Gamestyle Archive intro: some of my favourite gaming explorations were across the Kain landscape. This review from JJ dates from November 2001.
As expected the story of the Soul Reaver and Legacy of Kain continues onto the Playstation 2 in the form of Soul Reaver 2. The first title provided to be very popular when released for the Psone and subsequent rival formats. Driven by a strong story, character design and implementation the game sold very well and provided a reasonable if monotonous challenge to the player. Now that Raziel finds himself on a more powerful platform, has the game evolved as well?
The first Soul Reaver game was one of the first to use constant streaming from the game disk, leading to a fluid and uninterrupted experience. Everyone will remember moving from the Spectral and Material realms and on the Playstation 2 this is just as impressive second time around. There is no doubt that the team at Crystal Dynamics are a talented bunch and once again loading times are kept to a minimum. Other Playstation 2 developers please take note as it can be done. Again setting a first is the inclusion of several bonus features, which take advantage of the DVD format. In fact the game has a whole section devoted to this and for any fan of the series it increases the value of the package.
Nice, but Gamestyle is more concerned with the game proper and how it plays and as you soon discover it is a mixed bag all round. To explain the background of the Soul Reaver/Kain story would take a series of features within itself even though it only recently started life on the Psone with the release of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Since then the stories of Kain & Raziel have become intertwined even with separate releases to their name and the trend will continue with Bloom Omen 2 released later this year. If you have not played the first game you will perhaps struggle with the story at first because of its richness but as a tale Soul Reaver 2 could exist on its own.
The beauty of this sequel for those who enjoyed the first game is that it allows you to go back to locations you have visited before. This time however you are visiting them at their prime, The Pillars of Nosgoth stand before you unbroken by Kain. You also discover the physical form of the Soul Reaver and explore the land, which you knew before you were cursed. The story centres on the Pillars because these are the source of power to Nosgoth and give life to all and starts where the previous game ended. Due to a chain of events that you will discover whilst playing the game Kain has become tied to the pillars, forced to become Ariel’s successor. Kain needs Raziel to free him yet you are driven by revenge, a very powerful emotion. Should you help Kain and impale the plans of Moebius (Guardian of Time with his own agenda) or succumb to your emotion? As its stands you must explore Nosgoth in both the Spectral and Material realms to answer this paradox.
Visiting lands that you knew when you were human and exploring places only accessible to the one who has the Soul Reaver – wary that there is another force at work with their own agenda. The design and presentation of the series has always been first class and once again this does not disappoint. Forget Jak & Dexter as this game has some of the most stunning environments and designs on the system. If you want gothic architecture in all its medieval glory pick this instead of Devil May Cry. Whilst playing the game I often found myself standing at a vantage point and looking back upon the land that I had just explored. The added bonuses are the graphical effects employed and constant frame rate (60fps), which are pleasing to the eye.
Character dialogue and recorded speech is often the subject of much ridicule from various sources and rightly so but Soul Reaver 2 is the game that brakes the norm. All the main characters are voiced with a style rarely seen in videogames and show what we should expect from everyone in the future. The game includes a Dolby Pro Logic soundtrack, which won’t win any awards but does reinforce the atmosphere. Character designs, animation and FMV sequences are of a high standard throughout the game although if I was being critical perhaps the former lacking any progression from the original. As mentioned earlier Soul Reaver 2 is a mixed bag, but why? For all the visual splendour and high standard of presentation the hard work is ruined by a few niggling problems and one serious drawback.
The main drawback to Soul Reaver 2 is the gameplay, which frankly is seriously limited and at times would test the patience of any player. Gameplay is simple – explore a level fighting enemies using a hack n slash approach, find the entrance/lever, progress. The story amidst some stunning environments is the only thing to keep you entertained and engaged in the game. There have been countless games which used a similar approach but did not have the story to put the game above anything else but poor i.e. Nightmare Creatures. The game is very much a one trick pony even though Raziel has many skills and abilities at his disposal.
At times the game is very much FMV driven, sequences while essential can go on for a long period of time but this is a common trend amongst games today i.e. Metal Gear Solid 2. It is a matter of personal preference and if you want a deep game with an engaging storyline then it is the only approach. The enemies in the game suffer from a distinct lack of AI, reducing the game to nothing more than a button bashing frenzy. Adding to the repetition is that they regenerate meaning that if you have to retrace your steps they will be waiting once again. Whilst playing the game on several occasions the monsters would become trapped in the walls and would remain there. Almost all of the levels and scenery is wonderful to look at but the level design itself in game terms is fairly straightforward and unimaginative.
Perhaps if the these points had received the same amount of attention as the story and presentation Soul Reaver 2 would be an essential purchase but it is only half the game it should have been. Soul Reaver 2 does not represent the leap that many would have expected and follows a trend of improved graphics and audio on the Playstation 2 with no comparable improvement in gameplay and AI. Blood Omen 2 is already a dramatic leap forward in the visual stakes and we wait to see if the game itself can match the progression.
Gamestyle Score: 5/10