I'll feast on your soul before the day is done . . . or maybe I won't.
Since the vampire Kain refused to sacrifice himself to return balance to the world (see Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain), the world of Nosgoth has plummeted into chaos. Driving the humans from their homelands and proclaiming himself emperor, Kain decided to expand his power by making six "sons," the first of which is Raziel. These six, in turn, created clans of vampires to sweep across the land.
After many centuries, Kain and the six lieutenants begin to evolve and become more . . . god-like. The Empire grew strong, until the day Raziel happened to evolve beyond his master and grow wings. Angered by this, Kain condemned Raziel to eternal damnation in the Lake of the Dead.
A millenium passed before Raziel once again emerged. Though only a shell of the vampire he once was, he is given new powers by a being called "The Elder." However, Raziel's never-ending hunger for blood has been replaced by a more sinister need: the need for souls, especially those of his "brothers" and his former master. Let the feast begin!
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is one of the most highly anticipated games this year. In development for way too long, Soul Reaver raised gamers' hopes for a masterpiece, and rightly so. Boasting two huge worlds, no load times and beautiful graphics, Soul Reaver had the chance to redefine what makes a great game. That is, of course, if they had actually finished the damn thing.
It's always refreshing to play a game that's as delightfully amoral as Soul Reaver. Being an ex-vampire himself, Raziel constantly refers to vampires as a noble, highborn race. Humans, whether or not you decide to kill them, are never seen as more than cattle. Mmmm, maybe I'll have Italian for dinner . . .
The graphics enhance the mood of the game flawlessly. With towering cathedrals, numerous different vampires, and the altered world of the "Spectral Plane," the game paints a gorgeous and gothic picture of how the vampire hordes have twisted Nosgoth. And all of this is done without any load time! Yep - Soul Reaver utilizes streaming technology to the fullest. Levels load effortlessly, and the world truly feels seamless.
There are, in fact, two planes of existence: the Spectral Plane and the Material Plane. To put it simply, the Spectral Plane is a warped version of the real world. After his torment in the Lake of the Dead, Raziel is a permanent member of the Spectral Plane. He can cross into the Material Plane only when his health is at full. If he happens to die in the Material Plane, he's cast back to the Spectral Plane. If he dies in the Spectral Plane, he's sent back to the Elder with his proverbial tail between his legs. Isn't immortality grand?
The gameplay falls into the Third-Person Action genre trap created by the original Tomb Raider. I, for one, am sick to death of pushing, pulling, and manipulating blocks. Why do they always have to be large, square blocks? What about a statue? Or a ball? Or any other geometric shape? To have a game that seems to redefine the genre get stuck by what was originally a shortcut for the programmers (it's easier for polygonal characters to interact with flat surfaces) just seems ridiculous at this point.
Other than that gripe, Soul Reaver does do some innovative things. Killing a vampire isn't as simple as you'd think. Vampires can take as much punishment as you're willing to give, leading you to uncover some interesting sadistic tendencies you didn't know you had. In order to destroy a child of the night, you have to impale it on a stake, burn it with fire, dunk it in water, or bathe it in sunlight. Then you have to consume its soul before it shifts to the Spectral Plane. A vampire soul in the Spectral Plane becomes a Vampire Wraith. If somehow its body in the Material Plane is made whole again, the vampire comes back to life meaner than ever. This amazing feature adds a whole new level of depth to the game.
Additionally, the music is fantastic. The creepy mood is enhanced by eerie chants and sweeping chords. Don't play in the dark.
Now that I've got you interested in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, how would you feel if I just ended the review here? You'd never get to see the grade; you'd never know what the rest of the game is like. Sounds annoying, doesn't it?
Well, that's where Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver runs into difficulty. The game is, for all intents and purposes, incomplete. Besides having an abrupt, unsatisfying ending (sorry to spoil it for you, but I had to), there were many elements of the game that were either badly designed or left out. Whatever the reason (deadline pressure, urge to make a sequel), these omissions are a serious detriment to an otherwise fantastic game.
The ending is hugely unsatisfying and appears to have been thrown together in a matter of days. It even has a "To be continued" message. To be continued? When? If you think about it, any sequel to this game won't come out for at least a year, and by then the system requirements might just be higher than your current system. So, in order to finish a game you paid $50 for, you'll have to buy not only another $50 game, but also another computer! Absolutely unacceptable.
In fact, the ending change was so last minute that there are still audio files on the Playstation CD (unknown if they're also on the PC version) that reveal the game's real ending; an ending which, by the way, would have made a sequel significantly harder to make.
On top of the rushed ending, whole sections of the game are either glaringly omitted or completely useless. The intro and all the literature refers to Raziel having five brothers. Why then, do you only ever fight four of them? Oh yeah...to be continued. How sneaky. Ugh.
Also, the magic spells are completely useless. To spend an hour getting a new spell only to realize that you never actually use it is just a wee bit frustrating, to say the least. The humans also fall into the useless category. Sure, it's nice to have them attack or bow down to you, but they never say a thing. In fact, they make no noise at all.
Unfortunately, the horrible ending to this game has ruined what looked to be a good contender for the one of the best PC games of the year. All the potential is there, but Eidos and Crystal Dynamics simply released an unfinished product. While the gameplay up to the ending is fine, the abrupt conclusion will leave many gamers feeling completely ripped off. Furthermore, Soul Reav...