"Soul Reaver 2 is a hybrid. It combines action, platform, RPG and adventure, all into one ingenious sub-sub-genre. This makes for one hell of a game! The graphics are stunning, the sound is nicely orchestrated, it's easy to control, it's easy to grasp, and it has some really unique qualities which just add to the experience by a ton. "
Having never actually played the original Soul Reaver, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this game. I was thinking some good dungeon-crawling, some classic switch-based puzzles and fairly good graphics. What I got was everything mentioned above, plus a whole lot more. I'm still unsure of what genre to place this game in, because it just mixes so many different familiar elements with some damn fine new ones as well. RPG fans, action fans, adventure fans, horror fans... Gather 'round for one of the best games of 2001!
What better place to start than the strongest point of Soul Reaver 2? Right off the bat, I realized that the graphics are AMAZING! The opening cutscene impressed me with it's excellent detail and character design. When the game changed from cutscene to in-game graphics, it took me a minute to realize the change. Sure, it was obvious, but I the normal jagged-edges found in most Playstation 2 games were definitely less-noticeable. The facial expressions of the characters were amazing, and the lips were almost fully in-sync with the voices. As soon as I gained control of Raziel, I was amazed by how smooth the animations were. The fluidity of Raziel himself is mind-boggling; his arms, legs and scraggly cloak move in a way which is so smooth and lifelike, I could hardly believe it.
After I familiarized myself with the controls, I switched to the first-person view to have a look around the environment I had so fortunately stumbled upon. Everything in Soul Reaver 2 shines with incredible detail and style. The world where the game is set is unlike anything I've seen before. It has an almost egyptian-like atmosphere and architectural style, while blending dark fantasy and an interesting gothic mood.
The more I played the game, the better it got. I came across a wide variety of detailed and creatively-designed enemies with cool-looking weapons. I simply couldn't believe how wonderful and surreal everything looked. After I stumbled upon the first area of water in the game, I could hardly believe my eyes. The top of the water looked like a cutscene, with lifelike ripples curving through it. After I dove into the water, I was equally impressed. Raziel moves under water as smoothly as he does on land, and each stroke he makes, he leaves lots of little bubbles bend which truly do look stunning.
Another great eye-pleasing feature in Soul Reaver 2 is the excellent use of Playstation 2's particle effects. There are certain areas where there are fireflies just sort of floating around the level, and all of them look simply astounding. It's also impossible not to be amazed by the flashy and electrifying effects that the Soul Reaver makes as you enhance it with different elements, and pit it against the enemies in a dazzling fashion similar to a laser-light show. Playstation 2 can handle lots of particles, and Soul Reaver 2 makes this very obvious.
I don't know what Crystal Dynamics did to make the game look so damn good, but it worked! I thought that PS2 games would always be stuck with highly noticeable and irritating jaggy-edges and half-assed anti-aliasing, but in Soul Reaver 2, it's so much less noticeable than I thought possible! I simply can't stress how polished and slick everything looks. Sure, the jagged-edges and flaws are there, but are toned-down very well. I can tell care went into making this game. Crystal Dynamics designed every single corridor, hallway, pool, cliff, doorway with sensational imagination and thorough nature. They really did leave no stone unturned. I think it's probably safe to say that Soul Reaver 2's graphics are some of the best I have ever seen on Playstation 2, competing with such graphical gems such as Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear Solid 2. You simply have to see it to believe it.
I was expecting Soul Reaver 2 to play a lot like the Tomb Raider series, but it does no such things. It's like a very well-made combination of action/RPG with adventure. The game is comprised mostly of exploration, with the usual enemies thrown in around the place to liven things up. It doesn't have nearly as much repetitive dungeon-romping as I expected. In fact, it has a lot more variety than the better half of most games out there.
The Life Meter:
Soul Reaver 2 takes a different approach with the life meter. Instead of being a real ''meter'', it's actually a spiral, found in the lower right of the screen. When Raziel is at full health, his health spiral is fully lit up. Now, because it is depleting Raziel's precious power to stay in the ''material world'' (I'll explain late), his health meter is constantly being depleted. This does take some getting used to, but it's quite an well-thought-out system. It only depletes slowly, but when it runs out, Raziel will fall. Of course, damage from enemy foes will also result in the depletion of your health spiral.
By collecting souls, you have the opportunity to regenerate some of your health spiral. Whenever you defeat one of your foes, he'll leave behind a floating orange orb which represents a soul. Simply hold down circle and Raziel will absorb the soul. Generally, this replenishes a significant amount of health, which is good, because with the added combination of enemy attacks and the constant eating away at your spiral, this makes things a bit more in your favor.
The first thing you'll notice about Crystal Dynamics' work of art is Raziel's ability to pick up weapons from his foes which have been so brutally slaughtered. You can pick up swords, scythes, axes and other kick-ass weapons to use against your enemies. None of the weapons are fiendishly strong, but they serve their purpose well. After they've served their purpose, they'll break, rendering them useless. In general, weapons won't last long, but since almost every enemy in the game carries one, you won't need to worry about running out. However, of all the weapons in the game, Raziel comes equipped permanently with the coolest one of all!
Raziel's special weapon is called The Reaver, and it's kind of a magic, ethereal sword which extends from his arm. It plays a significant role in the storyline, but more importantly, in the gameplay. This sword yields tremendous power, and it's the most damage-inducing weapon in the game. Raziel can summon it at any time; of course, tremendous power comes at a price. The Reaver is connected to Raziel. It's become like a living entity, attached to him, feeding off of his power. Therefore, everytime you kill a foe with The Reaver, it sucks up their soul before Raziel even has a chance. Also, the more enemies you kill with The Reaver, the more souls it needs to be satisfied. It's ''hunger'' is represented by a meter which encircles Raziel's life spiral. When the meter forms a full circle around the spiral, The Reaver will begin to drain Raziel's hp. By unequipping the reaver, the meter will slowly go back to normal. In the end, The Reaver is a unique weapon with a mind of it's own. In certain parts of the game, The Reaver will ''take over'', making Raziel do things he wouldn't normally do. I definitely think it's a welcome feature to the game.
Like any good action-adventure character, Raziel has a variety of moves to aide him on his quest. He can jump, crouch, swim, block, glide, drain souls, climb, slash (two different ways) and shoot projectiles. This wide variety of moves makes the game very fun and unique; most of Raziel's abilities add another dimension to the game which wouldn't normally be there.
The Spectral Realm:
Soul Reaver 2 has a very strange alternate-world incorporated into it which makes the game very interesting. The Spectral Realm is basically a place where Raziel exists neither living nor dead. In the Spectral Realm, everything looks a certain shade of blue, and the world is a tad distorted. Raziel has access to the Spectral Realm wherever he is, but in order to get back, he'll have to find special blue portals which give him access back to the material realm. The Spectral Realm acts in a number of ways which make the game all the more interesting. Because Raziel is constantly losing life, the Spectral Realm is an area where his life spiral does the opposite--It increases. There are also spectral creatures and souls wandering around which you can absorb to gain more health. In the Spectral Realm, you can't do much--A lot of areas won't be accessible, and you won't be able to interact with the environment in any way. The only other use to the Spectral Realm, aside from regaining health, is to pass through gates. When Raziel is in the Spectral Realm, he can pass through gates as if he were a ghost. This adds in a lot of interesting twists when it comes to puzzles, becuase you'll have to be changing worlds often. All in all, I like the Spectral Realm--It's a nice place to go for a break if you're about to die, and it also adds in that whole puzzle aspect which is definitely worthwhile.
The puzzles in Soul Reaver are large scale operations. They could take you as long as forty-five minutes to complete, and they generally consist of multiple rooms. They're a combination of logic, realm-changing, item-collecting and switch-pulling. All in all, they work out quite well, however, I think they were slightly overdone. I don't really enjoy the puzzles as much as some might, mainly because they're tedious, and ultimately not that fun. They can be quite difficult, mainly because the objective is not always clear. The puzzles certainly aren't what you'd expect from most games, and they play a bigger part in Soul Reaver than I would've expcted.
Each time you solve one of the major puzzles in the game, you'll be rewarded by activating a forge. Forges essentially just allow you access to a bunch of little ''fonts'' throughout the game where you can enhance The Reaver with elemental power. The power isn't permanent--It will vanish every time you enter the Spectral Realm--But you can re-enhance The Reaver any time you wish by going to an elemental font. The elemental enhancements are definitely cool, and add more variety to the pretty standard function of The Reaver.
Combat is definitely a key issue in Soul Reaver 2. A fair portion of the game is made up of fighting, so you'd expect it to be executed with considerable skill...and it is. As you approach an enemy, you'll enter a combat mode. This combat mode doesn't change anything, except the music, and the ability to have Raziel automatically face the nearest enemy. This button (R1) is very useful, particularly because controlling Raziel in a small 3D area while trying to attack enemies can be a handful. During combat, you'll basically be doing three things. The most common is the light-slash. It's a fairly quick slash which doesn't do a lot of damage, but serves it's purpose well. By pushing the light-slash button a few times in a row, Raziel will perform a short combo, which is useful for killing off foes. You also have the option of a heavy-slash, where Raziel uses whatever weapon he's equipped with to perform a highly-damaging overhead attack. The only problem with this is that it's very slow, and your foe may have a chance to attack you before you get the hit in. Your other main action during battle is blocking. Raziel can perform a block with whatever weapon he's using, which will block most attacks from enemies, with the exception of their heavy-attack. Of course, you'll also be using the direction pad or analog to move Raziel around as you think fit. All in all, combat is handled very nicely.
Soul Reaver 2's sound is definitely good. Voice-acting has always been important to me in a game, and luckily, this game handles it all very well. Not only do the voices sound great, (sinister british accents, mostly) but the characters' lips are also lined-up perfectly with the words. This is just an added bonus which makes the game feel more polished. The music is good as well. It's very ambient and atmospheric, with dark, gothic overtones. The sound effects are great--slicing, dicing, stabbing--all very juicy and convincing. The clanging of swords, shields and armor is nicely-done and deserves commendment.
I admit, I was a bit lost in terms of keeping up with the story throughout the duration of the game. This probably had something to do with the fact that Soul Reaver 2 starts where it's prequel left off. In that sense, it's a true sequel, and from what I've heard, the end of the first was a real cliffhanger. Fortunately, Crystal Dynamics has included a section in the ''Bonus Materials'' where you can read a lengthy prologue of the Legacy of Kain series thus far. Over time, and thorough reading the prologue, I naturally did get the general idea of the story, but lacking knowledge of the characters' pasts, it was a slight challenge to puzzle together the pieces of information which I was given. From what I did follow, the script and story was very well-written, and I can tell a lot of imagination went into it. Story sequences occur every now and then, making it more obvious exactly what Raziel's motive and objective are. The cutscenes illustrate the plot of the game very well, and I'm definitely glad they're there.
At first, I wasn't exactly used to the somewhat loose-control of Soul Reaver 2. After playing Maximo, a game with tight control which focuses on confined spaces, it took some getting used to. Mainly because Soul Reaver 2 focuses more on large, expansive environments. There are very few small, confined spaces in the game, and even those feel ''big.'' The whole game controls easily, after you get the hang of it, except for maybe the swimming. I was a bit disappointed by how sensitive the controls are when you're underwater. Sometimes, it's so hard to control, it makes me dizzy. The camera will be moving all around, and it'll be difficult to tell exactly where you're going. Speaking of camera, you can hold down R2 to enter a just-behind-Raziel's-head perspective, where you can look around the environment you're in. This is definitely a nice feature, for checking out where enemies are, or just to see the beautiful world around you.
Soul Reaver 2 isn't by any means short. Expect to be spending 15-20 hours on this game, and you're likely to enjoy all of it, because it's such a great game. Unfortunately, there is only one difficulty level, and since the game is very linear, there aren't many secrets and extras to speak of. It'll last a while, and it'll take quite a bit of effort and time to complete it, but Soul Reaver 2 won't keep you coming back after you conquer it. Fortunately, there is the ''Bonus Materials'' option on the startup screen, which really adds more to the game than I thought it would. It includes a FULL script of the whole game (More will unlock as you progress), a detailed prologue, a bunch of screen stills and concept art, plus a preview of Blood Omen 2. Sadly, none of this is actually part of playing the game, and it won't add hours onto the gameplay time, but it sure is fun to look through.
Soul Reaver 2 is a hybrid. It combines action, platform, RPG and adventure, all into one super-genre. This makes for one hell of a game! The graphics are stunning, the sound is nicely orchestrated, it's easy to control, it's easy to grasp, and it has some really unique qualities which just add to the experience by a ton. The only area where this game may leave some gamers in the dark is the storyline department, because it takes up where the other game left off, and if you haven't played the prequel, well... It's up to you to figure out what's going on. But, hey, I did it, so I'm guessing most people will be able to, as well. Even so, that minor factor shouldn't keep you from renting or purchasing this excellent game.
Staff review by James Gordon (Date unavailable)
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