Review by ob5idian

Reviewed: 01/15/04

The best yet, but still not perfect

I play a lot of games, but no series in recent memory has impressed me as much with its wealth of good storytelling than the 'Legacy of Kain's. While the first had some subtle story/art design quirks, the games have since remained extremely faithful to the fiction. So it was with a great deal of optimism that I invested in the newest chapter in this now rather epic story. So, what did I think?

If you've ever played Soul Reaver 1, 2, or Blood Omen 2 you likely have a good idea of what's coming. You alternate between controlling Raziel and Kain, and both play similarly (with Kain's abilities having been changed from Blood Omen 2 to better match up with Raziel's from Soul Reaver). While the similar control does mean less differentiation between characters, it also helps prevent confusion during the switches. Controls are typical of a third-person melee game. First, both can jump and glide or jump and drain blood/souls. Both characters have two attacks: a three-hit combo and an uppercut-like slash/jump combo. These combos can be mixed together and combined with special attacks ala Mortal Kombat, making combat extremely variable and entertaining. You can also use telekinesis (‘tk’) pulses to hit enemies from a distance, push them into hazards like water or holes, and aim at switches. Kain can also grasp enemies telekinetically from a distance and throw them around. While in combat mode, which turns on in the presence of enemies, you can also dash forward, back, left and right. When playing as Kain this will transmute you into mist, making it very effective for avoiding enemy blows. Lastly, both characters can “drain” enemies from a distance or up close (draining up close stops enemies from attacking, but they’ll surround you). Also of note is that both characters use a form of the Reaver sword, and both have multiple forms of this weapon each with a different super-attack that can be used once a combat meter is filled. Besides combat, you’ll spend much of your time navigating jumping puzzles and the familiar “pull/push stuff” puzzles, which though still common are much less time-consuming than in previous games. Raziel also has the familiar puzzles involving switching from the real world to the spectral. The only real complaints I have are pretty nitpicky, and the biggest one is that Raziel’s draining animation takes a tad bit too long.
Overall, gameplay is pretty much the same as it has been since Soul Reaver, with the notable addition of a few new quirks and the great new combat system. This is still an ideal form of 3D platforming, and still fun as always.

As with the Soul Reaver games, Crystal Dynamics has developed a graphics engine that rides almost entirely on textural quality. The closes game in looks to Defiance is probably Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. The only differences are where PoP:SoT excelled in its vast vistas and storybook soft lighting, Defiance shows its best face in art design and detail. The world of Nosgoth is obviously rundown and gritty, with a constant look of autumn in the air. Outdoor areas are filled with plants and foliage, and there’s an impressive number of polygons in the world around you. However, the most surprisingly good-looking places in Nosgoth are those built by the ancient vampires. These huge citadels have architecture similar to a mosque, with extremely intricate geometric designs slathered on every wall. Besides textures and polygons, however, there’s little to be impressed with. Shading and lighting is simple and utilitarian, and particle effects are used to good effect but not as deftly as in games like Otogi. The only real stand-out effect used is a bizarre shifting blur used in the spectral world, an effect that’s almost impossible to describe but resembles what things look like through a faceted lens. Characters have a moderate number of polygons, but just enough to look decent. Animations are good, however, and look natural. Overall, the look of Defiance is very solid, with some of the most detailed areas I’ve ever seen.
However, all is not well with the world. There is an enemy in defiance, and its name is camera. For God knows what reason, CD decided to ditch the follow camera and switch to a semi-dynamic Devil May Cry-style. However, it appears that unlike DMC Defiance was made with no concessions to this style of view, resulting in quite a few odd angles. While the camera is far from Dino Crisis 3’s level of suckitude, it still seems like it was wedged into the game late in its design. However, overall, the camera does little but irritate.
8/10 (it would’ve been an easy 9 if it weren’t for the annoying camera)

Sound in Defiance boils down to one thing: voice acting. Fortunately, the cast in Defiance is mostly unchanged from the last few games, and therefore not only recognizable as their respective characters but also very good in their parts. While there are a few overactors in very minor roles, they have little to no effect on the game’s overall quality. Besides acting, there’s some subdued music, but it’s nothing overtly amazing or horrible. Sound effects are minimal, but do the job. Overall, the game rides high on its voice acting and is hurt only slightly by bland music and effects

Unfortunately, what makes defiance special isn’t its graphics or its gameplay, but its complex and well-developed storyline. Combat and puzzles will keep you playing for the first few hours, and the rest will all be wanting to see the plotline through. Unfortunately, this also means that those who aren’t familiar with the series need not apply, since there’s little to no time spent on exposition or story backtracking. However, if you have the necessary background, you won’t be disappointed with what you see here.
8/10 (or 6/10 if you haven’t played Soul Reaver 1 or 2).

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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