Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver

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Many years after the events in Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Kain has created an empire in the world of Nosgoth where almost all humans have been exterminated. To help him maintain control over such large territory he chooses five lieutenants to command his vampire forces. Your name is Raziel and you are one of those lieutenants. Buy from Good Old Games

Review

A thousand years have passed since a new vampire lord was crowned in Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Kain has spent this time well, domesticating the human population almost to extinction. He then recruited six lieutenants to carry out his wishes. As time went on, the higher-ranking vampires began to evolve into new beings, assuming new powers and growing in strength. Always, it was Lord Kain who changed first; until Raziel, one of Kain’s lieutenants, was given wings. In a fit of jealousy, Kain had him thrown into a bottomless whirlpool.

The game begins when Raziel is taken from the pool, raised from the dead, and given the chance to avenge himself. Although Kain ripped his wings from him, he still retains the ability to glide. Raziel can move between the underworld and reality at will, but in the real world he must regularly feed on the energy of souls if he is to survive for long.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. LoK:SR is gorgeous. It really looks superb. The spectral realm sways and wavers surreally and the real-world levels have a comfortingly solid look to them. On my rather high-powered PC (albeit with a slightly puny Riva TNT1 card), there’s hardly any slow-down in 1024×768 mode and the game flows very freely. For the techies, the engine uses light-sourcing (flaming objects and other light-emitting things actually cast realistic light) and Z buffering (simulates fog effects very convincingly) to great effect. The fog is of variable thickness, meaning that you can see much further in the outdoor sections than in some of the darker tunnels. Raziel’s figure contains over 500 polygons, which compares well to the likes of Tomb Raider. Sound, too, is top quality; the music is atmospheric, the sound effects and voice-overs are convincing and serve to support the graphics very well.

Try pulling a burning torch from the wall, and throwing it down one of the deepest pits in the game. Standing at the edge, you can watch the torch illuminate the walls of the pit until it vanishes into the fog. If that doesn’t light your fire, you can use it as a weapon instead; waving it in the face of the enemy creatures, and lunging forward to set them aflame – then sitting back and gloating to yourself quietly. Raziel moves beautifully and his wide variety of moves are all blended together seamlessly

He doesn’t look much like Lara to me

It is not without graphical problems, however, and many of these will be familiar to Tomb Raider fans. The walls sometimes exhibit slight break-up, meaning that it’s occasionally possible to see straight through them, especially when looking at them from a slight angle. Doors, too, exhibit this behaviour, and Raziel sometimes seems to be standing half in a corridor and half in a wall. But if you’ve played other games of this type you’re probably well used to this type of oddness.

Now we’ve got the graphics out of the way, what about the really important stuff? If you’ve played the Playstation version of this game, it will be instantly familiar to you. In fact, I’m not sure that there have been any changes at all – beyond the graphics running in higher resolution and the necessary controller options. The title screen even says “Press Start” – a throwback to the console’s joypad design.

The game doesn’t have a traditional level-based structure. It is split up into sections with a boss at the end of each, but there is not really a point at which one level ends and another begins. This means there is no obvious point at which to grab level data from the CD – but, undaunted, Soul Reaver does it in the background, without you noticing. Nice one, Eidos. It’s a very good system, and really helps the game to flow.

Smoke me a vampire, I’ll be back for breakfast

The old vampire clans of Nosgoth, now horribly mutated, provide enemies. Being vampires, they’re a bit difficult to do away with – and silver bullets are not provided. Raziel can inflict flesh wounds on them, but these only incapacitate them temporarily and soon they’re back on your case. The only ways to permanently get rid of them are impaling them with a pointy stick of some kind, (which are in plentiful supply), setting them on fire, or throwing them into water or sunlight. Later Raziel earns special powers or glyphs, which he can use to harm or destroy the enemies. In the early parts of the game, this provides for much amusement – lobbing vampires about the place and hearing them scream when they are finally dispatched is top fun. Unfortunately, once Raz gains Kain’s mystical sword – quite early in the game – some of this fun is lost as it’s much easier to explode the bad guys with its magical powers.

The plot proceeds in a roughly linear way. It’s usually the case that there is only one correct route through the levels and leaving this route generally doesn’t get you too far. It’s a shame, then, that it’s often unclear as to where the next bit of plot happens. When you’re given advice like “find Rahab in the Tomb of Serafan”, there’s no way of tracking down the tomb without a lot of tedious wandering about areas which have already been explored. A simple auto-map of Nosgoth would have made matters much more pleasant.

Raziel in shellsuit shock

Some of the game’s puzzles lack anything particularly interesting, too. Somebody seems to have forgotten to tell Raziel that block pushing went out with the Ark, and although Raz has some nice moves with all the block-shoving and flips, these puzzles are tedious and boring. The running-jumping-hanging elements familiar to us all are retained as well, although they are not handled as well as in other 3D platformers. The constantly mobile camera does not suit these sections – time and again you’ll be left cursing as Raz plummets earthward.

Map sections are shut off by the use of non-scalable walls, doors or other such things. As Raziel kills Kain’s lieutenants, he absorbs different abilities from each one – powers like being able to climb certain walls, and phase through doors in the spectral realm. These abilities allow Raz to reach the new areas and extend the map. It’s sad that the game’s designers have tried to walk the “non-linear” tightrope that many others have failed to cross: and this effort is not one of the better ones. You’ll be left to wander aimlessly way too often, and if only a few more clues or navigational aids had been included, this would be a far better game.

Here we go again…

Another unfortunate feature (or lack of, rather) is the save game system. Too often, console ports are just rewritten to run on the PC without bothering to think up a new save game strategy.LoK:SR is sadly no different. Although it’s possible to save at any point, on reloading, Raziel is returned to the game’s starting location! There is a network of portals that he can jump between, but it’s never possible to get too close to the big puzzles or sequences. Fine on the Playstation, where gamers have to accept that storage is limited, but not acceptable on the PC.

But having said all that, there’s a lot here to keep the seasoned player happy. LoK:SR is not an easy game, and because of this and the dark theme, it’s not one for the younger player. Seasoned gamers who are prepared to persevere will find it ultimately rewarding, however, as the stunning graphics and atmospheric sound makes it an engrossing experience.

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Critic Reviews

This game is rated with a 66/100 score in Metacritic.