Blood Omen 2 Review
Since its inception in 1995, the Legacy of Kain series has been one of the more satisfying adult action/adventure series on the market. The series launched with the tale of the nobleman Kain, brutally murdered only to rise from the grave as a vampire, exacting his revenge on his slayers. In the following installments in the series, players were introduced to yet another hero, Raziel, pursuer of Kain and savior of Nosgoth, hunting the nefarious vampire lord throughout the land and even through time. The series has set the benchmark in many areas of gaming, most notably sound and voice acting, as well as gratuitous violence. Now, with the release of Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2, Kain makes his triumphant return to the spotlight as the hero of Nosgoth. After a brutal war with the Sarafan, Kain was defeated by their leader, a powerful priest lord who took Kain's life, as well as his legendary sword, the soul reaver. 200 years later, Kain is revived by a mysterious vampire femme named Umah, who educates Kain on the current situation- vampires are on the brink of extinction, with only a small resistance known as the Cabal left. The Cabal are still engaged in war with the Sarafan, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling. Also, all of their members are well known to the Sarafan and therefore unable to even walk the streets. This makes Kain the perfect vampire agent, as he is thought to be long since dead. With the help of Umah, Kain learns to regain his strength and ability so that he may avenge his race, regain his vampiric sword, and restore Nosgoth to the proper natural order- where vampires prey on humans. To do this Kain will need to rely on strangers who seem to have an alternate agenda, his supernatural abilities, and most importantly, his extreme lust for blood.
Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2 is quite similar in style to other games in the series, with huge gothic environments portrayed in an extremely dark and foreboding manner. This particular installment is much darker than the previously released Soul Reaver 2, but nowhere near as macabre as that series' first release. With a medieval setting including pubs and taverns, public squares, sewers, and lots of open areas, Blood Omen 2 offers a lot of room to explore, and several places for an evil vampire to have a little fun. While the game world in may seem rather small at first, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that the environments are much larger than they first appear to be. Whether out in the city streets or wandering underground through the sewers, the game maintains a steady visual theme that is nothing if not convincing. Rats scurry underfoot, tavern signs sway ever so slightly in the wind, and people stand around and engage in small talk. There are also quite a few visual effects in the game that are nothing short of stunning, such as Kain's ability to blend into the fog, moving as a misty wraith among the city dwellers. While the environments could stand to be a bit more detailed, they are certainly above average and quite pleasing to the eye, especially in a dark and sadistic way. Kain takes on a whole new look in this game as well, as he is about 500 years younger in the Blood Omen series than he is in the Soul Reaver series, and it certainly shows. Instead of the withered and wrinkled face portraying age and wisdom, Kain is much sleeker and fresher looking in Blood Omen 2, showing a more youthful side.
One of the major graphical problems with Blood Omen 2 is the issue of frame rates, which sometimes drop severely and for several seconds at a time. This would certainly be understandable if it were simply a slow down due to multiple characters or effects on screen at once, but such is not the case. The game's frame rates skip at random for no apparent reason, and often times can become quite distracting. Other than that one problem however, Blood Omen 2 is an absolutely gorgeous game.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Blood Omen 2 is the incredibly dynamic and visceral gameplay. Kain may have been asleep for 2 centuries, but he certainly hasn't forgotten how to properly disassemble a human being, and in Blood Omen 2 he shows just how talented he is in this regard. Whether impaling men with his bare hands, tearing the flesh from their bodies with razor sharp claws, or eviscerating someone with an oversized sword, Kain makes quick work of the villagers in quite possibly the goriest and bloodiest ways ever seen in a video game. Of course, after the kill, Kain must drink the blood of the fallen to maintain his health, and this is yet another aspect of the game that warrants an M rating. Instead of the taking time to properly drink from his victims, Kain merely sucks the blood from their still beating hearts in one rather large gulp, often from several feet away. While certainly entertaining and definitely unique, Blood Omen 2 is a game that really requires a lot of player discretion. If you're not into blood, guts, and gratuitous violence, then Blood Omen 2 is not the game for you.
Exploration in Blood Omen 2 is mostly linear, but often requires free form thinking in order to advance. There are many areas of the game that make just progressing from one area to the next a difficult task requiring contemplation. There are many puzzles that stand in the way, requiring the flip of a switch or placement of an object. Sometimes, though, Kain just has to make his own exit in his own way, and figuring out just how to do that is not always easy. As Kain progresses through the game, he can walk over certain glyphs that act as checkpoints. If depleted of his blood supply Kain will restart at the nearest glyph with a full blood meter, but he will lose any weapons he may have acquired.
Combat in Blood Omen 2 is fairly straightforward with a few nice touches added in. Kain has the ability to auto-face enemies, and when doing so can also dodge left and right as well as lunge forward to grab his opponent. If Kain is able to successfully grab an enemy, he can hold them at his mercy while performing several attacks which can vary depending on what buttons are pushed. For instance, when grabbing an enemy, if the Square button is pressed by itself, Kain will perform a regular attack, but if it is pressed while the analog stick is held forward, Kain will impale or throw his victims. These attacks also change if Kain has a weapon or not. Blood Omen 2 has quite a rich inventory of weapons to choose from, ranging from long swords to iron maces to daggers. Each weapon is different in regards to attack power and speed, but all slowly break and fall apart, leaving Kain to his clawed hands. There is an indicator on screen for whatever weapon Kain is carrying, and the color will slowly change to red to indicate its durability.
Much like Raziel in the Soul Reaver series, Kain is able to learn various abilities throughout the game that assist him in his quest, such as the 'mist' and 'jump' abilities, as well as several others. The 'mist' ability allows Kain to blend in with the fog, becoming nearly invisible allowing him to sneak up on unsuspecting prey and impale them. The 'jump' ability allows Kain to jump insanely long distances in order to access areas otherwise unreachable. Rage is a special ability that is measured by a gauge on the screen. The more Kain attacks, the more his rage builds, until it reaches a point where he is able to deliver blows of incredible power. When this gauge is at certain different levels, Kain is able to perform various attacks, such as Fury, Berserk, and Immolate. Fury adds power to Kain's blows, Berserk allows Kain to perform blindingly fast attacks, and Immolate allows him to cause enemies to burst into flames without even touching them. What is nice about these abilities is that they aren't just for show, they are actually required in the game in quite a few places, and on top of that the effects used to create them are just down right cool. However, the gameplay can get a bit sluggish at times, especially when the frame rates start dropping, detracting from the total effect.
As with other games in the series, Blood Omen 2 is certainly a game that can be enjoyed a number of times. Anyone who is familiar with the Legacy of Kain series knows how incredibly cinematic the games are. Blood Omen 2 retains that cinematic approach, but with a much more action oriented feel than previous games. Still delivering compelling scenes and an incredibly complex story, Blood Omen 2 offers a great deal more when it comes to combat and action. While the Soul Reaver series relies heavily on puzzles, Blood Omen 2 is not nearly as laden with them. There are still puzzles in the game that get a little repetitive, but the boredom is mercifully kept to a minimum while keeping the action in high gear most of the time. Overall this mixture makes for a solid title that is keeps its value for a respectable length of time, giving it just a bit more replay value than other games in the genre.
Sound, especially voice acting, has always been one of the cornerstones of this series, and Blood Omen 2 is no exception. Simon Templeman returns as the voice of Kain in Blood Omen 2, while the rest of the cast is new to the series. Kain may look a bit different, but he still has that same purely evil voice that is so much fun to listen to. Overall, the acting in Blood Omen 2 is on par with the series, making it far superior to most games in the industry. Most of the dialogue in the game is witty and true to the period, and the actors have little difficulty turning out convincing performances. The soundtrack is a great mix of gothic beats and hard rock composed by Jim Hedges. The in game music is perfectly suited to the setting, and even though it is a looping soundtrack for the most part, it changes up quite a bit to help keep it fresh. Whenever Kain comes across an enemy, the music hits high gear with some frenetic Goth rock that heightens the tension of combat.
Most of the sound effects in the game are quite well done and realistic. The foot steps echo off the walls in closed areas but are not nearly as noticeable in wide open spaces, and the clank of swords and the clashing of fists all sound authentic and appropriate. Most noticeable about the sound effects are the little touches Crystal Dynamics added for this game. In Blood Omen 2, it often feels like the night is alive, due to all the little noises coming from all over, and this really helps give the game a much more convincing feel. Also, there are many times when the world of Nosgoth is bereft of sound completely, and this is made more profound because of these effects. After becoming used to the creaks, groans and moans of Nosgoth's night life, it can be just a bit unsettling when you find yourself in an area of complete and total silence.
While Blood Omen 2 certainly has many redeeming qualities that warrant replaying the game, the controls are a good reason not to. Though not utterly terrible, the controls are certainly a bit problematic and often times slow in their response. This does not really become a problem until forced to fight a boss or other enemy who is just a bit quicker than Kain, but when it does become apparent, it is all the more frustrating. It can also be a bit difficult to properly time and measure jumps, making certain parts of the game very troublesome. Overall, though, the control scheme is basically stable and the few problems caused by it aren't enough to justify passing up on the game.
By revealing yet another vision of Nosgoth and the demons and saviors who populate it, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics have delivered another well crafted story that excites and intrigues while giving us some more insight into, arguably, the coolest bad guy in the history of games. With some of the most violently compelling imagery ever witnessed in an adventure game as well as solid gameplay and above average graphics, Blood Omen 2 is a more than satisfying action adventure game. While not for the faint of heart, or for younger gamers in general, Blood Omen 2 is a great title for the adult gamer and a worthy addition to the Legacy of Kain series as well as the PS2 library.
3/30/2002 Ryan Hartmann