Eidos' Legacy of Kain franchise has been capably going down two unique paths, over the years, in the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver games. The titles have followed the individual adventures of the vampire Kain and former vampire, now soul reaver, Raziel and took them to some interesting places. The latest entry in the Legacy of Kain franchise, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, aims to bring the pair together, buddy-movie style, in an adventure that finds the two teaming up to take on a common foe. Think of it as the vampire version of Bad Boys, with the main difference being that Will Smith wants to kill Martin Lawrence and vice versa. While we've previously seen the game in early states, we finally had a chance to try out proper preview versions of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox games to see how they're shaping up.
The story finds Kain and Raziel nowhere near each other at the beginning of the game. Kain's narrative picks up 500 years away from Raziel as he invades a seraphim castle, while we find Raziel trapped in the spectral realm trapped with the elder god he ticked off in the last Soul Reaver game. The game's structure is broken up into chapters, and each starts out by focusing on Kain or Raziel. Each character's first chapter serves as a general tutorial of their abilities and acts as a basic primer on their history for newcomers to the long-running franchise. In addition to the recaps of each character's history, you'll get hints on the game's story, which finds dark forces manipulating Raziel and Kain for some purpose that you just know can't be good. Exactly how the pair teams up hasn't been made clear, but, from the sounds of it, the partnership is just what the forces of evil want. However, manipulating two powerful undead creatures is always asking for trouble, so we expect much mayhem to ensue as the game progresses.
The gameplay in Legacy of Kain Defiance offers up a more action-oriented hybrid of the mechanics seen in the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver games. Each character will have his core abilities, although some have been refined to ensure there's some parity as you switch off between them during the game. While Raziel and Kain both share some common moves, like floating during jumps, climbing walls, and using the reaver blade, in addition to some basic combat moves, each character has the unique moves you'd expect. For example, Kain can feed off of humans and has unique uses for his reaver blade. Raziel, on the other hand, can feed off of souls and shift himself into the spectral realm to access new areas. In addition, he has his own unique uses for his reaver that will come in very handy.
Outside of the unique control mechanics for each character, you'll find some interesting mechanics at play in the various levels you'll be guiding them through that reflect their unique personal styles. The Kain chapters we've played so far encourage the use of his telekinesis to take out enemies, trigger switches, and affect the environment around him (by knocking over pillars and rocks to form bridges, for instance). Raziel's initial chapters appear to be a bit more cerebral, encouraging you to navigate through areas that often challenge you to find a way out. However, you'll still find puzzles tailored to each character in their respective chapters.
As far as the graphics go, Legacy of Kain: Defiance features an impressive engine that pumps out very detailed visuals on both platforms. Kain and Raziel have undergone some minor cosmetic tweaking to update them, and they've never looked better. You'll find a nice dose of subtle detail on hand, mostly in the animation department, that complements the intricate polygonal models for each character. The game's performance is almost indistinguishable on both platforms, although you'll find some subtle improvements in frame rate and image clarity on the Xbox version. The impressive graphics are complemented by a dynamic camera system that takes a much more cinematic approach to its visual presentation. We still found occasional hitches in our preview version that made it a little difficult to orient ourselves, but we expect they're being worked on.
The audio is pretty stellar, thanks to what is likely to be one of the best voice casts assembled. The Blood Omen and Soul Reaver games always featured excellent voice acting, and combining the casts of both into one package makes for some great voice work. In addition, the various sound effects and ambient sounds used throughouth the game are nicely done. Raziel's first chapter in the spectral realm is brought to undead life, thanks to a rich layering of troubled souls crying out in pain and the booming voice of the elder god who taunts him as he tries to escape. The music uses some of the most familiar themes from both franchises to kick things off, but it eventually heads off into unique musical territory that helps give the game its own unique personality.
From what we've seen so far, Legacy of Kain: Defiance is coming together pretty well. The chapter system keeps the pace from getting stale, and the graphics are extremely impressive on both platforms. Fans of either franchise will certainly want to look for the game when it ships. If you're new to the series, you won't find a better time to jump in, thanks to the recaps of each character's backstory at the beginning of the game. Legacy of Kain: Defiance is currently slated to ship this November on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. For more on the game, check out our exclusive designer diary here.