Kain is back, his
pants are too tight, and he has a score to
The original Blood Omen flew
in beneath the hype radar and sank its teeth
into the unsuspecting masses. It dismissed
tired gaming conventions and relied heavily
on a sadistic, bloodletting ethos. In other
words, it involved - no, encouraged - the
murder of innocent, but annoying, civilians.
Millions of gamers rejoiced.
After logging cameo appearances
in the two Soul Reaver games, Blood Omen's
main character, Kain, is finally back to
steal center stage in Blood Omen 2. With
his 80's rock god haircut and bondage couture,
Kain obviously longed to regain the spotlight.
The question is: does he deserve it? The
answer, most will learn, depends on the gamer.
Blood Omen II picks up where
the original left off, meaning it finds Kain
and his legion of vampires locked in a vicious
war with the Sarafan knights. What the knights
lack in chivalry they make up for in fighting
prowess, particularly that of their leader,
the "mysterious and powerful" Sarafan Lord.
The Sarafin Lord demolishes Kain's army of
vampires, and then, in an embarrassment to
blood-letting fiends everywhere, defeats
Kain himself. Kain is left for dead and the
Sarafin Knights are free to pursue such family
activities as pillaging, murder, Scrabble,
and fascist rule.
But Kain not only survives
his duel with the Sarafan Lord, he retains
a nice set of pecs and washboard abs. The
erstwhile vampire leader is revived by Uma,
a member of a small band of rebel vampires
determined to overthrow the empire and restore
peace to the galaxy . . . no, wait, that's "Star
Wars." This band of rebels, a resistance
group known as Cabal, wants to destroy the
Sarafan Lord and make a smorgasbord of the
human race. They choose Kain to lead the
insurrection, and the fallen vampire, hell-bent
on revenge, is happy to oblige.
Kain is a veritable sissy
when the game begins, but as you progress
he gradually recovers his former powers in
a series of boss fights and entertaining
cut scenes. In fact, the accrual of Kain's
abilities - called "dark gifts" - and the
storytelling that accompanies his progression
are the best parts of the game.
Like every title in the Kain
series, the voice-acting is terrific, putting
even high-profile Hollywood actors to shame
(*cough* Keanu Reeves *cough*), and the tale
of Kain's redemption is one worth hearing.
Even the chatter of meaningless background
characters surpasses the main dialogue of
most other games. It would be a tremendous
experience, but unfortunately you actually
have to play the game.
Truth be told, the gameplay
in BO2 is not entirely without merit. There
are times when you'll crack a smile, such
as when Kain performs a stealth kill by punching
a man's heart through
his chest, but these moments are isolated
and the gameplay never truly hits its stride.
The control is hard to describe,
but my grandmother said it best: it feels
like driving a Mack truck with a pair of
chopsticks. In other words, it's slow, unresponsive,
occasionally frustrating, and, all too often,
not particularly fun. For example, if you
start a combo attack, but quickly change
your mind and decide to dodge, Kain is unlikely
to follow suit. It almost feels like you're
fighting the game for control of your character.
And the control you can exercise often
isn't worth the effort. If you press the
attack button once, Kain takes a single swipe;
if you press it several times in quick succession,
he'll take three quick swipes in what is
shamefully called a "combo."
Kain can pick up and wield
a variety of weapons, but strangely enough
they barely seem to change the animation
of his attacks or the amount of damage inflicted.
Exploring Kain's arsenal of grab moves is
fun, but, like most martial arts flicks,
it gets old fast. You also can block and
perform a sidestep maneuver, but for a leader
of all vampires, Kain has all the dexterity
of a common household appliance.
When the game does show signs
of life, it usually involves the instigation
of death. The stealth kills, for example,
are wonderfully grisly to behold and a joy
to execute. They require little skill - merely
sneaking up behind a goon who has the awareness
and intellect of a tuna sandwich - but that
detracts little from the satisfaction of
pulling one off. Snapping a man's neck or
eviscerating him with a broadsword is good
fun no matter how you look at it.
The dark gifts are another
gameplay highlight. Among other things, Kain
can disappear in a cloud of mist, jump great
distances in a single bound, and even control
the minds of unwitting peasants to make them
hit switches or perform tasks out of his
But the dark gifts, six in
all, are merely scattered beams of light
in an otherwise vast expanse of bland, unsightly
gameplay. The game is just too slow and methodical
for its good. We want vampires who move with
the dexterity and precision of mountain lions,
not toothy lummoxes who move like Butterbean
Of course, it's not all about
the fisticuffs. Like many 3D action-adventure
titles, Blood Omen 2 is plagued by the Curse
of Lara Croft. In other words, our good friend
Kain winds up pushing around more crates
than a stockboy at Wal-Mart. What's in these
crates? And why are there so many of them?
How come we never get to roll barrels, or
better yet, just stand on a chair or a ladder
if we need to reach a higher point? Does
anyone slide a crate under a light fixture
when they need to change a bulb?
The most embarrassing aspect
of this whole crate-pushing debacle is that,
in Kain's homeworld of Nosgoth, crates are
just about the only interactive thing in
the environment. In short, the levels in
Blood Omen 2 are more sterile than a member
of the Vienna Boy's Choir. This is somewhat
understandable based on the size and scope
of the game, but we've seen bigger games
with much more interactivity. Even worse,
the one thing you can move - crates - only
moves in certain ways. Crates can be pushed
forward or pulled backward, but not slid
from side to side. Why this limitation exists
is beyond the scope of my imagination to
To be entirely fair, some
of the puzzles in Blood Omen 2 are inventive
and engaging. You don't need to be a 3-time
returning Jeopardy champion to solve any
of these brain-teasers, but sometimes they
offer just enough challenge to remain interesting.
Some of the best "puzzles" in the game are
posed by the boss fights. In Blood Omen 2,
defeating an archenemy is not simply a matter
of dodging and button mashing. Often, you
need to determine a foe's weakness and attack
accordingly (as in the Soul Reaver games).
It comes off well, and as such the boss battles
represent a degree of quality not found elsewhere
in the game.
Graphically, Kain is an underachiever.
It's obvious the PS2 was the lead platform
for Blood Omen 2, because the game pales
next to exclusive Xbox titles. It's not ugly,
but there's nothing here to impress your
friends who still doubt the power of Xbox
(if such bastards even exist).
All of the edges are clear
and smooth (no jaggies), and the textures
are moderately detailed, but the low polygon
count on the player models gives the game
an outdated look. Character animations are
stiff and uninspired, which only exacerbates
the low-poly problem. Most of the environments
are fairly claustrophobic, so draw-in distance
isn't much of an issue.
There is some nice use of
volumetric fog, but the characteristic bump-mapping
and lighting effects of Xbox are given short
shrift. The developer may have paid lip-service
to their utilization of Xbox-specific hardware
goodies, but if you buy that I have some
ocean-front property to sell in Ohio. Overall,
it's a grade above the likes of Kabuki Warriors,
but a big step down from the DOA3's and Halo's
of the world.
Aurally, Blood Omen 2 serves
up both the sublime (voice acting) and the
dreadfully mundane (almost everything else).
I can't rave enough about the dialogue and
voice-acting here. Sure, it tends to be over-the-top,
but this is a video game, not a rendition
of Macbeth. It's just nice to hear voice-actors
who actually sound like they give a damn.
The voice acting and the story it propels
might even make the game's faults tolerable,
which is about the highest compliment I can
In contrast, the sound effects
will do little to elevate your pulse, and
the music might actually induce a catatonic
state. The clang of blade against blade and
the patter of Kain's footsteps are adequate,
but these and other sound effects are used
sparingly. These, combined with the quiet,
derivative soundtrack, make the game seem
kind of desolate. This may have been the
developer's intention, but Blood Omen would
do well to sacrifice some its dark atmosphere
for a little old-fashioned excitement. Thankfully,
the music never grates on the listener, as
a generic techno or butt-rock soundtrack
might, but it doesn't inspire, either.
Overall, Blood Omen 2 is
commendable in design, but flawed in execution.
There are so many reasons why an amoral vampire
game with good storytelling should be
a blast, but this one just comes up short
on too many levels. Those starved for a halfway
decent action-adventure title might be able
to wring enough satisfaction from Blood Omen
2 to warrant a purchase, but everyone else
should stay away (unless you're a trench-coat
wearing, Lost Boys-quoting vampire aficionado).
Like most vampires, can only be killed by a wooden stake or a Hootie
and the Blowfish album.
Don't let the hype cloud your judgment. A lot was expected
of Blood Omen 2, but the game just fails to deliver.
Uneven control, sloppy gameplay mechanics, and lukewarm
graphics do not a great game make. The action-adventure
landscape is pretty barren right now, so a rental might
do the trick, but don't unload 50 hard-earned beans for