Review By: J.
the third installment in Crystal Dynamic's gothic role-playing
series Legacy of Kain. It is intended to be received by
the public as a stand-alone title, but comes off feeling little
more than an expansion pack. It functions as a conclusion
to the events in the previous game, which ended with the main
character Raziel and the protagonist Kain challenging fate head
on at the threshold of a time traveling device. Soul Reaver 2
also acts as a bridge between the seemingly unconnected events
in Soul Reaver 1 and the situations in Blood Omen:
Legacy of Kain, crossing the two storiesí paths and
merging them into one cohesive story, very nicely I might add.
This current chapter in the pages of Nosgoth's troubled and
winded history originally started out as the rest of the story
in Soul Reaver 1 before it was eventually broken into
separate releases for practical reasons. This may very well be
the gameís biggest flaw. In spite of the engrossing story,
high quality voice acting, and intelligent puzzles, Soul
Reaver 2 hardly feels like a complete game in and of itself.
does a nice job of playing the Ďmissing linkí between SR1
and Blood Omen, but donít be put off new comers,
the game also does a nice job of bringing the unfamiliar up to
speed through use of an informative manual, an interactive
timeline inside the game, and some crafty back story in some of
the gameís cut scenes. It even includes the original opening
CG for the first Soul Reaver. In a nutshell you play as
Nosgoth's answer to the angel of death, Raziel, as you aid in
the circle of life by sending the undead back to the other side
where they belong via the gapping void that use to be your
jaw-bone. To aid you on your journey the Elder God, the
omniscient benefactor that enlisted your services as his Soul
Reaver, gave you the ability to devoir souls, shift between the
world of the living and the world of the dead, and to eventually
use the power of the Soul Reaver, a mystical blade of pure
energy that has the ability to be imbued with elemental powers
or to rend the soul from a creatureís body, to your benefit.
Along with a few abilities you stole from your vampire brethren
during the last game you also have a few natural skills like
hanging on to ledges and climbing up certain surfaces.
the course of the game you will discover that the role you play
is much bigger then your patron ever let on, for you seem as
much an instrument of Nosgothís destruction as its redemption.
Few answers can be gathered from the gameís many treacherous
characters until everything is revealed at the very end, but
ironically your biggest alley throughout the game seems to be
Kain, the heartless archenemies of Razielís last adventure.
This helps provide one of the coolest and most shocking role
reversals in recent years. Meanwhile, the air of distrust
generated by the other forces, all of them trying to bend the
truth in their favor, hasnít been this well done since Deus
Ex. Half way through the game you will be completely unsure
who to trust, yet ultimately have no say in the matter, seeing
how the gameís linear style does the choosing for you. All the
jumping back and forth in time youíll be doing throughout the
game makes things a little hard to follow at first, but the
developers give the gameís story plenty of time to unravel.
The only problem with the game story wise is its ending, which
suffers from the same affliction as Shenmue and the first
Soul Reaver, an interesting, yet anticlimactic resolution
that leaves any sense of closure up to the next game in the
is compelling, itís how does the game play thatís the real
question right? Sadly this aspect of Soul Reaver 2 is hit
and miss. While it is essentially the same as the first game
(hack and slash combat in the third person with some Tomb
Raider style platform jumping and puzzle solving) it seems a
bit stripped down from the when last we saw it. A lot less
critical jumps and minor puzzles mean less frustrating and
tedious game play, but it also means less to do in between the
gameís many cut scenes. Most of this game falls in to the
"run from point A to point B, activate the cut scene, run
to point C, activate cut scene, fight" category. Combat
wise a lot of the strategy brought from fighting vampires in the
last game, throwing enemies in sunlight to kill them for
example, is absent. Most enemies in this game are either human
or demon and can be killed by the simple mashing of buttons.
Weapons combat does little to add variety, and boils down to
using the slow weapon with good range or the fast weapon with
bad range. Even the Soul Reaver itself plays a very small part
in the majority of the game play. Itís used mostly as a giant
key to unlock doors and puzzles.
function well, however, and are very intuitive during combat,
and mixing high and low attacks with blocking and dodging and
the occasional finishing move does add some excitement to the
gameís rather ordinary fighting. And of course, the now staple
R1 auto-facing button and camera reset button, along with the
obligatory right analog stick camera rotation controls, make
keeping enemies in plan sight very easy and judging jumping
distances a snap.
One of the
biggest complaints about the first Soul Reaver was the
near endless supply of clichťd "push the block, pull the
switch" puzzles. Luckily they are a thing of the past in Soul
Reaver 2. In their place, a hand full of puzzles so large
and so ingenious that you will continue to put up with
the gameís flaws if only to see what's around the next corner.
I have to hand it to Crystal Dynamic for designing some of the
best puzzles in recent memory. Overwhelming at first, each of
the gameís multi tiered puzzles will take hours to figure out.
They will require logic, timing, skill, a hand full of luck, and
of course your trusty Soul Reaver to complete. This game the
concept of puzzles to a whole new level: each puzzle is made up
of many smaller puzzles that all need to be completed to
activate the main goal. For example, in the Light Forge the goal
is to reflect the sun's rays onto a large gold disc, reminiscent
of Indian Jones. Sound simple enough, right? Well, in order to
reach that goal you have to bounce the light off of many smaller
discs, in rooms all throughout the level. You will discover that
each chamber requires a different set of tasks in order to
unlock, and once inside each room has a set of puzzles that need
to be solved in order to position its disk just right. So by the
time you get the light to hit the main disc, unlocking the power
of Light and imbuing it to the Soul Reaver, you will have solved
dozens of small, interlocking puzzles. Yes, this is as demanding
as it sounds. The scale of each puzzle can bring a gamer to
their knees, and finishing one is often a trial and error
exorcise in frustration, but will eventually provide the player
with a deeply rewarding sense of accomplishment rarely found in
comes to graphics, gamers wonít be as impressed. While the
graphics are rather nice, sporting a few uses of particle
effects and some cool lighting trickery, the overall quality isnít
much improved over the Dreamcast port SR2 originate as.
Even though they donít take advantage of what the Playstation
2 can really accomplish, however, the graphics are clean and
stylish, with plenty of variety and a nice steady frame rate
that get the job done. Characters are made of large and distinct
3,000 polygons models that sport some nice detail. Textures,
often the Achillesí heel of many PS2 games, are stylish and
varied. One thing that does require mentioning is the gameís
inventive take on level structure. For the most part the game
takes place in one of a dozen interconnected areas, all streamed
off the disc in real time. Shifting between the Spectral and the
Material plan is also done in real time. This means no loading
in between areas, which is a welcomed change of pace compared to
the many load-happy next generation titles out there.
interesting aspect of the gameís level design is the fact that
you never see the same thing twice, even though you pass through
the same exact locations several times throughout the course of
the games. How is this possible? Well, consider the fact that
each time you travel through any given area it is at a different
point in Nosgothís thousand-year history. This change in the
time period opens up many possibilities for experimentation in
design on the part of the developers. For example, early in the
game you have to make your way through an underwater labyrinth.
On your second trip through the same area itís a dry,
cavernous passage full of tricky jumps and dangerous creatures.
On the other side of the former lake is a rather large, bright,
snow-covered forest that use to be a dark, murky swamp. And
while the swamp use to be home to eerie creatures of the night,
itís now crawling with human guards. When next you find
yourself back will be different yet again, and appear as a
ruined wasteland. This keeps all the areas fresh and memorable.
Throw in a large number of ruins and temples, each with a unique
look and feel, and numerous (yet somewhat jagged edged) cut
scenes, and you have well constructed, if somewhat lack-luster,
visuals. Excellent complements to the visuals, however, are the
sweeping music and ambient sound effects. Footsteps echo in
rooms realistically, the Soul Reaver roars as it tears through a
person, and screams of pain ring clear as enemies collapse in a
heap on the ground. Every sound, from the caw of crows as they
scatter to the opening of doors is grand and powerful, and it
should be said that the groan of the Reaver charging up for a
projectile shot is just about the coolest sounding thing ever in
a game. This helps to fill in the gaps in visual appeal.
however, beats the voice work present in SR2, which is
quite possibly the best ever heard in a piece of electronic
entertainment. Michael Bell and Simon Templeman reprise their
roles as Raziel and Kain respectively, while such talents as
Tony Jay and Rene Auberjonis round out the rest of the main cast
of characters. Between the dictionary-grabbing lines and the
melodramatic delivery you'll be convinced the Bard himself inked
this script. Each line hits with the passion that was originally
intended written and few, if any, come off as forced, flat, or
laughable. This is something few games can clam. Even such
recent blockbusters as Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear
Solid 2 fall into this trap. And while some heated exchanges
brim with over-acting, itís more akin to the type of
over-the-top delivery of a Shakespearian stage performer then
the B-Movie style presentation of games like Resident Evil
or Silent Hill 2. These guys just know what their doing,
and they should. Simon Templeman has been the voice of Kain
since the first title was released for the Playstation back in
1996, and everyone has extensive experience outside of his or
her work on the previous title.
If only a
comparable amount of time was put into balance and bug
elimination as was put into the script, story, and voice
recording. If it were this might be a must-have title. Instead
it falls into the same pile as so many other games whoís
programming and technical aspect isnít up to snuff with its
design and scope. Combat AI is all but non-existent. Enemies
continue to run blindly into walls and other objects as if they
think they can go through them, groups of creatures simply stand
around as you take out comrades one by one, and nothing seems to
be able to figure out how to reach you when you are on a higher,
or lower, plane then they are. One of the best strategies in
combat is to find a platform about knee high and stay there,
hacking away at the enemy as he continues to run toward you,
baffled at the difference in height, even though he can just as
easily hit you as you can hit him.
god-awful AI, the game is so full of other bugs and glitches
that it raises the question of any implementation of beta
testers at all. At last count I ran in to at least 9 different
bugs that left no other option but to restart the system. And
considering that the save locations are sometimes hours away,
this means heavy backtracking throughout the entire game. Most
of these bugs are fairly common and have been run into time and
time again if Internet forums are any indication. The gameís
sporadic pace also makes testing seem overlooked. Some areas
have three or four save locations littered about, while other
more critical areas, like among one of the gameís many epic
puzzles or near boss battles, have none for miles. While a
"save anywhere" feature would have been nice, the
simple inclusion of more save locations would have been enough
to eliminate half of the frustration in this game. Considering
the gameís rather linear structure it wouldnít have been too
hard to place a save location roughly every 15 minutes.
gameís linear structure, too often youíre forced to spend
hours wandering around until you trigger the next cut scene.
Most of the time the next objective is forward, in the next
location, but often there is nothing ahead of you, and you have
to trek back until you find the right area to trigger the next
major event. These treks can side track you hours, forcing you
to run over many large, useless areas full of time consuming
enemy encounters over and over again. These excursions serve
simply as a way to lengthen the gameís rather short playtime.
The fact of
the matter is with the story and puzzles out the picture, this
game is just a rather lifeless, uninspired platformer and
another "why bother?" sequel thanks to some rather
glaring bugs and trying, tedious game play. But sadly, after
uncovering the secrets in the plot, and completing all the
puzzles, thatís all youíre left with. There is very little
reason to fire up this game again from the beginning, and
considering how mind numbing the tasks can be at some points why
would you? Even if you felt compelled to just for a second
helping of story, the DVD style extras have a cut scene viewer
that renders a second run through pointless. And although the
aforementioned extras does add a little something to do after
beating the game, even those wear thin after a few minutes. Only
die hard fans that want the complete series on their self will
want to take the $50 plunge and buy this game. Most others will
be able to beat it and see all the game has to offer in a single
rental and will find that this is enough for them. Maybe if this
game was offered in some sort of collectorís pack along with
the first Soul Reaver it would be worth purchasing, but
as it stands Soul Reaver 2 has very little going for it.
It feels too much like Crystal Dynamics took the tale end of SR1,
stretched it much longer then it should have been, and threw in
lots of filler like time consuming exploration and outtakes from
recording sessions in order to make it appear that it was enough
to warrant a sequel. Most gamers wonít fall for this, however,
and see through to what SR2 really has to offer, great
story, innovative puzzles, and little else.
possibly the best voice action and dialogue ever heard in a
truly unique and challenging puzzles.
that will keep you on the edge of your set until the final
- Some very
interesting level designs and memorable characters with a
few nice effects and no load times.
sound effects and music that rival any Hollywood
- DVD style
extras are a nice touch.
- Full of
only a step above the Dreamcast version.
- Some areas
can get a little too dark.
- Combat and
platform jumping tedious.
- Bad save
- Some pretty
noticeable jaggies during the cut scenes.
- Way too
- The entire
game has an unfinished feel to it.
is some fun to be had in this game, for the most part itís not
rewarding enough to keep you coming back for long. The game
falls short and feels incomplete, with lots of bugs and bad AI,
and only few improvements over the first game. The story,
acting, dialogue, and puzzles are enough to at warrant at least
one play through, but thatís about it. Maybe if this were
bundled with the first game, attached to the end like it should
be it would be worth buying, but considering the fact that I can
be beaten in a few days, after which all appeal has been sucked
dry, file this game under weekend rental.