Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Game C2 : Soul Reaver - Dazed and Confused

Time played : 3h

Well, the Legacy of Kain series sure hold its share of surprises! Soul Reaver is another weird game, but another fascinating one as well, even if, as its older sibling, it's crippled with defaults making one wonders once again what it could have been.

But first things first : the story. It builds up on Blood Omen's story in an interesting way. Instead of witnessing Kain's rise to power, the game takes place a long time after the first one, showing Kain as a twisted god-like vampire, who has taken over Nosgoth and reigns from the remains of the Pillars. The first cinematic of the game introduces Raziel, his first lieutenant and protagonist of the game.

Kain sure has aged since the first game. He looks like an even nicer fellow...

Kain and his six lieutenant have total power over the world and just wait for their powers to grow and gain new abilities every now and then (which is apparently what vampires do). However, this little family won't be united for long because Raziel suddenly has wings sprouting out of his back. These little mutations don't seem to be surprising for his friends. The only problem is that, usually, Kain develops these mutations before his sons. Seeing Raziel getting a new power before him kind of bothers him, and he shows it by tearing his wings apart and throwing Raziel into a neverending abyss.

The game then starts a few hundred years later, where Raziel awakens to consciousness once again, in a twisted form, apparently resurrected by an unknown power. The new Raziel has a an emaciated figure, lacks the bottom of his jaw and has moth-like wing remains dropping from his back. Even with all that, he manages to be one of the classiest character in video game memory.

You *might* want to change sidewalks if you run into him at night, though.
And he is out for vengeance! So, with that out of the way, what does the game itself look like? As I've mentioned before, the whole presentation looks like a Tomb Raider ripoff. It's a third-person action game, with an emphasis on exploration. You wander around dark corridors of Nosgoth, now apparently almost entirely underground (for now) and try to figure out where to go next. The battle system in itself is quite interesting. At first, and before gaining access to the very classy Soul Reaver, Raziel has only his claws to fight, quite clumsily I might add. Where it becomes interesting is that the majority of the enemies are vampires (or affiliated) and cannot be killed by just mashing their heads with fists. Once you've hit the foe a few times, it becomes dazed. You have to grab them and throw them into fire, water, sunlight or ram them into spikes in order to really kill them. The soul of the foe then starts to fly away and you have to quickly "drink" it to avoid it to reintegrate the body.

This is a nice change with more basic battle systems, because you have to constantly observe your surroundings, in order to find where to send your enemies ad patres. You can also grab a lot of weapons and decorations from the walls to make for an improvised spear with which you can pierce their bodies, making dispatching them easier. Once you gain the Soul Reaver, though, which happens around two hours into the game, combat is much easier because you can impale your foes really quickly. However, get hit once and the blade is gone, leaving you with your fists and back to the pick them/throw them into fire motto until you've recovered full health.

One vampire shish-kabob, one!

The other major twist behind Soul Reaver is that you progress between the physical realm and the spirit realm. When you're in the physical realm, you lose health constantly (except when you still yield the Soul Reaver) and battles are harder. Get killed into the physical realm (or fall in water) and you're back in the spirit realm. The trick is that you can't interact with anything when you're in the spirit realm, and you have to find a spawn point (thankfully pretty numerous) in order to regain your physical body. You can also voluntarily abandon your body, which is quite useful considering a few different paths can only be taken while in the spirit form.

And a few different paths there are. That's where my major problem with Soul Reaver lies : This game is confusing. And I mean really confusing. First of all, all the places kinda look the same. A few spots like a cemetery or the entrance to a cathedral stand apart but otherwise, it's difficult to be sure what your entry point was when you've just finished fighting in a room. Every once in a while, you unlock a teleporter (much like in the first game) that allows you to go instantly from one place to another, but they use a symbol system which is confusing as well. You better have quite a memory to remember what symbol refers to what place. Add to this that the path you're supposed to take is never clearly defined, nor is your current objective. Of course, no map, as it would be too easy.

I don't remember if this leads to underground random place #1, or to underground random place #2....
Sometimes, it's fun to search all around the place to find the next path, but when you arrive at the end of what was obvious (and obvious is a strong term for this game), you usually can't remember where to go next, and the cryptic clues at your disposal are not what I'd call helpful. For example, my last achievement was to defeat Kain (who will obviously come back soon) and get the Soul Reaver. Then my "invisible mentor" tells me to go east to find my next battle, and that the blade should allow me to reach places I haven't found yet. First of all, I don't know where east is (no map and no compass), and the blade don't seem to unlock anything (except new ways to eviscerate enemies). I've been running around since, trying to find something I overlooked.

Add to this the fact that the mandatory path is sometimes as hard to find as a secret path in a "classic" game (involving complicated combinations of pushing blocks or stacking them in order to gain access to a high corridor you can't really see if you're not thorough in your investigation) and you have a confusing game, for sure. I usually have no problem directing myself in a 3D world (I've finished Descent and Descent 2, damnit!) but this one is really challenging...

You sometimes feel like in a Dali landscape.

But, of course, I'll stick to this one! So far, I've beaten one of my brothers, and had the upper hand on Kain for the first time, allowing me the power to walk through grids (T-1000 style) and to use the Soul Reaver. The sub menu shows that there is at least four other powers to unlock, probably giving me new possibilities for exploring, so I'm eager to see what the game is still hiding from me. This is a really intriguing game (much like its older brother), but it sure is a tough nut to crack!