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Another sequel overshadowed by a greater original
on 18 March 2002
Moody, brooding and rather amoral, the original Soul Reaver was amongst the most atmospheric games to feature on the Playstation. For one reason or another SR1 was cut and the ending dramatically altered, leaving Kain, the final enemy, to escape through a time portal into the past, with a rather frustrating "to be continued"...
...which is how SR2 is possible- a sequel which SR fans will hope to tie up loose ends and bring the epic story of the land of Nosgoth to a satisfactory conclusion.
For those who never played Soul Reaver 1, the plot followed Raziel- a vampire betrayed by his master Kain- in his personal quest for vengeance and retribution. Kain escaped into the past however, leaving Raziel to follow him in SR2. Gameplay-wise SR2 is nearly identical to SR1, with puzzle-solving interspersed with hand-to-hand combat. None of the puzzles are devastatingly demanding, although occassionally you will be left wondering what exactly you are meant to be doing rather than how to do it. The combat has become significantly more involving, and the enemies are no longer a mere irritation; some areas will force you into combat against very tough opponents to proceed.
The graphics are a treat, with some beautifully done effects- reflections on polished floors are spot on, as are the rain, snow and water effects and the wispy clouds in the night sky. Raziel travels through Nosgoth's landscape in 4 time eras in addition to the spirit realm, and the subtle changes between each are just right. If you thought the decaying world of SR1 was done well, just wait until you see the blighted, devastated and dieing land of Nosgoth's future... you will be shocked.
Following from a tradition of Legacy of Kain games, SR2 has probably the very best voice-acting of any PS2 game. Crystal Dynamics are one of very few game developers to employ professional voice-artists- and as a result the voice overs aren't the usual detritus you will groan in embarrassment at.
However, what drives SR2 most fundamentally is not graphics or sound or even the gameplay, but the storyline. Unlike some other PS2 titles, the game was written around the story, not vice versa. Hence the story is very rewarding if you take the time to follow it. A great strength, this might also be the games greatest problem. The Legacy of Kain series spans 4 games including the two Blood Omen titles. For those new to the series it could be very confusing, particularly with SR2's convoluted plotline of manipulation, fate and despair. For just a few quid extra, newcomers would be advised to buy SR1 (which was a truly awesome game) as well.
The other faults with SR2: object interactivity is fairly minimal, and during combat the camera is very unhelpful (sometimes you can't actually see your opponent). There's also a bit too much running about (SR1 had teleports), perhaps a deliberate fault to compensate for the considerably shorter length of the sequel. There are also no boss characters (other than at the very end- and they're not actually a challenge at all). And annoyingly, a final conclusion to the tale of Nosgoth is NOT reached at the end of the game.
It's a shame that minor points stop me giving SR2 a perfect 5-stars, but Crystal Dynamics have cunningly paved a route for SR3, where hopefully they will be ironed out and a proper conclusion to the saga reached.