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Have we a God Of War 3 beater on our hands?

Opinion: Kratos will be looking over his shoulder for the new Castlevania, says Tim Ingham...

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Aerial attacks also feature heavily, either through juggling our four-legged killers up in the air or by leaping skyward and crashing down via a tactical hold of an attack button.

Health can be replenished - only once in certain scenes, mind - via glowing in-game refuelling stations, and it's a good job, as you'll probably need them. Even in the opening, tutorialised sections, Lords Of Shadow punishes aimless button bashing.

The attack-avoiding enemy AI requires quick thinking - for which block and evade moves prove vital. Directed via the shoulder buttons and analogue stick, these help to both give you some breathing space and unsettle your enemy for a timely slog.

Now and again, stalemate clashes and special finishing moves link to sparing QTEs - whether matching a decreasing circle to a target or hammering a quick, prescribed button combo.

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As an appropriately macabre denouement to the moody opening section, all we need do is slam a shoulder button, and a giant, wild-eyed Warg is impaled on a human-sized post rigidly stuck betwixt our palms.

We're told that dispensing with enemies will grant experience points for improved weapons, skills, combos and magic later in the game - staying true to Castlevania's more RPG-leaning roots.

Gate parted, we skip forward to a horseback tussle - us firmly planted on our classic white steed. Cantering under trees, we navigate a troublesomely craggy bridlepath at full pelt.

It's not long before the Warg return - and we're required to tailor our attacks to menaces on our left and right, each keen to leap onto our backs for a grisly cuddle.

It proves tricky, and after wrestling with the sharp-toothed beasts for a few seconds, we fall to the floor - only to eventually come face to face with yet another giant Warg.

This time, however, there are no one-button QTEs to save us - rather a frantic battle against a particularly bitey bunch of his smaller kin, all keen to distract from their daddy's ability to charge, batter and gnaw us to death.

Using the analogue stick to dart out of Papa Warg's way whilst attacking, blocking and unleashing strategic knife throws points to a game that isn't for beginners.

Despite the obvious Devil May Cry-inspired velocity and the MGS4 touches of the environments - there was lots of shimmering in that, too - GoW III is the heaviest influence, from the combat and graphical style, right through to the lush, rousing orchestral score.

The visuals are a consistent joy - with a cumulative final scene seeing our chalky, magical equine hero bravely soaring over a giant chasm - diverting us from the chomping flesh-lust of the uncombed, furious Wargs on the other side.

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Kojima-san rarely puts his name to something that doesn't at least offer a feast for the eyes - and our brief time with Lords Of Shadow certainly points to a game that's very pretty indeed.

To become a true God Of War rival, it will need to offer more varied and interesting tableau - the brooding murkiness of the town and covered forest was fairly monotone - as well as some of the 'my God, I'm supposed to fight that?' moments Kratos delivers so often. (For all their toothy salivating and bone-shivering gaze, the Warg weren't exactly physically browbeating).

But with the promise of smarter RPG and magic elements down the line - and a sensitive, made-for-weepy-Twilight-fans hero - Lords Of Shadow could just prove to be the Dead Space to God Of War's Resident Evil; less a Xeroxed homage, more an respectful, surprising new take.

One thing's for sure: It certainly looks the part.

[Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is due for release on 360 and PS3 later this year]

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