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Blood Omen 2

Crystal Dynamics





Kain is back, his pants are too tight, and he has a score to settle.


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 reach.

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 on Quaaludes.

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 comprehend.

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 offer.

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).

Tony Scinta
Like most vampires, can only be killed by a wooden stake or a Hootie and the Blowfish album.

Blood Omen 2: The Scores













The Final Word:  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 this title.

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