She waves me over and I make my way to their chairs as she sips her drink and he lounges as if a posing for a mid 80’s rap album cover. He offers to buy her another drink and she asks what he’s drinking.He responded with “I see my body as a temple and I choose not to soil it with any type of alcoholic or caffeinated beverage.” What the fuck? I immediately recognized the line as an old standby in clubs and dive bars around the world. It’s purpose is two-fold. 1 - Make the girl you’re staring intently at think you’re a deep and spiritual person. And 2 - Give yourself an excuse to stay sober while you ply her with drink after drink. It’s a move that most guys toss out of their repertoire early. I myself hadn’t used it since one memorable weekend at Hammerheads in ‘99. But I guess he figured in a room full of people who could name every Castlevania hero from Simon to Gabriel, it was a safe bet.
The Player notices me for the first time and sizes me up. I’ve already done the same. This isn’t what I was expecting tonight, though. I was looking forward to getting into heated battles about the importance of plot in an action game while downing a German ale and not engaging in the Mexican standoff of guys circling around the same woman. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Times have changed. Many of the bloggers and gamers arguing the merits of retracing levels after gaining character abilities were now also attractive women. With that evolution, what used to have been a fun get together between gamers had become the familiar hunting ground that I thought I had escaped.
The Player is going into “Phase 2” of his spiel. He’s telling her how sees games as ‘just one path to exploring your capabilities’. It’s like he’s reciting lines from an old Bill Bellamy movie. I’ll give him credit where credit is due, he almost makes it sound sincere. I give her a look to see if any of the salvos are making a dent. She shoots me a smile letting me know that she’s been on to him for a while. She escapes by asking me if the VIP room is open. Why yes, yes, it is. And it’s a shame but the Player doesn’t have access. We walk away as he resets the table, a spider quickly rebuilding his web so he can try his skills on the cute podcaster who’s just arrived in a short black dress.
There’s nothing wrong with the pick up game. It’s played by men and women alike. Guys pretend to be really impressed by the color of nail polish a girl has chosen. And women pretend to have worn the low cut V-neck because it’s unbearably hot outside and not because it shows off a spectacular amount of cleavage. At some point though, too much cologne seems desperate and too much boob sweat becomes slutty. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow dances dangerously close to that line.The over dramatic narration by Patrick Stewart makes you wonder if they are trying to seduce you into thinking you’re playing more than just another God of War clone. The over dramatic narration by Patrick Stewart makes you wonder if they are trying to seduce you into thinking you’re playing more than just another God of War clone. Robert Carlye’s emphatic portrayal of the hero, Gabriel seems genuinely Shakespearean coupled with the epic proclamations of Stewart backed by an orchestra worthy of Carnegie Hall. Its an enthusiastic build up that leads to what seems like a routine series of repetitive actions. Much like many one night stands.
As the night moves on I end up talking to a guy about whatever guys talk about near the end of these evenings. I motioned to my pseudo-date swaying from side to side in her flower patterned dress while singing off key into an X-Box microphone. He smiled knowingly and pointed out a dazzling woman with long onyx hair who was playing guitar on the same rhythm game. We realized that we had both come to the party with women that we weren’t actually ‘with’. We lament about the hell that is the ‘Friend Zone’ and if it was ever possible to dig your way out. When does being a protective friend slide into just being a jealous cock blocker? We reunited with our non-dates as the bartender yells Last Call. The girls excitedly inform us about an after party that’s about to happen. One of the ‘E-Celebs’ has a huge hotel room and has invited just a few people. It needed be kept secret so that it didn’t get too crowded. It sounded great. The celeb in question was riding a pretty big wave of fame and I’m not immune to partying with a big timer.
The bar closes and everyone was herded outside. My non-date spots the E-Celeb and pulls me over to meet him. I may as well been invisible as the Champ greeted her with ‘Hey Roses, long time no see’. My instincts are put on alert for the second time tonight. Did he just pull the ‘Give a girl a nickname’ trick?
Once again, this move has dual purposes.1- It stops you from having to remember a woman’s name as you bounce from target to target all night. It’s easy to mix up Karen and Katherine. But a rose on a dress is always a rose on a dress. And 2 - It establishes a false familiarity with her, making it seem like you’re old friends even though you’ve known the woman in question for 20 seconds. I admit, its a great move.In the past I had seen my friend Tim maneuver from ‘Polka Dots’ to ‘New York’ to ‘Diamonds’ to ‘Goldy’ in one night without missing a beat. But maybe I was over thinking this. The run in with the Player earlier probably just made me hyper sensitive.
I introduce myself. ‘Hey Champ, I’m looking forward to the after party’. He looked puzzled ‘After party’? He’s eyes had yet to move from the chest of the women who was linked to my arm . She tried to help jog his memory through slightly slurred words. ‘You invited me and her’, pointing to the raven haired beauty from earlier. ‘Don’t worry, we know you said you wanted to keep it small so we didn’t tell anyone except our friends’
On hearing that, his eyes finally rose enough to catch mine and you could almost hear the bricks falling as his plan collapsed. It seemed the ‘after party’ the Champ had planned consisted of a guest list of only him and 2 very attractive, fairly intoxicated women. He backpedaled, “Yeah..actually, it’s kind of late. And I have to catch a flight in the morning. I better just call it a night”.
Castlevania lures you in with flowery prose and slick looks while featuring solid, if derivative game play. A lot of people will be happy with that. If it didn’t work for other games, the techniques would’ve died out long ago. The simple puzzles, quick time events, and weapon upgrades all have a satisfyingly familiar feel. Almost like a guy running through all the different pick up lines he’s collected until he finds the right combination of half truths and gin that will help pull a girl out of a club. “Hey, if it worked for someone else, it’ll work for me”. But instead of copying the current flavor of the industry, I would’ve been happy if Castlevania: Lords of Shadow had seemed more sincere. There are benefits to just being yourself.
The night ended with the Champ retreating back into his suite, presumably to prepare for his appointment with the airport and reuniting with his family. The Player was trying to convince the short-dressed podcaster to share the cab which he ultimately left in, alone. The woman I was with (but wasn’t ‘with’) leaned against me as we made our way back to the hotel. There was no trace of regret in her voice when she said ‘Damn, too bad the after party fell through. Hey, lets watch a movie instead.’