"Lone warrior battles supernatural creatures with a whip." As high concepts go, that's a pretty straightforward one - and a familiar one to anybody who's played a Castlevania game before. Konami's much-loved action-adventure series has been going for almost 25 years, and is now set to continue with PS3 and Xbox 360 title Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Producer Dave Cox describes it as being "quite a radical departure" for the series, being a game which is "more gritty, realistic and more modern-looking" than all of the previous instalments. But right from the start, developer MercurySteam has been sure to focus on the single sentence scrawled on the front of the design document: "Lone warrior battles supernatural creatures with a whip."
"That was really what we felt Castlevania was all about, right from the beginning," says Cox. "We wanted to take the series back to that core premise of what the first game was all about, and to make a game that was more akin to classic action platformers."
However, MercurySteam was still keen to put its own stamp on the series. "We knew we needed to make it competitive in visual terms, so we decided to do the game in three dimensions - which has been attempted in the past but perhaps not been so successful," observes Cox.
"The other thing we wanted to do was tell a story that made sense, one that players could jump into from the get-go, even if they hadn't played Castlevania before. And we wanted to make the main character much more of a real person."
Say hello, then, to Gabriel Belmont, who is a member of an organisation known as the Brotherhood of Light. He is sent on a holy quest to save the world from a dark force that's preventing dead souls from finding peace.
Chaos, death and destruction reign, and they get up close and personal when Gabriel's wife is murdered. He learns that three mysterious entities known as the Lords of Shadow are behind it all. It also turns out they each guard a piece of a holy relic with the power to bring people back from the dead. Naturally, Gabriel sets off on a mission to retrieve the relic pieces and rescue his wife's soul from limbo.
The trailer we're shown during the preview presentation says LOS features a "compelling and original storyline" packed with "power and gravitas", one which deals with "mature themes of love and loss". To get all this across MercurySteam has hired proper actors - Robert Carlyle plays Gabriel, Patrick Stewart makes an appearance as his mentor and Natasha McElhone popped into the recording studio too.
"We wanted a high-calibre voice cast right from the beginning, because we wanted to tell a very important, emotional story," says Cox. "Gabriel isn't your typical bombastic hero. He's like a real person, and you really feel for him, which differentiates this title from other games quite significantly."
Cox is also confident that LOS's unique visual style and polished presentation will help it to stand out from the crowd. As the footage in the trailer shows, this is gothic horror of the highest order - all crumbling castles, snowy graveyards, flickering candlelight and bloodstained flagstones.
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