Eidos and Crystal Dynamics' reunite both sagas in the Legacy of Kain series with the release of Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Played from the same third-person perspective as Soul Reaver 2 and Blood Omen 2, Defiance stars Kain, now a demigod, as well as Raziel, an angel of death. Both characters come equipped with swords as they take charge to stop a new power from destroying their world. The game emphasizes more action and combat over puzzle solving, so players will be able to cut a swath through multiple foes using an assortment of new combo moves. Players can also use each vampire's power of telekinesis to manipulate objects in the environment as well as to fight enemies. Only by defeating the hordes of enemies will both vampires satisfy their eternal bloodlust.
To many gamers worldwide, the names Kain and Raziel evoke memories of being drawn into a virtual world with a certain dark and gothic appeal to it and spending hours in front of screens unlocking the mysteries of the Soul Reaver universe. I happen to be one of those gamers. During the past few years, this popular franchise has seen several incarnations in Soul Reaver and Blood Omen games, each one of which would open a new and exciting chapter of a wonderful and tantalizing storyline. Regardless of the admirable reputation Eidos and Crystal Dynamics achieved with Legacy of Kain over the years, however, we feel there are many aspects of this particular title you should all consider before buying it.
Kicking things off on a high note, those of you who await a deep and involving story will certainly not be disappointed. Of course, we wouldn't want to shower you with unnecessary spoilers, so we'll try to keep it simple and as short as possible. Legacy of Kain: Defiance follows the chronicles of three chief races: human, vampire, and Hylden. Each race struggles to gain predominance and control over the world. Among the numerous new facts unveiled in this title, players (especially true-hearted Kain fans) will be pleased to finally find out essential facts about the game's main characters Kain and Raziel. Also, you'll learn more about the history and relationship of Moebius, the Elder God, the Hylden, and the Demon Beasts. On top of that, the developers have simplified the considerably lengthy history of the prequels, showing off brief cut-scene regarding some of the key events and characters. Therefore, it should be an interesting tale to follow even if this is your the first endeavor in the Legacy of Kain series. The whole scenario is divided into chapters. Completing each one unlocks more information on characters, races, etc. A detailed and imaginative narrative, a convincing plot structure, and thorough characterization are almost unmatched and clearly an excellent example of how background stories should be handled in video games today.
As you may have heard already, this is the first title in the Legacy of Kain series that offers players a chance to play as both Kain and Raziel. This improvement poses a rather commendable gameplay variation that increases the suspense and drama as you progress. Apart from that though, Legacy of Kain: Defiance is a classic action/adventure with gameplay basics that will no doubt be familiar to a majority of gamers (particularly those who played Capcom's PS2 title, Devil May Cry). Then again, this is not a game that will immediately appeal to PC fans. Several crucial gameplay elements that constitute a solid PC gaming experience are missing in action, and will surely stop a majority of casual PC gamers from giving this title a proper chance.
The most annoying thing, which comes into view almost immediately, is the irksome camera and controls. Because the camera is completely independent from your character's facing and movement, using a mouse and keyboard combo will be damn-near impossible. At various points throughout the game you are bound to be screwed over by the camera in one way or another, even if you use the preferred keyboard-only controls. Whether you need to climb a ledge, jump from platform to platform (these are especially annoying at first), fight against multiple enemies, or simply turn to walk in the opposite direction, the camera rarely offers an agreeable perspective (so much for the "all-new cinematic camera" - the way it's being hailed on the game's official web site). This camera control issue is a real nuisance and even die-hard fans of the series might have a hard time mastering its psychedelic movement. It just doesn't feel right, it's confusing and unnatural. Luckily, the structure of the levels is linear for the most part, which will help you find your way around even despite the woeful camera angles. Due to this camera difficulty, however, players can easily omit certain locations, important puzzle elements, or passages that are essential to their progress in the game. I managed to get over the control system after a while, but that's only because this game had other qualities that kept me from giving up on it.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance features a praiseworthy diversity of moves for both Kain and Raziel. They have a range of similar moves as well as a choice of telekinetic powers to utilize in combat. Kain and Raziel both wield extremely powerful reaver swords with which they are able to perform a series of lethal combos, as they pierce and slash unfortunate opponents. Of course, additional combos are gained as you fight - this makes the gameplay a bit more interesting, since you ultimately get to experiment with quite a lot of moves and skills. Kain has a few unique abilities of his own. At any time, he can grab hold of his foes and toss them around (or suck their blood, as any self-respecting vampire would do when he feels like it). Although these moves don't cause any severe damage to enemies, they make the gameplay a bit more fun, temporarily drawing your attention away from the aforementioned shortcomings.
More importantly though, the lads at Crystal Dynamics have done a solid job on the levels, putting in just enough puzzles and combat to keep you interested. Coupled with the narrative this presented enough of an incentive for me to put the controls and camera issues aside and just keep unraveling the mysteries of Kain's and Raziel's existence. That's not to say, however, that I wasn't put off by certain sections that were less than dynamic, but overall, it's safe to say that Defiance has a solid gameplay flow that will keep the hard-core fans on their toes. I'm not so sure about the newcomers to the series though...
There are several more issues that could be considered as drawbacks in the game. In terms of numbers, your adversaries definitely shouldn't be underestimated. In fact, they usually gear their skills and strengths towards team-based tactics, in order to overcome your unholy powers. The annoying bit is that even regular grunts take way too long to finish off; regardless of the combo you happen to have pulled on 'em. Also, the somewhat limited variety of opponents and periodic AI glitches (enemies getting stuck on objects in the environment) further stain the overall impression. Seeing how this is a console port, the multiplayer facet is non-existent, and it won't take you more than 20 hours to finish the single-player campaign. So in other words, the replay value is certainly not one of this game's stronger points...
... but the graphics and overall art design certainly are! At its core, Defiance uses a rather dated technology. On the other hand, the art design is so good, and the developers have managed to utilize certain next-generation effects to such an extent that this game comes off as looking simply stunning! Spectacular architecture decorated with detailed gothic murals and enhanced by masterful use of pixel shaders and particle effects, makes for a truly unique and moody visceral experience. The art never gets dreary, as the spectral plane introduces a whole new setting with its nightmarish and twisted shapes and unique dream-like atmosphere. The colors and shapes will completely change and yet the visual consistency of the game world is kept intact. This only goes to show that Crystal Dynamics is still one of the premiere game design studios when it comes to making the most out of relatively limited technology. The true limits of the 3D code come to light when you take a closer look at the pathetic 2D sprites in the background, or when you compare the character animation to say what Ubi Soft Montreal did in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. As I said, however, Crystal Dynamics has made the most out of what they had available, and the 'goods' certainly outweigh the 'bads' in this case.
Almost every popular saga out there is accompanied by first-rate audio. Legacy of Kain also deserved praise in that respect. The foremost credits should go out to professional character voicing performed by Simon Templeman (Kain), Michael Bell (Raziel), Tony Jay (The Elder God), Richard Doyle (Moebius), and others. The brilliant voice acting will probably sound familiar to those of you who played previous installments in the series. To top if off, the sound designing team did an admirable job on in-game sounds, as well as the soundtrack which features a praiseworthy array of tunes throughout gameplay.
After all that you've read here, it's still up to you to decide whether this games is worth your hard-earned cash. Hard-core fans will love the story and eventually, if they're persistent and patient enough they'll get over the horrendous controls and camera and other gameplay drawbacks mentioned in this review. Those of you who are new to the series will undoubtedly be disappointed by the fact that Crystal Dynamics hasn't done a MUCH better job at porting Defiance to the PC.
People who downloaded Legacy of Kain: Defiance have also downloaded:
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Blood Omen 2, Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring, Silent Hill 3, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Outcast
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