Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Here's an old favourite of mine. I completed it only a few years ago, but had another blast from the past about it last week or so. I must admit to not having played the predecessor game, LoK: Blood Omen, but since Soul Reaver was not originally intended to be a sequel to Blood Omen, having played it does not seem to be necessary.

The story of this game takes place in the land of Nosgoth. Kain, as well as visually resembling the bottom of a celery plant, has previously been kind of an arse, and so the land is falling apart.
Soul Reaver's main character is Raziel, bearer of a lovely but rare Hebrew name that I surely heard here first. Kain turned Raziel into a vampire - but wait, don't roll your eyes!
Kain is meant to evolve first, before Raziel and his brothers. But one day, Raziel strolls in with a nice pair of wings, and Kain reacts very badly indeed. Water scorches these vampires like acid, and so Kain had Raziel thrown into a big lake of it, after ripping the bones from his wings.

Raziel awakes at the bottom of the lake, as a shrivelled corpse with a missing jawbone. He hears the voice of the Elder God, who encourages him to feast on the souls of his enemies, and off you go.

Hundreds of years have somehow passed since Raziel was thrown into the lake. You first appear on the spectral plane, and need to use the portals to transport yourself to the material realm, where the (sort of) living dwell. You must dip between the planes at various points in order to make your way around Nosgoth, to each of your traitorous brothers (with the exception of Turel, who doesn't seem to be in this game).

While transcending the realms and watching your surroundings warp is rather novel, it can get tedious to go back and forth while figuring out what to do during a puzzle. In the spectral realm, not only is water thin as air, you also can't move anything. But you often need the extra ledges it provides by presenting a decayed form of the real world. There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.

It's impossible to truly die in Soul Reaver. If you are too wounded, you slip back into the spectral realm. If you lose all your energy there, you awake once again at the bottom of the lake with the Elder God. This happens likewise, when you load game saves. The progress you have made in various areas is remembered, but your exact position is not. Instead, you activate the warp gates at locations as you find them, and then make your way there from the first gate at the base of the lake when you load game.

Don't kill the humans, even if they do shoot at you.
The controls for this game aren't fabulous. Let's say you want to take a short, precise leap to a tiny plinth ahead of you. Well, Raziel will probably whoosh twenty feet in the wrong direction, over the edge. It really doesn't help that the camera won't automatically keep behind you, and having to hold two shoulder buttons down in order to look around is a bit of a pain in the bum.

Soul Reaver has its fair share of glitches. The main one for me, was with the valves in the Silenced Cathedral. I forgot to close one of the pipes before I turned the corresponding valve. This meant that the valve couldn't explode afterwards and render itself finished with. I went back to close the pipe, but turning the valve again did nothing. This got me genuinely stuck and I had to start a new save file!

Some souls get stuck against surfaces and fade before you can consume them. I experienced a glitch in Malchiah's territory which caused the sounds of a wraith to be heard around me in the physical realm. Dumah completely disappeared during his boss fight. I had to go back and check his throne room twice before he suddenly reappeared.

Other aspects of the game aren't glitches per se, but nonetheless cause some difficulties. It's really hard to move along the top of some pipes, as you just get stuck on the wall. It can be easy to miss puzzles that you must complete in order to progress, but line tracks coming from anything block-shaped can provide clues.
Soul Reaver does have a lot of block puzzles. Most of them are pretty entertaining brain twisters, but they can involve a lot of long-winded movement. There is frankly too much precise jumping in this game, with a character who can't jump precisely. The Drowned Abbey becomes incredibly tedious. Fights with Kain are a repetitive pain in the ass unless you are very quick on your feet.

Zephonim vampires are really quite scary.
The game is pretty good visually. Some textures aren't great and are heavily pixillated, such as those on the boat prior to the Drowned Abbey. In the Abbey itself, even in areas without it, the light on all the walls shimmers as if reflected from the surface of water. In incredibly large areas, the distance simply fades out into a single background colour.

Not being burned is great.
You really mustn't kill any humans. The first one you encounter directly will be firing a crossbow at you, but you've just got to run past. Later on you'll visit the Human Citadel, and it will be much easier to wander around without people launching arrows and flame-throwers at you. Some civilians, however, will still wail in despair when you enter a room.
When you're inside a puzzle area, vampires will often periodically generate to hinder your progress. I find that the best way to deal with this, is to use a pipe or other available stake to impale them, but then not reave the soul, so that it goes back into the body (still paralysed from the impalement), and additional vampires will not be generated.

You really must pay a lot of attention to your surroundings throughout Soul Reaver. Innocuous pipes and ornaments can be snapped off as weapons, while spiked decorations and bonfires can have vampires pushed into them. In the boss fight with Malchiah, there is no direct combat and you must use your surroundings to inflict harm.
Even when you're not fighting, you have to look out for things that line up with each other, especially when it comes to bells and glass.

This game has a really awesome, funky soundtrack which really enhances the moods of its various locations.

There are variations of the themes throughout a given region, and variations thereupon for the spectral realm.

Although strenuous in places, Soul Reaver is a wonderful game, and definitely one to add to the collection.

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