Review by AAtreides

Reviewed: 11/01/99 | Updated: 07/05/02

"Tomb Raider" with vampires, a far cry from "Blood Omen"

Hello, my fellow gamers. I have a review for you on "Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver." This is the sequel to "Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen." I had played out the first one only two weeks prior in anticipation of this game. Now with a brand new set of companies behind it (Eidos and Crystal Dynamics, as opposed to Activision, Crystal Dynamics, and Silicon Knights), and a brand new interface and gameplay, this game is far from its predecessor in many ways.

STORY

"Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver" is about a vampire named Raziel. After Kain's rise to power, he began a vampiric empire to conquer Nosgoth and created five brothers to be his lieutenants. Raziel is one of those lieutenants. After a millenium and Kain's transformation, the lieutenants had begun their transformations. Raziel was the first vampire to grow wings, even before Kain, the now-eldest living vampire. Enraged by these events, Kain broke Raziel's wings and had him throw into the Lake of Lost Souls, instantaneous death for a vampire. Now deformed, withered, and weak, Raziel has been brought back by a mysterious entity to destroy Kain and his brethren to bring balance back to Nosgoth. This is where the game begins.

The story is, as becomes apparent, a continuation of the story begun in the first game. This washes away the fact that the base of the story itself (kill the bad guys, save the world) is quite mundane. The story does gain a few twists and turns along the way. Players will appreciate the story far more if they have played the first one. Even the ending should be somewhat disappointing to most people, even for me, who knows its significance. At parts, Raziel will reveal plot points of the first game as they pertain to the second. This fills in any new players satisfactorily enough.

Raziel is a vastly different character from Kain. He seems to have good intentions for Nosgoth as the story progresses, but he also seems to greatly desire revenge, as well. He is a character confused by himself, and he becomes further confused as he learns more and more. I don't think that we see enough of the character for anyone to root for him quite as much as I felt in the first game. He is not quite as rounded as Kain was. I think that the important difference between the two games that makes this a fact is that your purpose and motivations are quite clear from the beginning of this game. In the first installment, you find out much of your quest along the way and start knowing next to nothing.

As was the case in the first game, characters exist merely as foils and aids to our protagonist, Raziel. Character interaction is mainly talk between any given boss and Raziel, which always ends in a fight. The setting is not developed at all in this game. Everything is a carryover from the first game in this regard.

In the end, the story, characters, and the setting are all fairly plain and undeveloped. Only a player of the first game can fully appreciate these for what they are worth, but a new player should learn enough for it to make sense. Definitely, much less work was put into this than in the first game.

GAMEPLAY

Squint really hard and refocus your eyes on your television screen when you play this game, because you're likely to confuse it with Tomb Raider. The game is a 3D-adventure game extremely similar to "Tomb Raider." Frankly, I have played about five minutes total of the entire "Tomb Raider" series, and I wish I had played more so that I could make more comparisons. That said, your main activities consist of combat, solving puzzles and doing step events, travel between the spectral and material planes, and jumping.

For those of you who played the first game, Kain had to constantly feed in order to stay alive. That also meant that combat was an extremely critical part in the game, as it was. In this game, that is not the case. Even before you attain Soul Reaver, your main weapon (which subsists your need for souls), your need for feeding (in this game souls and not blood) is little. Combat is not nearly as important in this game as it was in the first. Comparatively, you will do far less. In fact, combat was of such little importance that I never died throughout the entirety of the game. Never once did I see a "game over" screen. Normal combat is far more geared towards thinking than fighting, as there are very few options that are open to you for killing vampires. Only fire, water, sunlight, or a puncture wound may kill them. Sometimes you may just have to pass up combat, because you will have no way of killing your opponent. Weapons are not even always necessarily available. Many times you will have to fight with your claws then use a structure such as a campfire, a pool, a spike on the wall, etc to finish your opponent. Even bosses cannot be beaten with direct combat, with the exception of one. Combat is largely done through the usage of your environment, and the abilities you have. This may leave some of the more action-oriented gamers in the dark.

The next activity that I mentioned is puzzle-solving and doing step events. This is definitely foreign to veterans of the first game. Examples of puzzles that you'll frequently counter are those that involve tactical plane shifting and the moving of boxes. You'll move so many boxes that you'll likely grow tired of it. It makes you wonder how the former inhabitants of these realms ever got around... There are several multi-part puzzles, as well. Step events, as a define them, are basically when you want to go to point D, but you have to solve puzzles or push switches, etc at points A, B, and C first. Sometimes it involves having gained a particular ability first before being able to proceed. Step events and puzzles are generally closely related in this game. A lot of your time playing the game will be solving and manipulating these puzzles and doing these step events. They range from the mundane and fairly basic to the extremely complex. Even the most seasoned of puzzle-solvers will have to pause the game and think frequently. Again, this is something that will turn away action-oriented gamers.

Another activity which frequently is used as a portion of many puzzles and step events is planar travel. There are two planes: the material and the spectral. Being somewhat a vampire and a wraith, Raziel's home is the spectral plane. He can kill spectral creatures, gather wayward souls for feeding, and also travel through this plane. Machinery ceases to function when you are in this plane, and you cannot manipulate the environment as a side-effect. You can walk through water as if it were air. He can travel there from the material plane at will. The material plane, however, can only be accessed through certain planar portals. In this plane, you are given a physical body. You can manipulate objects in this plane. Water has substance, and it can dissolve your physical body and send you back to the spectral plane, if you are not careful. Although the creatures on the material plane are far more powerful in general, being "killed" on the material plane will always send you back to the spectral plane. This is largely why I never perished in the game. Travel between these planes is crucial at many points in the game. Frequently if you see an impassable area, chances are that you are just in the wrong plane. Travel between planes can warp and change the environment. Some abilities can only be used in one plane or the other, as well. Planar travel definitely adds a new twist to the game.

The first game's test of agility was largely the avoidance of traps. Frequently placed in multiples and paired with obstacles such as spikes and ice, these could get mildly frustrating at times. "Soul Reaver" replaces that with jumping, however. The only game that has aggravated me more with jumping is one only the most seasoned of gamers will remember. On the original Nintendo console was a game called "Wizards and Warriors." It was a 2D scroller which featured a knight who fought demons and other assorted monsters. It was fairly simplistic, really. One of the most challenging and, as a result, frustrating aspects of the game was precision jumping. And I mean precision. Frequently, one false move and you plummeted either to your death or to the bottom of an area, either way repeating the whole frustrating climb again. It is that repetitiveness which makes me dislike games that involve a lot of jumping. I like a challenge, but doing the same area over and over again because of one mistake does not make me want to play any further nor does it make it a greater challenge. I generally don't even learn anything by failing, either, except that I should not miss next time. As some falls in "Wizards and Warriors" did, some falls in this game, though not lethal, can cause you to repeat large segments or even entire areas. Some people may have no trouble at all in this respect, but it sure did not amuse me. Not every stage is a jumping frenzy, but several stages, most infamous the water stage (which pairs both many critical jumps and water for an unfortunate combination), involve many crucial jumps in a series. Not every jump is extremely difficult, either. But I think that there may be enough to aggravate quite a few people.

Though its predecessor was plagued in this regard , "Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver" has accomplished "seamless" gameplay, that is, gameplay with zero loading times. The only "loading" screen you'll ever see is when your saved game initially loads, and not even that stays for very long. Knowledgeable or perceptive players can spy where and when the game loads and how it masks the loading, but zero waiting is a pleasurable experience for all, nonetheless.

Gameplay is very straightforward and simple. The game is very linear with a few secrets that you have to use your memory and backtrack to. As I mentioned, there really only are those four activities, so you will not find yourself bogged down with duties or menus. Although there was a more complex magic system in the first game, this game has an extremely simple magic system, which, save for the planar travel spell that I mentioned, is completely extra and has no necessity. There are no items to use. You cannot change forms to a wolf or a bat, etc. In "Blood Omen," you had a choice of five weapons and armors, each with a different usage and purpose. You had to frequently witch according to the needs of the situation. This is not the case in "Soul Reaver." Your main weapon is the Soul Reaver. Any other weapons are simply implements of your environment such as torches or pipes and are always temporary. You can pick up a weapon, use it, place it down, or throw it. Very basic. This simplicity helps the game a lot for what it is trying to do. Any more would have actually hindered it. Still, some who have waited longingly for this game, as it is approximately a year late, may have wanted more than what was given to them. In fact, players who enjoyed the first installment will find this such a different game that one would not even know they were related had they not shared characters and namesakes. These players may not even like this game at all, in fact.

Though a good game on its own, advocates of the original or those who desire more action may not like this game at all. Gameplay is very smooth and fairly flawless. The coding is fairly tight and extremely resource efficient, which is something that the first game did not have. But, these facts, when considered in the presence of the vastly changed genre and the lack of much action, may be overlooked by these sets of gamers.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The graphics are gothic in style, but they tend to be much lighter than in the first game. The graphics are quite good, though not quite as good as those in "Metal Gear Solid." You will see graphical "holes" pop up frequently enough as you play the game. There is not a massive amount of detail in most characters, but enough to probably impress most people. The characters are a bit blocky, however. This is to be expected for polygon characters, but some are more blocky than they could have been.

The music is good. It is much less gothic than in the first game, and, in my opinion, much less noticeable. Music will change according to your area and situation. It helps when you've been toiling around pushing boxes in a puzzle room for ten minutes, and a music change tells you that you have visitors (who drop from the ceiling…). Voice acting is superb, and, thankfully, the low volumes and lack of normalization that plagued the first game are gone in this one. Sound effects are also very good.

All in all, the graphics and sound are above average and very good in most areas. Certainly, if these things get you excited, you will find much to appreciate in this game.

CONTROLS

The controls are another thing that this game does right. Very simplistic and very easy to learn, the controls add no unnecessary extras. They are as simple as one would expect from a "Tomb Raider"-like game. Controls are responsive, but, as I would expect in any game that requires critically timed button pressing, I was apparently occasionally "too fast," and I would plummet from a jump that was supposed to be a glide. Aside from that, the control responsiveness is great.

The controls themselves are very easy to use and intuitive, as well, though not customizable. Learning to play will take mere minutes for most people, as the initial tutorial stage does a good job of explaining how to play. It did so well, in fact, that my rental, which, for some reason, did not come with a manual (How that could be on a brand new game is beyond me. I was the first person to rent it), did not pose a problem in learning the game and the controls. There is only one menu, if you can even call it that, to use. That is the magic menu, and, chances are, you will only be using one spell on there that just happens to be the default. So, you'll probably never use the menu enough to care about it. There is a free look and a view turn, as you would expect. The view also changes automatically, to a certain extent, per your movements and position. Sometimes this automatic change is not enough, and you will find yourself manually turning the camera to face your enemies from a better angle. Many times I fought my enemies without even seeing where they were for most of the fight. The auto facing only points you in the direction of your attacker: most of the time. All of this could have been done better, but combat is so secondary in this game that it does not really detract all that much from the game. Though the game might have benefited from a turn-around or quick turn button, I suppose that adding another button may have bogged it down a bit. Saving is odd, however. Though quite like computer games with in-game saving (saving at any moment as opposed to saving at designated points), it becomes its console parent when loading. Loading a game will bring you back to the very beginning of the game, no matter where you saved it. This enhances the importance of finding and activating the portals, for certain. It also requires three memory card slots, which is much more than most games.

If I was to be limited to one word to describe the controls for this game, I would say: superb. Though not absolutely perfect in function, they are near enough to praise them so highly.

REPLAYABILITY

As most console gamers know, especially those who pay for games out of their own no-so-endless pockets, that replayability is a serious factor when purchasing a game. Almost every game has some sort of attempt at providing replayability, nowadays, to keep up. "Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver" does that to a small extent.

The best game secrets are those that affect the end or the playing of the game to some noticeable extent. Basically, some benefit worth finding them for, whether that be alternate endings, new outfits, or extra characters, to name a few. "Soul Reaver" has magic and some power-ups to claim as secrets. Though difficult to get to, the rewards of attaining these are naught. Having won the game already, there is little motivation to go back and get the secrets that I missed.

But, that would be another issue with the game: the brevity of completion. I rented the game on the first day it was available, the 17th of this month. I played the game extremely little (about 20 minutes) that first day, but I got to play it much the second and third days. I write this on the third day, the 19th. Though there are many games so quick (and some quicker) to win nowadays, most recognize the need for good replayability. This game, unfortunately, does not provide that to any sufficient extent.

In the end, the game can be conquered in a matter of days and has little in the way of replayability.

THE VERDICT

Though an enjoyable enough game, the extremely quick win time and the lack of replayability bring this game down. That is why I do not feel that I can recommend purchasing this game. I would suggest, however, that you should rent the game if you feel that it sounds interesting. Though far more technologically superior to its predecessor in almost all ways, the sequel has lost the personable spirit of the first game. The extra touches and neat little additions are gone, only to be replaced with higher-notch graphics and sound and a 3D engine. For those who can identify with what I am saying, it is quite like watching your favorite cult or small film or reading your favorite book, then seeing a lackluster big budget sequel or a movie adaptation that just does not approach the original in content, quality, and / or value (An example would be "Escape from New York" versus "Escape from L.A."). Something was lost from the small budget game to the big budget blockbuster. Whereas this does not bother some people, I just thought it worth mentioning.

THE GOOD - Seamless gameplay; planar travel; for some, more thoughtful gameplay; superb voice acting.

THE BAD - Occasionally tedious jumping and re-treading; little replay value; extremely quick game completion.

THE UGLY - Game loading; graphical holes and glitches; complete change of genre from first game; camera angles during combat; the ending.

That's all! Until next time...

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Would you recommend this Review? Yes No

Got Your Own Opinion?

Submit a review and let your voice be heard.