The first Soul Reaver was a moody, compelling take on the Metroid formula, held back from greatness only by being pushed out the door before it was complete. It was hoped that Crystal Dynamics would take the time with the sequel to fix some of the glaring problems of its predecessor and offer a more satisfying game. Unfortunately, while Soul Reaver 2 improves on many of the aspects that were already good to begin with - namely, the graphics and story - it solves none of the series' most basic problems and fails to develop the first game's most promising aspects.
Since the biggest complaint leveled at the first game was that is ended just as the story was reaching its climax, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Soul Reaver 2 picks up exactly where the first game left off. Raziel, the titular Soul Reaver, has finally cornered Kain, the vampiric despot who condemned him to death at the beginning of Soul Reaver. Kain, however, escapes revenge by diving into a time portal into the past. The chase continues across time, crisscrossing the eras before, and just after, Nosgoth fell into decay under Kain's rule.
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No One Knows My Plan
Soul Reaver 2 doesn't resolve the loose ends from the first game so much as cut them off entirely. Those who were hoping for resolution of the story that was begun in the first game will be sorely disappointed. While the story quickly takes a sharp turn away from the revenge plot of the first game, the narrative that follows is filled with enough drama, well-developed characters, and surprising twists that most players will be too engrossed to notice. As he travels throughout Nosgoth's past, Raziel slowly learns the true nature of the land's decay and his real purpose as the bearer of the Soul Reaver. Fans of the first Blood Omen will also find many more ties to the plot of the original. But far more questions are raised than answered and, once again, the game ends with the exact same sort of cliffhanger that was so annoying the first time. It has a bit more of a planned feel this time around - players are at least given a genuine climax - but once again the story ends just as it was beginning to get most interesting. The developers obviously have big plans for the overall narrative of the Legacy of Kain franchise, but they need to learn to deliver it in more satisfying episodes.
However, it's impossible to complain about what story there is, especially when it's accompanied by such excellent voice work. The actors from Soul Reaver and 1996's Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain reprise their roles for the sequel, and the ensemble cast is simply one of the best yet heard in any game. The script itself may occasionally be a bit too melodramatic, but it's a testament to quality of the voice work that, unlike so many other games, it never becomes unintentionally comedic. The drama is further helped by well-implemented facial animation and spot-on lip-synching.
By moving to a time travel plot, Soul Reaver 2 manages to side-step one of the main complaints about the first game's otherwise excellent visuals - their monotony. The past of Nosgoth is much more colorful and vibrant than its dystopian present, and the locals are consequently more varied. Soul Reaver 2 offers about a dozen distinctive environments, ranging from a stunningly detailed gothic stronghold with a gloomy surrounding swamp to a snowy mountain pass with an open air keep perched atop it. Though they sometimes display a lack of polish, overall the graphics are painstakingly detailed and feature some of the best texture work yet seen on the PlayStation 2. The murals and stain glass windows that decorate many areas are particularly impressive, no matter how close you get to them. The character models have received similar attention, and all display life-like fluid animation
Exquisite Dead Guy
With all this in its favor, it's unfortunate that Soul Reaver 2 isn't nearly as good a game as its predecessor. The Metroid-like gameplay of Soul Reaver, where new areas opened up as Raziel gained new skills, is largely replaced by a strict linearity. Over the course of the game, Raziel encounters four elemental forges. Adding these attributes to the Reaver enables you to unlock the next area and activate special switches, but it all seems a thinly disguised form of "use the blue key to open the blue door." The four elemental versions of the Reaver each have a secondary ability, but these are woefully underused. For example, the Air Reaver can be used to break crumbling walls, a skill that comes into play exactly twice over the course of the entire game, and the Fire Reaver is used to break an ice barrier only once.
Soul Reaver 2's hodgepodge of ill-conceived power-ups and underused abilities smacks of bad planning, and the actual puzzles don't fare much better. While the first game featured a creative variety of box puzzles, the sequel offers mostly uncreative, albeit box-free, puzzles. All of them involve moving item A to location B or using one of the elemental Reavers in a particularly obvious way. The puzzle design has a few high points, such as Janos Audron's retreat, but overall the puzzle areas are so brief that they hardly have a chance to offer much challenge. The interesting dual world mechanic, however, is still in place, and scenery once again warps and twists as Raziel shifts between the material and spectral realms. Unfortunately, like the Elemental Reavers, the mechanic is terribly underused. Many of the more interesting puzzles in the first game involved figuring out how to exploit differences between the two landscapes, but you'll only need to do this a handful of times in Soul Reaver 2. And, each time, the solution dutifully pointed out in advance, either with a heavy-handed cutscene or an actual icon that shows where to shift realms.
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Your Own Worst Enemy
Worst of all, the puzzle-like boss battles of the first game, which were perhaps its highest point, are entirely absent. In fact, Soul Reaver 2 doesn't contain any boss battles at all. Though the enemy roster has been expanded and the combat improved, battles still remain a mere impediment to progress, rather than an enjoyable part of the game. Taking a page from Zelda, pressing the R1 button now causes Raziel to lock on to the nearest enemy. This solves the targeting problems that plagued the first game, but it doesn't do much for the fact that battles still consist of a scant few dodges and combos -- and even less technique. Early on, Raziel gains the ability to call on the Soul Reaver at any time. However, enemies killed with the Reaver can no longer be used to replenish health; instead, their souls go directly to the Reaver. If you kill too many with the Reaver, the ethereal sword begins eating away at Raziel's own health. While this may sound like an annoyance, it actually works out for the best. Unless the game forces you to fight -- either to maintain your heath or progress past an artificial barrier -- you'll most often find yourself rushing past enemies to get to the next thrilling story sequence.
The biggest mark against Soul Reaver 2, however, is that the game simply was not ready to ship. The finished retail version is riddled with odd collision problems and visible polygon seams in the levels, especially in the spectral realm. More problematically, the game has several bugs that make areas impassable without restarting from a saved game. One of these, in the Dark Forge, is stupefying easy to find. It's difficult to believe Eidos didn't know about them, and it's hard to overlook that they let the game ship in this form. If you know what triggers the bugs, the problems can be easily avoided, but players shouldn't have to consult a FAQ to compensate for a lack of testing. Add to this the overall shortness of the game (about 6-8 hours) and the fact that some areas, such as the single room Fire Forge, seem like they are only a small part of what was originally intended, and you have a game that seems like it could have benefited greatly from another six months of development time.
Wicked Little Critta
Naturally, it's not all bad. The game is still worth playing for the story and atmosphere alone, and a few of the more nagging complaints have been addressed. A map and compass are now provided. They're less than ideal, but they do eliminate some of the aimless wandering found in the first game. Soul Reaver 2 also features a host of DVD extras, featuring (among other things) production art, character models, a look inside the voice recording process, and a full script for the game.
Like the first game, Soul Reaver 2 is just a few steps shy of being a great game. But, it obviously needed more planning, more testing, and - more than anything - more time. It's clear that the development team cares deeply about the Soul Reaver franchise. Raziel remains a compelling character, the world of Nosgoth is rich with history and detail, and both have been brought to life here in an excellent, well-produced story. It's an immense shame, then, that all of this care hasn't resulted in a better game. Fans of the first Soul Reaver will find plenty to love about the sequel, but they'll also find more than a few disappointments. Hopefully, the inevitable third installment will finally deliver on the promise of the series.
Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
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|Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 |
|Developer ||Crystal Dynamics|
|Medium ||DVD-ROM |
|Platform ||Dreamcast / PlayStation 2|
|Release Date || Unknown|| 10.31.01 |
|E3: Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain 2 impressions |
|94 screenshots |
|8 wallpaper images |
|Director ||Amy Hennig |
|Producer ||Rosaura Sandoval |
|Lead Artist ||Dan Cabuco |
|Sound Design & Original Compsition ||Kurt Harland |
|Full game credits || || |
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