It's not all hacking and slashing, with a fair amount of puzzles, mounts (the less said about the frankly creepy giant spiders the better) and platforming, each able to match the quality seen throughout the title. Puzzles arrive in a decent variety of styles, but generally require you to move items into a certain position, or to trigger switches in the right order. Scrolls on nearby bodies reveal clues and, if you really can't work out the solution, offer you the solution if you forfeit your reward. The platforming, which feels like a slightly heavier version of Prince of Persia, sees Gabriel leaping about on platforms and ledges, while his whip allows him to abseil up and down walls.
If there's a slight weakness here, it comes from the mounts. They're undeniably cool to ride, but their use becomes a little predictable and repetitive. You'll enter an area only to come across a wall or door that you can't break through on your own. This is game-speak for "a massive beast is around the corner and you're going to need to tame it in order to progress". It's not bad, due to the combat being fun, but after a while the repeated use of this mechanic felt a little lazy - especially in the face of a game that is otherwise brimming with ideas and incredible imagination.
It's not that video games have never gone down this fantasy route before - they definitely have - but CLOS sets out so with such impressive art design that every new location, every quirky enemy, and each surprisingly boss fight is a real delight. There are a few technical issues with the presentation, namely a slightly jagged appearance and the odd frame rate stumble, but these are minor blemishes on an otherwise incredibly well-realised world. Fans of gothic art and director Guillermo del Toro are in for a real treat.
It's clear that Konami has grand plans for Castlevania - you only have to look at the list of talent voicing the game's key characters to see that. Gabriel is played quite superbly by Robert Carlyle, while Patrick Stewart is perfect as Zobek - his chapter intros always setting the scene wonderfully. Other characters Gabriel encounters along the way all benefit from equally professional voice work, and the stunning orchestral soundtrack knows just when it's needed.
Calling CLOS a surprise hit might be a little unfair, as the game looked impressive throughout development, but it's fair to say that I simply didn't expect to enjoy it this much. With a combat system that cleverly overcomes button mashing, wonderful design work and a story that spans far longer than your average video game, Lords of Shadow is exactly what the Castlevania franchise needed to find popularity with a new generation of gamers - and us oldies too.