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Soul Reaver 2
Score: 86%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics in Soul Reaver 2 are sharp. They don't have the grainy realism of, say, ICO, but the consistently high framerates and intricate details of the environs more than make up for the somewhat unreal feel of the game. The ability to look around and enjoy the environments is nice, and I still believe that the spectral realm is quite possibly the only time something like that has been done right in a videogame--the completely out-of-balance architecture and eerie colouring makes you really feel like you're in an alternate universe. Add to that stunning in-game cinematics, with some of the best voice-matching I've ever seen in a game, and you have one sharp graphical package.

The sound is just as solid, if not more so. The Legacy of Kain series has always sported excellent voice acting, and Soul Reaver 2 is no different. The various key characters are back again, and they sound just as perfect for their roles as they did in the first Soul Reaver. The new characters introduced in the game sound excellent as well. The music is spot-on, giving you the proper eerie tones that you'd expect in a game like this, and the sound effects are superlative. The way that my footsteps echoed through a cave really made me take pause for a few seconds. You can tell that the team who put this together wanted as tight an experience as possible.

And, barring some glitches and a sometimes-unwieldy combat system, that's what Soul Reaver 2 delivers. It's not as impressive as the original game was, perhaps because of the release of other games since that have done just as much for the genre, but Soul Reaver 2 is an enthralling game that will undoubtedly have series fans and fans of the genre alike adventuring for the length of the game.

Soul Reaver 2's storyline picks up at the final scene of the original game, with Kain jumping through a swirling time portal and you giving chase. Instead of following Kain to his destination, a fellow named Moebius (whom players of the original Blood Omen will recognize) pulls Raziel out of the timestream and attempts to get our favourite soul-sucker to be his unwitting lackey. The plot only gets more interesting from there, and you'll soon find yourself embroiled in the storyline as you want to find out just what's going to happen in this time long past.

The core gameplay of Soul Reaver 2 is similar to the first game, which took many of its cues from the 3D action/platformers that came before it, like Tomb Raider and the like. Like a good sequel, Raziel starts off Soul Reaver 2 with his abilities intact, which is a nice change from the usual character knockdown of sequels. This time around, the new powerups centre on the Soul Reaver, the symbiotic sword gained in the first game which quickly becomes more of a danger in this one. There are a number of different powerups that the Reaver can take on, which are used for different things in the game. Many of the puzzles require manipulation of the Reaver's powers.

Indeed, one of the stronger points of Soul Reaver 2 is its puzzle design. It's still no ICO, but the game goes away from the box-happy madness of the original game and puts itself in a more intelligent puzzle field. It's a pleasant change for the series, and one that fans will appreciate.

There are other new features as well. You can still slip in-between the corporeal and spirit realms as before, and only come back at certain locations, but you no longer have to have full health to call the Soul Reaver. It's a dangerous weapon now, though; it will eat the souls of the enemies instead of letting you devour them, and if used too much it will actually start to damage you as well.

The game sports a now-requisite autotargeting system, which is nice for one-on-one battles. Enemies are more intelligent in their fighting styles, and you may actually find yourself getting hit regularly instead of simply waltzing through most of the beasts in the game. You still can't permanently die, however, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Some people see the lack of boss battles as a bad thing; I personally am more for exploration than combat anyways, because Soul Reaver 2, pretty as it is, isn't the best fighting engine ever made. The game is a wee bit short, which is a shame, and many of the puzzle elements feel extremely arbitrary, instead of integrating into the environment like the ones in ICO do. These are fairly minor complaints, however.

It's hard to describe the difficulty of the Soul Reaver games, because you can never permanently die in them, which invalidates the concept of creep-and-save or impossible sections of the game. Soul Reaver 2 can be challenging at times, especially with some of the puzzles, but it's never unduly so, and any real gamer shouldn't have much of a problem getting through the game. Thinkum is definitely required, but not unduly so.

Game Mechanics:
Soul Reaver 2 controls identically to how the original did, which is good for gamers coming on from the original. For those who aren't, the controls are fairly simple to get used to--move around, jump, duck, block, and the like. You can call up the 'spell wheel' at any time. The whole concept of switching between the physical and spirit worlds is very cool, and adds a whole new layer to puzzles and mechanics. The autotargeting system in the game is nice, but it's definitely rudimentary compared to some other games' implementations, and combat is still the weakest part of the Soul Reaver experience.

One major technical feat that the game manages is the lack of in-game loads. Once the game loads at the start, you'll find yourself smoothly moving around the world as you like. It's nice, and with more games implementing it nowadays it will hopefully become a standard for gaming. The game also has a number of DVD-style extra features, such as outtakes and behind-the-scenes stuff, enhancing the experience of the whole thing.

It should be noted that many gamers have experienced glitches, including ones that make it impossible to get past one of the Forges without a restart. This is unfortunate; one would hope that this sort of thing would get caught before the game gets released, and hopefully later pressings of the game will have it fixed.

Soul Reaver 2 is a solid game. It's not ground-breaking, and a few nagging issues--the bugs, the length, the combat, the still rather-arbitrary puzzles--knock it down a bit. But there's still a whole lot of fun to be had with the game. People who enjoyed the original title would be foolish not to pick Soul Reaver 2 up, and those who are looking for an enthralling action/adventure that doesn't throw away plot for the sake of gameplay should definitely give it a whirl. Hopefully the next game in the Soul Reaver series will clean up the last few nagging issues with the games; until then, Soul Reaver 2 is still a worthy experience.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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