- January 2001
- By Lee Hall, Amy Hennig, and Official UK PlayStation Magazine
Developer Crystal Dynamics is harnessing the power of the PS2 to create an unnerving landscape and spectacular special effects. Best of all, anti-hero Raziel is back with his almighty sword, The Reaver. This time his weapon is super-charged with powers crucial to the gameplay. Once again, you're thrust into a third-person adventure in the Tomb Raider style, but with a twist. The dark atmosphere and chilling, undead enemies add a welcome touch of ghoulish horror.The series started with Blood Omen: Legacy Of Kain (OPM17 7/10) where we played Kain, a Nosgoth nobleman turned vampire out to kill all that moved. Kain was deified as a powerful demon king. In the sequel, Soul Reaver: Legacy Of Kain (OPM43 9/10) Raziel was introduced. Formerly Kain's lieutenant, Raziel surpassed his lord when he grew wings and gained awesome powers. Fuelled by jealousy, Kain bumped off Raziel, casting him into the Lake of the Dead. Rescued by the mysterious 'Elder', Raziel set off to destroy Kain, now a creature lurking between the real and spiritual worlds. Only Kain won't go quietly, so Raziel's back for another go. Sound twisted? That's because each game is a rich tapestry of dark revelations that draw you deeper into the Legacy universe.
In Soul Reaver 2, Raziel travels back to Nosgoth to pursue Kain. On the way, he uncovers clues which transform his quest for revenge. It seems things in Nosgoth are far from black and white.
The Evil Awakes
Crystal Dynamics is promising environments brimming with ghastly baddies ripe for the smiting. Hennig explains that 'Since SR2 takes place in Nosgoth long before Kain's failed empire and long before the degeneration of the vampire clans, Raziel (as played by your good self) encounters fanatical vampire hunters and Sarafan warrior-priests, as well as demonic entities, undead minions, vampires and some new, closely guarded spectral enemies." All the special effects and atmospheric touches will make for a truly impressive game, she promises.Raziels' fatality moves are a hugely important part of proceedings, requiring gamers to deduce and exploit enemies' weaknesses in order to finish them off. For SR2, Crystal Dynamics has added a class of bladed weapon in addition to the spears and torches of SR1, which enable Raziel to dismember and decapitate enemies that would otherwise have been unstoppable - "That's probably the most gruesome element of the game," Hennig explains, shuddering at the thought of it.
The Legacy games have always been more than strict action games, instead the emphasis is on storyline and puzzles. Because of this a lot depends on getting the backgrounds right. "The finest planning has gone into creating every room so that the challenges Raziel faces are relevant to the skills he learns in each segment of the game," Hennig says, adding that each level has a central 'problem' which relates to the overall quest. It is solved by completing sub-puzzles and using the Reaver itself. Raziel's ability to manipulate, carry and place objects takes Soul Reaver 2 puzzles far beyond the previous Kain episode."The character models now have intricately modelled and expressive animated faces too, which makes them look more realistic and ensures their lips are in synchronisation when they utter sounds," Hennig says. It's clear that Crystal Dynamics has strived to enhance the realism of the FMV sequences by using smooth physics to make the character animations more fluid and lifelike. The company has also added incredible details such as cloth simulation and improved reflective surfaces.
Even at this stage some elements of the game are incomplete. "Yes," Hennig nods, continuing, "one aspect of the game that is still to be finalised is the warp gates. They preclude running around environments once you've done everything."The look of these environments is crucial, of course. Because they only build one 'room' at a time, like a hallway, canyon or valley, the developers have reduced loading times. More importantly, this technique has allowed them to create neatly detailed areas to make Nosgoth a more tangible setting.
The Plot Thickens
With such a rich plot to work with, Crystal Dynamics has concentrated on creating the most disturbing and dark atmosphere on PS2, replete with gory events. "But we've steered clear of gratuitous gut-spilling," Hennig confides. Raziel travels through three major eras of Nosgoth's history - centuries before, just before and a century after the original Blood Omen: Legacy Of Kain."Once again Raziel will have the ability to tread between the ethereal world inhabited by souls and the physical world," reckons Hennig. Games such as Silent Hill and Shadow Man have both made use of parallel dimensions, but Soul Reaver 2 has taken the idea and given it a visual twist. The development team has used 'dual plane technology', which allows the scenery to morph before your eyes as you switch between a mystical spirit world and the material realm. Raziel can create this shift, forcing the terrain to melt and twist.
When you shift to the spectral realm time effectively stops, which can be used to Raziel's advantage in solving puzzles. In the material world we will experience a new set of challenges, the water is too insubstantial to swim in, for example, or Raziel cannot pick up physical objects.So, as in the movie The Matrix, physics have been all but thrown out of the window with the earth contorting to open up new areas for exploration and Raziel making impossible jumps across vast chasms. "Even the process of texture morphing will reveal shapes that could prove helpful on his quest," Hennig says.
This plane-shifting is crucial to the game. As a newly-arisen reaper of souls, Raziel's natural habitat is the spirit world. After focusing his energy and mental powers, he can transform himself into a fragile human form, but quickly weakens in the real world, a process exacerbated if he is injured. To keep his energy up, he needs to devour souls.This dark undertone looks set to give Soul Reaver 2 an edge in depth over twee rivals like Tomb Raider. The fact that Soul Reaver: Legacy Of Kain was told through the eyes of Raziel means the portrayal of Kain was somewhat skewed. Expect to learn more about the true personality behind the twisted undead face. In fact, if you follow Kain's development, you'll notice that all is not as it seems. Clearly there are more complex machinations afoot.
Hennig won't spill on what that endgame is, saying instead, "We've made full use of PS2's power to produce far better looking and more detailed graphics." Indeed the areas are more expansive, with visibility stretched to the horizon. Where fog exists, it is used for effect and not to disguise any distance issues or glitches. And just to make things even more stimulating, Hennig's team has used up to six times more polygons on the characters too.The new Raziel is constructed of roughly 3,000 polygons, as opposed to the PS1's 500 polygons. This means he looks far more realistic (and far less angular). The team has also overhauled the special effects system to capitalise on the PS2 hardware.
In fact Sony's new pup seems to have plenty of new tricks to perform. At the moment, particle effects seem to be the big thing on PS2 - Gran Turismo 3 does it with motes of dust, Metal Gear Solid 2 drops of rain and now Soul Reaver 2 will feature particle-based glows and trails. They have deliberately empowered the artists over the programmers to end up with deep visual richness.
Now there are two strains of the series. Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 is a puzzle-based affair starring Kain's prodigy, as we know him. Blood Omen 2, also being developed by Crystal Dynamics for PS2, is shaping up as an all together darker and gorier affair than its sister game. There's a lot of close combat and detailed swordplay, with parrying and a range of attacks. It's definitely more action-oriented and features a string of big boss fights.You'll play Kain and wander the streets menacingly. When you pull your sword out the locals will flee in terror, screaming. Better still, you can butt the townsfolk and kick them when they're down as well as ripping their heart out. There's a lot to look forward to and OPM can't wait to start devouring souls and finding out what exactly is going on in Nosgoth.
There are seven ancient elemental forges hidden throughout Nosgoth, themed around the principles of Darkness, Light, Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Spirit. By solving a forge level Raziel activates the forge and can imbue the sword with a new elementally themed power. The Light Reaver, for example, casts a radius of light around Raziel, allowing him to travel through dark areas. By swooshing the blade it can also light lanterns.Each sword can be used as a kind of elemental key to open certain locked doors. They will also come in handy to activate elements crucial to solving puzzles, such as illuminating light-projecting obelisks. Oh yes.
- With this sword I do thee smite. The Soul Reaver not only looks boss with its eight elemental glows, but they'll also help you solve puzzles and guzzle baddies' souls
- Hack 'n' puzzle. The Soul Reaver strain of Legacy Of Kain involves plenty of slashing, but it is founded on a strong puzzle element, backed up by a meaty plot
- Dark clouds gather. The Soul Reaver world is a dark and corrupt place. Raziel's battle with Kain is not simply good fighting evil, but a clash of two dark figures
- That's the spirit. Raziel's natural habitat is a mystical, incorporeal world