Graphics: In his leap from the PlayStation to the PS2, Raziel obviously made a quick stop at the polygon factory, because he's literally dripping with them now. While the protagonist is the most detailed of all the characters, the supporting cast finishes close behind, with brilliant textures, high poly counts and smooth animation -- a universal requirement for anything appearing on screen. The environments are equally lavish, and are as appropriate to Nosgoth as Tim Burton's vision was to Gotham city in the original Batman.
Conceptually, Soul Reaver 2 is a perfect example of how a game's graphics are vital in establishing mood and properly projecting a story. In terms of sheer hardware usage, though, this title pales slightly when compared to the top tier graphics on the PS2, such as those found in Grand Theft Auto 3, which looked slightly worse but contained easily double the number of characters, cars and general business as Soul Reaver 2. These complaints are minor, however, and if the developers are to be believed there were some elements that had to be left out in order to optimize their completely new engine. With luck, that development hurdle has been crossed and we'll see the next chapter pushing the PS2 as far as the original Soul Reaver shoved the PlayStation's hardware.
Interface: In addition to the usual compliment of audio balancing, Soul Reaver 2 includes a few additional options that let you adjust the position of the screen for optimum viewing. Sadly, the controller may not be remapped, and while the default configuration is quite workable, one can imagine many people wishing to flip one or two buttons around. Unlike the last chapter, which saved at checkpoints, but forced you to run to a teleporter in order to reach that checkpoint again, you can now begin playing from right where you saved. For the most part there are enough saves, but only just. A few more spots scattered across the countryside would have made this system quite a bit more manageable.
Gameplay: As part of human nature from the dawn of civilization, the best games have always involved a story, be it the narrative we string out of rivalries in sports teams, or the eternal struggle between black and white on a chessboard. Crystal Dynamics seems to understand that the most successful video games are built around the premise that people should want to complete them, not that people play to be frustrated. As such, every task you complete or goal you achieve is richly rewarded with another mystery uncovered about the dawn of Nosgoth's history or another strand of Raziel's puzzle detangled. Soul Reaver 2 is as much an epic journey as playing through one of Square's games, and despite the difficult obstacles, you're teased by what's gone before to surmount them. Of course, the controls are extremely smooth, and the camera still ranks as one of the best tracking systems ever implemented in this genre. Raziel's abilities are all necessary, and unlike the previous title, you'll have to employ multiple styles of combat if you want to survive this ordeal. The demons who begin appearing in the later levels are particularly satisfying opponents, as they chase you to the spectral realm where they are just as deadly as their physical manifestations. The puzzles, as much a challenge as combat, will test your intellect and memory, but never cross the line into impossible difficulty. The solution may not be immediately apparent, but the creators of these labyrinthine citadels left visual clues to help you on your way. Where these clues are not provided, Raziel's keen eyes usually pick up something the player might miss, and his observations are often clue enough.
Multiplayer: As Soul Reaver 2 has no multiplayer, this criterion has not been rated.
Sound FX: Anyone who missed Simon Templeman's performance in the original Blood Omen missed one of the best stints of voice acting ever recorded. Of course, Michael Bell's performance as Raziel could be taken as a close second, so gamers everywhere can bask in the knowledge that both have returned to reprise their characters for this chapter of the saga. Among the other talent, all of whom shine in their roles, TV's Rene Auberjonois (Odo from Deep Space Nine, among other roles) also joins the cast as a near mythical figure from Nosgoth's earliest history. Aside from the voice acting, expect moody ambience wherever you go, whether it's the echo of footsteps in empty hallways, the crackle of torches or the caw of ravens feasting on a battlefield. A virtuoso performance on all fronts, the sound alone makes Soul Reaver 2 worth the purchase.
Musical Score: The majority of the time, Soul Reaver 2's music is quietly ambient, with definite leanings towards a minor key and brooding melodies. For key moments in the plot, however, the orchestra whips itself into a frenzy and produces some truly memorable accompaniment to some equally memorable dialogue. There are also moments of frenzied combat which receive similar attention, with the music's tempo leaping up from its usually lethargic pace to match the on-screen battle.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The further you dig into Nosgoth's history, the more forces Raziel will have arrayed against him. With only one difficulty level, the challenge starts fairly simple to bring newcomers up to speed, but quickly ramps the difficulty up to force you into using the new combat techniques and balancing your use of the Reaver with the other weapons. For the most part, the enemies fight fairly intelligently, using melee where necessary and taking advantage of superior reach if their weapons allow. When facing multiple enemies, though, the melee breaks down slightly, as the creatures or soldiers you're not focusing on tend to hang back ineffectively. In part, this is because you're spinning around your current target swinging or parrying desperately which makes it hard for them to get a bead, but at times, they seem to be locked up rather than waiting for an opening.
Overall: For those new to the series, Soul Reaver 2 might sound like more of the same pattern found in so many other titles: fight, solve puzzles, get new stuff to solve more puzzles, repeat. Distilled down to its bare essence, this is entirely accurate, but when you approach the game as a whole, the story elevates it beyond the norm. In the same way that the Final Fantasy series spins an epic tale in every offering, Raziel's quest contains an extensive storyline with smart plot twists, compelling dialogue and characters that (if you'll pardon the pun) really sink their teeth into you. With the block puzzles of yesteryear largely giving way to new challenges, this chapter provides a lot more variety on that front, while the Soul Reaver's parasitic nature forces you to use more of the various normal weapons. As such this title is loaded with more variety than its predecessor and will keep you focused on your combat skills far longer. With its amazing sound work, stunning musical score and easy to use control scheme, about the only thing you can complain about in this release is the length. While it's short, Soul Reaver 2's brevity seems to be the price we have to pay for a much more streamlined game, with little backtracking and a roller coaster story that sets a frantic pace. While a longer experience would have been an improvement, this release stands nonetheless as a stellar example of the third-person action game done properly.