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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Dead Rising 2 offer appropriate October chills

Two years ago, I offered an October column that featured scary games. That installment of Geek Speak featured Dead Space, Silent Hill: Homecoming and BioShock, three titles that scored major points in spooky style appropriate to the Halloween season.

Then came the recession, and 2009 turned into a bust for fans of survival horror, or even just creepy atmospherics.

Luckily, 2010 doesn't have quite the dearth of creepiness last year did. No, this year we have something typical of blockbuster titles: sequels.

Enter Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Dead Rising 2, which highlight how it can be both easy and difficult to fix a broken franchise. You could say they're both coming back from the dead, if you like bad puns.

Castlevania's storied history and efforts to make its vampire-hunting formula work in a 3D format are getting a little long in the tooth. After 1997's Symphony of the Night, the exploits of the Belmont family and their quarry fell into disrepair, creaking and groaning under the weight of fan expectations. The Nintendo 64 version that immediately followed it was the first to drastically change the old 2D side-scrolling action, but the remaining sequels — numbering about a half-dozen on console and the same or more on handheld platforms — never rose above middling.

Lords of Shadow, which was released Oct. 5 for PS3 and 360, has driven a stake into the heart of that trend, mostly by chucking the conventions that have grown around the series (item collection, exploration, and a Belmont family mythology) and starting from scratch. Check that: It rips off God of War more than starting from scratch.

But then, what's to complain about? Other linear platformers ape GoW for one good reason: It works in 3D. That's something Konami has been unsuccessfully trying to do for years, so if snaking Kratos' M.O. and calling it a reboot will make a decent Castlevania, so be it. Just so long as there's werewolves, shambling skeletons and, most importantly, vampires.

Capcom's Dead Rising, on the other hand, was one of those 2006 launch titles that was supposed to showcase what the Xbox 360 could do. In the end, all it proved was that the new console was capable of drawing hundreds of onscreen characters in a game with illegible onscreen text, a wonky save system and a timed storyline that was bogged down in dull escort missions. And I hate escort missions.

Capcom promised it fixed all in the sequel that came out Sept. 24 for the 360 and PS3, and to a degree, they're right. The protagonist was changed from a photojournalist to a motocross champ, eschewing the photo mechanic for a technique in which the hero must learn how to build bigger and better weapons. The setting was moved from a shopping mall to a sprawling casino town called Fortune City. And the character A.I. has been thankfully improved, making the obligatory escort missions almost resemble fun.

That's right, a game about zombies not called Resident Evil or Left 4 Dead is fun, even with escort missions. After all, I concluded, aren't all zombie movies about survivors trying to get from one location to another?

Now, if only I didn't have to wait until January for Dead Space 2.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt* Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Dead Rising 2 offer appropriate October chills 10/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 12:35am]

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