappelling down a cliff face, Gabriel's next move is almost always obvious and only occasionally a frustrating test of the twitch response.† Now and then the fixed perspective becomes a hindrance; I never did quite get used to being unable to rotate the camera.
The game's musical score trades the traditional tinny MIDI tunes for a more symphonic offering: a beautifully crafted counterpart to the sumptuous visuals. Voice acting is more than competent, though the dialogue rarely rises above the pedestrian, hack-and-slash hokum of second string D&D clones.
Lord of Shadows is paced well, with a great deal of variety, but might have benefited from a slightly leaner structure. Itís not that itís boring or repetitive, it's just a long game that demands quite a commitment to see through to the end.
Reboots are a gamble. Sometimes they fall flat (are you listening, Medal of Honor?), but sometimes theyíre just the kick in the pants a series needs. Castlevania: Lord of Shadows succeeds because of itís stellar art direction, beautiful visuals, and tight, polished gameplay. Sure, it cribs, borrows, and steals from other games, but in the end, it still moves a classic in a great, new direction.
What other classic games would you like to see get a reboot? A Frogger MMO anyone? Let's come up with a list on Twitter @Gamers_Hell