Blood Omen 2
A big hug and a round of beers for the folks at Crystal Dynamics who decided to bring some fun back into the Legacy ofKain series. Controlling a character who's a badass from day one is a rare treat for adventure gamers, and it's what makes BO2 so gratifying to play. While it borrows heavily from Soul Reaver 2, from its elegant voice acting to its story-driven gameplay, it's done away with all the downers that dogged Raziel's second adventure. No more running cross-country just to revisit an old location, jumping over clueless enemies along the way. Each of Blood Omen 2's 11 chapters reveals an entirely new section of Nosgoth, usually containing crafty, region-specific enemies and unique non-playable characters.
Speaking of enemies, combat is where Blood Omen 2 really outshines previous games in the series. Between having access to any weapon an opponent drops and a nice blend of "Dark Gift" enhancements, Kain has an extensive arsenal of attacks and abilities. Sneak up behind a guard in the mist for a one-hit Stealth Kill, surprise a demon from 100 yards away with a leaping attack, or cast a soldier off a ledge after a firm choking. Kain is all about the killing, and having dozens of ways to get the job done keeps the game fresh.
You won't get hung up on any tricky puzzles in BO2--if you can handle Soul Reaver 2's mindbenders, you can handle these. Getting through tough spots usually just involves flipping the right combination of switches, but the game often makes you master a couple of Kain's Dark Gifts to get the job done. The "Charm" spell is particularly cool--it allows you to mentally inhabit nearby peasants and make them do your bidding. They're very helpful and often situated to reach areas Kain cannot. So show your gratitude by not killing all their cousins and friends in town. Ah, what the heck, go ahead. Kain was never much for gratitude, anyway.
Crystal has finally perfected their trademark adventure-game model. Sexy gothic environments? Check. Polished voice acting conveying a cool story? Check. Solid combat model? Check...huh? Really? That's right. Soul Reaver victims, the fighting is actually decent in Blood Omen 2. It still likes you to default to a three-hit slashfest to get through most of the game, but a boatload of weapons and special attacks open up some pleasing possibilities for dispatching Kain's opponents. It's a good time overall, but as the writers of Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver know, perfecting a model that's flawed to begin with only magnifies its intrinsic problems. I wish this game would get off its damn rails and let stuff happen that isn't necessarily in the script. Only buildings you have to enter are unlocked, there's always just a single path from one area to the next, etc. You've got no choices at all in this game, and that seriously diminishes the fun. Even the puzzles all have a single solution that you figure out immediately, but you've still got to go through five minutes of trivial motions just to move on. The sweet Dark Gifts Kain obtains are just begging for some latitude at the hands of the player but are given none. If you're going to let me possess a peasant, I need to be able to walk him off a 30-foot-high ledge to his demise, end of story. It's too bad, a little innovation could have made this good game great.
Some kids aspire to be an astronaut or a cop when they grow up. Me? I've always wanted to be a vampire. So when it comes to the LoK series, where being an undead badass is basically half the fun, I'm a cheap and easy date. With all your super-human abilities, BOa takes unholy vampiric pleasures to near-guilty levels. Unfortunately, gutting Sarafan soldiers and drinking the blood of innocent civilians aren't the only tasks awaiting you in Nosgoth. Many of B02's levels consist of repetitious switch-flipping and crate-pushing. Returning fans will dig the quality narrative, but newcomers may find BO2's arbitrary puzzles and cardboard cutout levels tedious.
The sour taste left by RaziePs last jaunt has been replaced by the warm, sweet taste of blood. Issues that dragged Soul Reaver 2 down are not present -- Kain's artery-sucking escapade keeps the cutscenes to a minimum and actually rewards you for fighting. Puzzles constitute much of the game-play, and while early levels are heavy on switch-flipping and crate-pushing, later levels (like the stylish Eternal Prison) feature inventive obstacles requiring Kain's use of Dark Gift spells. The gorgeous, Gothic graphics will make your head spin...until the game slows to a crawl while new data is loaded on the fly. If you can, get the speedier Xbox version.
Download Blood Omen 2
Like all good video-game heroes, Blood Omen 2's star, Kain, brutally slaughters innocent townspeople, drinks the blood of his foes, and is maniacally blinded by vengeance. Actually, come to think of it, those aren't very heroic traits at all. Hey, who needs valor when you can be a bad-ass anti-hero? For the first time since the original Blood Omen game, Crystal Dynamics puts you in control of Kain, the deposed king of the undead, and the Legacy of Kain series may never be the same.
Chronologically, this title takes place 400 years after Kain's first appearance and 1,000 years before Raziel's adventure in the first Soul Reaver. The last few centuries have been rough, and Kain's power and influence have eroded. Angry, bitter and vengeful, he sets out to regain his lost powers, the Soul Reaver weapon and control of Nosgoth.
BO2 fuses action/adventure gameplay with standard RPG elements. You'll do your share of grisly murdering, but you must also chat up the locals in the pub to gain information. In combat, Kain's hand-to-hand fighting skills shine, and he can skillfully wield any weapon dropped by an adversary. However, these weapons can only sustain so much wear and tear before breaking. After felling a foe, Kain can heal himself by sucking his prey's blood. An impressive cloud of crimson spray flies from their corpses directly into his mouth. In addition to murderous moves, you'll also command abilities like shape-shifting and high jumping once you begin to amass the missing Dark Gifts.
Visually, BO2 sports amazingly ambitious graphics. Exploring a crowded, medieval city and underground maze is entirely seamless, so there is no loading as you enter and exit buildings. Kain's resurrection as the series' star is truly a grandiose one, and fans of the series will likely eat it up.