- February 1999
- By Daniel Griffiths, Rosaura Sandoval, and Official UK PlayStation Magazine
The original game was ugly. Blessed with 16-bit looks, this vast, sprawling action RPG struggled to grab your attention. The curious vampiric subject matter helped things along, with the player cast as Kain, an evil dead bloke out for blood-sucking revenge on his killers. After huge worldwide success, a sequel was inevitable. Far less inevitable was Crystal taking the ideas and themes from the original game and transforming the hit RPG into a vast 3D action adventure. Hence the new Soul Reaver name – this is so much more than Legacy of Kain 2.What we have is a kind of super Tomb Raider, with all the usual third-person perspective camera tricks, lots of exploration, combat, swimming and climbing, plus a host of radical new elements made possible by the spooky other-worldly subject matter. Rosaura Sandoval, producer of the game, takes up the tale. "Soul Reaver tells the story of Ralzeil – one of six lieutenants to Kain, the evil main character of the first game, who rules the world at its end. [The vampires] force human slaves to build vast power stations to make smog that blocks out the sun. They've begun to evolve, but Ralzeil takes a step too far. He develops wings, enabling him to fly, before Kain does. Kain banishes Ralzeil to the spectral world and, after countless millennia, Ralzeil is released by The Elder. Things have changed since he was banished. The humans and mutants are quietly co-existing with the vampires and Kain and his lieutenants have evolved beyond all recognition, slipping out of the picture."
And so begins a mammoth trek through 3D space, searching, killing, and generally being very evil. Soul Reaver has some incredible secrets up its tattered sleeve.First of all there's the fact that there are no levels. The world of Soul Reaver is one vast landscape, taking in huge valleys and rivers, mountains and plains, and a bizarre assortment of gothic architecture. This is served up via the greatest piece of gameplay trickery PSM has yet witnessed. "As you play the game it holds the two adjacent areas in memory, along with the one you are currently playing," Rosaura Sandoval explains. "Enter an area and others are loaded ready for you to step into, so there's only 'Loading' once at the beginning of the game. This enables us to use a lot more textures than any other game too. Each area can have its own set of textures so we don't have to keep re-using them, as in other third-person games," Other third-person games? You mean Tomb Raider don't you? "Err... (chuckles) yes," she admits.
The result is that Ralzeil has a seemingly limitless and diverse world ahead of him. It's possible to run, climb and swim for miles in any direction without the game repeating scenery or pausing for breath. The total square footage of land is said to be on a par with Tomb Raider, so it's going to take you days to get from one side to the other. Quite a task, and one made all the more curious by the fact that you can't die. What!?
Twice as nice
The 'dual scenario' trickery crops up time and time again. Should you fail to absorb a dead creature's soul (done with a simple button tap while in its vicinity), its spirit moves to the spectral plane where it appears exactly where you killed it, but in a nastier, more twisted form. Weirdest of all are the various puzzles which feature the plane-shifting at their core. In the spectral plane, time stands still, so rocks dropped from cliffs can be frozen in mid air via a sneaky switch from material to spectral, enabling you to use them as stepping stones.With all this freedom of movement and potentially baffling plane-shifting action, it's a good job that The Elder (an omnipresent God-figure) is on hand giving you general directions to what the wisest next move would be. Action and plot drives the player into showdowns with Ralzeil's 'brothers' – the other five lieutenants who have become huge gore-spattered nasties. In addition to this fearsome five are three clashes with Kain himself, making eight bosses to take on.
Never ending story
The result is that after each new skill is learnt you remember that weird bit earlier and run back there to try out your new abilities. Suddenly, by being able to swim or climb, a whole new area may become accessible and slowly and steadily the world gives up its secrets to an ever-more-powerful Ralzeil.
The combat is pleasingly satisfying even without such weaponry however, with successive 'attack' button presses firing off punches and kicks. "Each of the 30 or so enemies will attack you in different ways. We've tried to make them all unique. The enemy AI is something else too, we have smaller, weaker bad guys who'll run away and lure you into battles with bigger bosses," warns Ms Sandoval. "Also, humans can be either your enemies or worshippers, depending on how you treat them," she explains. "Kill humans and they'll remember and attack you the next time you come across some. Alternatively, treat them well and they'll worship you, perhaps offering themselves as sacrifices like this [she mimes going into a limp-bodied trance], so you can easily fill your health meter."In addition to the spear and vase chucking, there's more heavyweight artillery available in the form of spells or 'glyphs' which are earned by solving various, usually temple-based, puzzles. These temples are dotted about the landscape and will soon become familiar to you. "There'll be all kinds of visual and aural cues so you know that something special is there and you ought to stick around," hints the cunning producer. The glyphs come in various forms, being special screen-clearing attacks fuelled by your life meter. Pressing Select brings up a glyph selector. They're not essential to finishing the game, but will make later devilish battles a tad easier.
With such a sizable quest ahead of any would-be vampires, saving your game (to allow for the consumption of 'tea' or for toilet visits) is a must. So, save crystals or save anywhere, Ms Sandoval? "The game will enable you to save your position anywhere. I don't like save points. With a game as complex as this we want the player to explore and take risks. You won't dare try certain jumps or do other cool things if you think you're going to die if you fail." Very wise.PSM suggests that you meet us back here next month when we shall be exclusively reviewing this epic (dishing out more tasty titbits in the process), and you can try out the game yourself via an exclusive playable demo on the disc.
Turn the other cheek
A whole new world
- The balance between open-air exploring and dungeon bashing is just about perfect.
- An ex-architect designed the lavish buildings.
- As opposed to the familiar 'box' structure of Tomb Raider worlds, Soul Reaver's many dungeons and caverns are frighteningly irregular.
- Real-time lighting illuminates scenery and character.
- Each area is a vast labyrinth of spooky chambers.
- The camera swings around to give the best view.