The original Soul Reaver (PS) (also one of the Blood Omen family) has been officially registered in the annals of history as a brilliant game with some tragically fatal flaws. Its boons were an insanely likeable anti-hero (in the form of Raziel, a jawless demon/vampire with a mystical sword grafted to his arm), the equally likeable notion of being able to feed off your fallen enemies' souls, and an absolutely inspired puzzle device that let you shift into another realm at will. Soul Reaver's banes were its tedious combat, a way-off-kilter walking-to-action ratio, an annoying lack of checkpoints, and an overabundance of box-pushing puzzles.
While the first game was pretty linear in nature, it did a good job of hiding it, and a fantastic job of giving you a feeling that your destiny was in your putrid, misshapen talons. In Soul Reaver 2, there's a much more palpable sense of being led along, and it's the game's biggest disappointment that it somehow feels a little smaller, more restricted, and less epic than the original. Realm-shifting doesn't play as big a role in the gameplay as it did in the original, and the much-touted time travel doesn't play any role at all - except for a few key plot-driven moments.
Most of SR2's puzzles are complex localised phenomena in grand Indiana Jones fashion, as you arrange light reflectors and generate magic shadows and carry strange artefacts to stranger receptacles in the hope that some mystical thingumabob will light up and show you the way.
The PlayStation 2 version of Nosgoth is a graphically striking realm. The game boasts some awesome architecture and breathtakingly complex chambers, decorated by gorgeous textures that show real artists' skill. There's a vast lake not too far from the game's start that's a beautiful sight to behold, with nearly a dozen cascading waterfalls and flocks of birds, all moving in harmony at a fluid 60 fps. However, in order to make room for all its scope and speed, the game is forced to cheat pretty severely in the lighting, shadows, and reflections departments. Polygon glitches and loose seams occasionally mar the landscape.
Soul Reaver 2 never skimps on the sound, however. Great mood music sets the tone, though it's the sound effects that really shine - Raziel's footsteps echo convincingly on glass and crunch through the snow.
Soul Reaver 2 takes as many steps back as it does forward, and ends up teetering precariously on the brink of being a disappointment. Perhaps next time we meet our vampire anti-hero, he'll be ready to fully assume his grand role in destiny's dark design; for now, however, the Wheel of Raziel's Fate rests sadly out of alignment.
(If you don't have a PS2 unit, you can still take a walk on the dark side with Soul Reaver 2 using the PC demo on this month's cover CD.)Publisher: Eidos.
Developer: Crystal Arts.