Are Demos Missing The Point?

On paper, it sounds great: a battle against werewolves in a rain-lashed village at night, a chase through haunted woods, clinging to your horse as you get battered on both sides by monstrous creatures – ridden by more werewolves, no less.

But the demo of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was, for me, a big disappointment. I have ‘fond’ memories of getting stomped on by Frankenstein’s monster and Igor in the NES original, and Symphony of the Night is a classic; I’d been looking forward to the latest entry in the series since it was announced. I’d seen the previews and watched PlayStation Plus owners get early access, and after the one-and-a-half gig download and install, settled down to enjoy it.

The events described above took me a few minutes to get through, a large part of which was spent pressing X to get through menu screens and tutorials. There are three battles: the village one teaches the player the controls, then the horseback sequence is punctuated by two more, which occur when you fall off the horse. That done, you’re treated to a montage of (admittedly very beautiful) shots and the cast list.

Big bosses? Not in the demo.

I played through a couple more times, hoping that I’d missed something. A different route, perhaps, leading to another area? I replayed the chase sequence a few times, eventually hitting all the QTE prompts, but the game still managed to knock me off my horse and drop me in the same fights. Skipping the cut-scenes, I did the whole demo in about five minutes. I had been looking forward to a game that blended fighting, platforming, exploration and really big bosses, finally bringing the series into the current generation. What I got was a poor man’s Bayonetta.

Exploration? Not in the demo.

Before the comments thread flames up with people claiming I’m a queer who hasn’t seen the metacritic score, I want to point out I’m not reviewing the game here. The LoS demo highlights the problem of demos that don’t give the player a proper sense of what the game is about. Would it have been so hard to add a couple more fights that allowed me to use my combos? A bit of platforming? A glimpse of one of those titanic bosses? The game could very well be as excellent as reviews are saying, but I can’t tell it from the little that I played. It’s actually had the effect of killing my excitement for the title. Compare that to the demos for Arkham Asylum or BioShock, lengthy slices of story and action that ended at just the right moment to leave me eager for release day.

I had a similarly disappointing experience with the demos for Bayonetta and the first Dead Rising, both of which offered cut-down experiences of early stages. Bayonetta was shorn of any story and atmosphere. Weirdly, the NPCs had been taken out, as if to not bother the player with incidental details; the puzzles and collectibles were also gone. Fights took place in a vacuum against basic enemies who didn’t much care if they lived, and I sat mashing buttons and wondering what the 10/10 reviews saw that I didn’t. Dead Rising’s demo let me kill lots of Zombies, sure, but it turns out that gets old fast. When they’re not stopping you getting somewhere you need to be they’re easy to kill, but the demo had no missions.

I ended up trying both games anyway, driven by my original interest and the positive reviews, and my first impressions were thankfully wrong. I’m sure the same thing will happen with Castlevania, but  it’s no longer a day one purchase. Developers: if you’re going to let us try before we buy, make it worth our while. Give us plenty to do, let us get settled in and then stop. Too little and you turn away gamers who might have bought without playing the demo. A decent fight and a bit of exploration might have sold me; instead, I’m off to play Dracula X again.

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