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Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (Windows)

80
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3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (590)
Written on  :  Aug 14, 2003
Platform  :  Windows

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Summary

Behold the corruption of the once beautiful land of Nosgoth... awesome storyline and the most imaginative puzzles I can recall.

The Good

I first stumbled upon the Legacy of Kain games almost by accident. I knew about their existence, but never got interested enough as to find in-depth info on them. One day, a friend of mine recommended me to play BLOOD OMEN 2 as it was 'a very fun 3rd person action game'. Almost immediatly I loved the voice acting of the game, and I became slightly interested with the plot, as it clearly had a story behind. I went out and bought SOUL REAVER 2, and as the plot would constantly refer to the previous game, I went out for a web search on the Legacy of Kain storyline... Man, the story behind the Legacy of Kain series has to be one of the better stories I ever readed. It's just ENORMOUS, it's full of interesting characters, smart twists, conspirations, deception... It's not only imaginative as few things I know, but it also has such a strong foundation.
After this I just ran for the first BLOOD OMEN and the first Soul Reaver. The latter of them I just finished, so here we are.

The series start with BLOOD OMEN, which is a Diablo-like, fully-2D, top-down perspective adventure game, and was created by Crystal Dynamics / Silicon Knights and published by Activision around 1997, when Windows 95 was all the rage. Later on, Eidos Interactive absorved Crystal Dynamics, and published the sequel, Soul Reaver, in 1999.
Soul Reaver has a number of significant differencies with its prequel, starting with the very gameplay style. Soul Reaver is a 3rd person perspective game, fully-3D, DirectX6-class. As so many other games in the genre its gameplay is divided between combat (close-hand) and puzzle-solving.

Soul Reaver takes places thousands of years after BLOOD OMEN. Unlike the first game, in Soul Reaver you play the role of Raziel, firstborn of Kain's lieutenants, who at the moment has served the emperor for 1.000 years.
Vampires evolve physically through the centuries following their master, until the day Raziel develops wings before Kain himself. This will be interpreted as a transgression and will mean for him the punishment of the traitors: to be cast in the abyss, suffering an agony of centuries until his body is fully consummed.
But before Raziel's body is consummed, a mysterious elder god interferes, bringing Raziel's decaying corpse to life, and giving him the oportunity to take revenge on the hypocrisy of his former master and brethren.
No longer a vampire, Raziel's old blood-thirst will be replaced by a new craving: the hunger for souls. Raziel can actually absorv the soul of his defeated enemies to recover his own health, and he can also 'shift' between the 'material world' and the 'spectral realm', where souls wander freely, and he can consumme them at will.

As it happened in BLOOD OMEN, it won't be long until you discover that this opportunity of revenge brings several hidden strings attached, as the elder god has his own interests in Raziel's quest. Soon, several other characters will also attempt to use our clueless hero as a pawn for their own interests, including Kain himself...
And above all, Raziel's own history will also unfold, proving him to be a puzzle even for himself, and to have a mysterious yet vital part to play in Nosgoth's destiny.

Much to his surprise, Raziel will find a dark and withered version of land of Nosgoth, rumbling and decaying, because of the corruption that 'Kain's parasitic empire' and the eternally trapped souls of the undead means to the 'wheel of fate'.
Nothing is as it was, and Raziel will soon find out that even his brethren have changed... dramatically.

The storyline of the game itself might not be as complex and event-stuffed as the first BLOOD OMEN was, but having that one as a background means it is still strong and interesting: several characters, places, and events from the first game will either re-appear or be referenced to, raising lots of new questions.

Furthermore, Soul Reaver is the first chapter of a saga —the ending is a plain giveaway on this, in fact it even greets you with a 'to be continued'— in which you are going to learn A LOT about Nosgoth's history and curse, and about Raziel's own very sad story.

Gameplay-wise, Soul Reaver follows quite a classic scheme. The land of Nosgoth is divided in several levels, each one is separated from one another by a steep cliff, a huge river, or whatnot, and each one is populated by a different vampire sub-breed, ruled by one of Raziel's brothers —the typical 'level boss'— whom you will ultimately defeat in our quest for revenge. As I said before, things have changed dramatically, and each vampire have developed a special ability to the point of actually suffer a physical transformation. Thus, there is a spider-vampire whose children have the ability of climbing walls, a fish-vampire whose children can swim, and so on.
By defeating each boss and devouring his soul, Raziel will also absorv his particular ability, which will allow you to reach places you were not able before, thus opening the way towards another level.

One of the most interesting features of the game are the puzzles. They HAVE to be experimented to fully understand this, but I can assure they must be the most imaginative thing I saw in this kind of game. The most common puzzle you'll find are ACTUAL PUZZLES you get to solve by rotating and correctly placing huge carved blocks of stone. You can totally figure them out with a little thinking, but some of them will take quite some minutes and require you to pay close attention, working out as one of those 'mind-breaking' little games within the main game.
There are also some lever-pulling puzzles, item-placing puzzles, and a few jumping puzzles. Again, all of them are quite easy enough as to figure out without needing to refer to a walkthrough, but they WILL plant a good challenge.
Furthermore, as Raziel's brothers are invincible and immune to Raziel's physical strenght and abilities, the boss fights are not ACTUAL FIGHTS. Instead, you need to outsmart them and figure out ways to take advantage of each one's particular handicap in order to defeat them. Thus, each 'boss fight' actually work out as a puzzle, in which you win not by hitting several times while avoiding attacks (as in 99.99997% of games out there) but by actually using your brain. This is one of the things I liked the most from this game, as I don't remember having seen something like this before.

The fights are fairly easy, but there are enough of them to keep you entertained for a while.
I already said that you don't actually get to FIGHT the bosses, so their underlings are all the fighting enemies you'll face. You have an 'autoaim' button, wich will make Raziel engage on the closest enemy, and while in this mode you can hit, pounce, or avoid attacks by retreating or side-jumping around the enemy. However, the enemies are not that tough or smart, so avoiding attack is seldom needed.
The hardest thing is that your enemies are mostly vampires, which means they're immortal, hence you need to finish them by burning or impaling them somehow, otherwise they will rise again after a few seconds. Furthermore, if you impale an enemy and take the weapon out of his body consumming his soul, he will revive also.
Finishing the vampires can be done in two basic ways: by the straight use of a pointy weapon (or the Soul Reaver you'll acquire pretty soon in the game) or taking advantage of the surroundings (a ray of sunlight, water, spikes on a statue...). This is rather original, and at first gives an interesting twist to the fighting.

The graphics of the game are fairly good considering the time.
For the game world, the programmers used the typical fog trick to hide the far clipping plane, which in turn allowed them to create HUGE environments. Despite all the decay of the world of Nosgoth, one can't help but stop and watch the surroundings every now and then, since the buldings exhale an impressive sense of magnificence.
The whole game is dark and morbid, from the withering lands to the very half-rotten body Raziel, and yet it's all so unsettingly beautiful...
The graphics for the characters are a mixed bag. Raziel is great. The other vampires not so much. They do their job fine, but they could have been better worked out.
Then there come the bosses, which are nothing short of impressive. As I said, they have mutated a great deal since the last time Raziel saw them, and now they are huge, menacing, repulsive monsters.

The sound plays a big deal of a part in the atmosphere of the game. The voice acting is great. I think the voice acting of the Legacy of Kain series have to be, if not the best, easily among the top 3 best voice acting in games ever. Not only the actors do a great job in the acting itself, but also the voices sound great, and to add to the package, the dialogues are brilliant.
I specially love Kain's lines, all full of double-senses and smart metaphors.
The gameplay is interrupted several times to show a cutscene, and while (unlike in BLOOD OMEN) they are made with in-game graphics, hence they're not visually that impressive, you'll get to enjoy a lot of voice acting.
Not to mention, this means the storyline is constantly evolving, you are assured that you won't walk more than a few meters before you find new —and sometimes shocking— information on the plot.

The music is great. I pretty much suck at describing a music, so I can only say these is among the few games that actually got me interested in its soundtrack. The music is ominous and dark, with a strong use of percussion. It creates an ominous atmosphere that sure fits with the dark yet unsettingly beautiful game world.

Among the intangibles, we could count the interesting feature that's the shifting between the material and spectral realms. Not only is interesting as an idea, but the effect is also greatly accomplished, the world sort twists and revolves on itself, until it's transformed into its own unsettling dark (even darker) version.
At some points, the world twists so badly that the deformations achieved by shifting to the spectral realm are exactly what you need to pass by certain obstacles.

Finally, the game offers a great deal of replayability in 'the search for the glyphs'.
The glyphs are some sort of special powers that Raziel acquires to use against his enemies. In order to get a glyph you'll need to find its own 'secret area' and solve a special puzzle related to it.
I talked before about how enormous the gameworld is; well, many players can go through the whole game and even finsh it, and still haven't seen like half of the actual game world: the secret areas where the glyphs are found are HUGE. The level of detail put into them is impressive, and if you enjoyed the views throughout the game, it's totally recommendable to go back and look for the glyphs. Only visiting the places where they are hidden is worth the replaying. Sould Reaver redefines the concept of 'secret area' into something that would be more fitting into 'secret worlds'.

The Bad

The first thing that shocked me in the negative aspect, is the control interface.
For one thing, the mouse is not used at all. Then, the arrow keys work in such a strange way for what I'm used to see, since the direction each arrow moves Raziel depends on the position of the camera. This is specially annoying when the camera decides to suddenly change perspective and then you can have a slightly hard time figuring out which key would now point the direction you were moving to. Nedless to say, when this happens in a fight, it can get VERY annoying and frustrating. Let alone the middle of a jumping puzzle.

All in all, the combats are easy, as I said. That's not exactly bad, but it's not all good neither. The combat interface is so worked out with all the evasive techniques and all, and yet most of the fights are easily won by just charging against the enemy and hitting him like insane.
Then, there comes the 'finishing' thing, and while it's original and nice in the beginning, it gets sort of annoying pretty soon, specially since you need to pick up the body and aim towards a fire, a spike, or whatever, and you can easily miss, which means you need to run towards your enemy, pick him up before he recovers, aim again, throw him, and then maybe you miss again...
As for the weapons, the good thing is that they make up for the afforementioned problem. The bad is that they are exactly all the same, despite different forms. It would be nice to have weapons of different ranges, strenght, and whatnot, but it's not the case here.

The glyphs, while presented as weapons, and actually recommended to be used with caution, are pure crap. First, they won't kill your enemies, but stun them, much like hitting them. Second, once you get the ability to shoot energy bolts from your hand, the glyphs just cross the line to completely useless.
The only good thing about them is the exploring done to actually get them, but as a weapon they just suck.
I said that the programmers used this 'fog' effect to hide the far clipping plane and thus having the possibility of creating huge environments whitouth needing an exaggeratedly powerful hardware. However, sometimes this fog just doesn't look right. Sometimes it looks like fog and when in closed environments it is usually black, from which we assume it's the darkness of the place... but sometimes it is green! or cyan! That sure looks horrible, and worst thing is it could have been fixed by just using a more 'foggy' colour.

The game lacks a feature I loved from the first one, which is the Dark Diary, where all the events of the plot revealed so far were stored so you could run through them to refesh your memory, or simply watch the whole storyline played once you finished the game.
In Soul Reaver, there are two points where two characters will point you with hints towards your next target, as to get you on track if you'd miss anything or just forgot where you were, but that's it.

Finally, I played this game in 2003, and I had SOUL REAVER 2 already installed, so I started playing it right after finishing this one, but I think I can barely imagine how frustrating should have been to reach the ending of such an awesome game only to be greeted with a 'to be continued'.
That's a low punch.

The Bottom Line

I never saw the Legacy of Kain series coming, and now I just love it. It has to be one of the top 3 best stories ever, and that's even counting books and movies.
I never thought the combination of a middle-age-like world and vampires would ever get me interested in any way, but I was terribly mistaken. Soul Reaver is a masterpiece of a sequel. Far from spoiling the first game, it creates a whole new reality in the same universe, whit the same degree of interest and intrigue. But right before you can think that they just took advantage of a great story to support a totally different game, Soul Reaver's story merges with the one of Blood Omen in a way so smart that it makes you think the whole thing was necessarily thought out from before.

The game would be worth playing even without the great storyline, if only for the beatiful world they've created, and the greatly thought out puzzles.

The voice acting and the music add up to round a package that's 2 cents from perfect.

The worst of the downs has to be the awkward control interface, but all in all it's not like you can't get used to it anyway, only it could have been much smoother.

Do I recommend Soul Reaver? And you still ask?
Soul Reaver is a MUST.