Legacy of Kain: Defiance has an outstanding premise, but it's ultimately a disappointment.
As in the Soul Reaver games, Raziel can exist either in the material plane or in the spectral plane, which is a ghostly version of the real world, in which water has no buoyancy and weird monsters run amok. Raziel can shift from the material plane to the spectral plane at any time, but he may switch back only from certain points, a fact that comes into play in many of the game's puzzles. You'll switch to the spectral plane to get through certain gates or get past certain obstacles, and then you'll have to find a way to switch back so that you can do things like open doors and manipulate objects. When Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver introduced this phase-shifting mechanic back in 1999, it was inspired and innovative. In Legacy of Kain: Defiance, it doesn't seem nearly as fresh, and it mostly just forces you to do a lot of legwork. Raziel's sequences tend to take much longer than Kain's more action-oriented sequences, but oftentimes they're relatively less fun.
Thank goodness these characters run quickly, because they'll be doing an awful lot of running back and forth during this game. Defiance is split up into more than a dozen chapters, and some of the later ones are quite big, allowing you (and sometimes requiring you) to move across vast stretches of territory. The game uses a roving camera perspective, so unlike in recent games in the series, you don't always get an ideal vantage point. In Capcom's Devil May Cry, this roving camera technique was used to give the game a distinct sense of style and plenty of cinematic flair. That seems to have been the goal here, too, but the roving camera in Defiance is much more of a nuisance than anything. Awkward, sudden shifts of the camera will cause you to become disoriented, forcing you to compensate on the controls and possibly causing you to lose your sense of direction. The inability to move the camera to where you'd like it (you do have a limited, but largely useless, ability to pan the perspective) makes many of the jumping sequences needlessly annoying and also results in enemies routinely blindsiding you from off the screen. Foreground objects will occasionally obstruct your vision, as well. Many hours into the game, these things don't cease being problematic.
But the biggest issue isn't the camera perspective. It's that the lack of an automap or even a compass needle, coupled with the constantly shifting perspective, can be maddening. Add vague mission objectives and open-ended environments, and you have a recipe for frustration. Defiance, at its core, is a very linear game. But, even though you'll always have to perform specific tasks at specific places to proceed with the plot, it can be unnecessarily difficult, and it's not always clear what those tasks are or where, exactly, you're supposed to be going. A longtime fan of the Legacy of Kain games might get the impression when first playing Defiance that the noticeably faster movement speed of the characters must mean that some of the pointless wandering of the previous games will be at a minimum here. Sadly, that's not at all the case. It'll take you probably twice as long to finish Legacy of Kain: Defiance than it would take you to get through the average action adventure game, but, in the end, a number of these hours will seem like they were wasted.
Since the combat in the Legacy of Kain games has never been particularly good, the series has relied heavily on puzzle solving--and this game is no exception. However, most of the puzzles are rather uninspired block-pushing, lever-pressing affairs. Aside from those, most of the game consists of key hunts, only the keys here have fancy, gothic-sounding names, like the "rusted scales." As both Kain and Raziel, you'll imbue the reaver with various elemental properties, which allow you to access certain areas you couldn't previously reach and which cause the blade to emit different-looking sparkles. This, too, will be familiar territory to the fans of the series for whom this game is ideally suited. Moreover, though it sounds like a cool idea that you'll get to visit the same environments but at different points in time and from both Kain's and Raziel's perspectives, in practice, you'll find that the highly repetitive scenery just gets old.
The game looks very impressive at first glance, but it starts to come apart at the seams--literally, sometimes--the longer you play. On both the Xbox and PlayStation 2, you'll be treated to a perfectly smooth frame rate more often than not. The Xbox version looks predictably sharper, cleaner, and more colorful, and the PS2 version noticeably slows down when many enemies are onscreen, but each game is technically impressive in its own right. The character models for Kain and Raziel also look quite good (though very similar to these characters' appearances in the Soul Reaver games), which is fortunate, since you'll be seeing an awful lot of them. Elaborate textures adorn the sometimes-complex level architecture, making everything look wonderful when you're just passing through. However, most of the enemies you'll face and many of the animations in the game look rather corny, and the detailed-looking environments are mostly just window dressing, aside from some breakable pieces of furniture. Worse, some pretty glaring clipping issues--we actually slipped through the cracks and fell out of the gameworld a couple of times--and collision detection issues both in and out of combat mar the game's appearance and cheapen the overall feel. Nevertheless, the visuals in Legacy of Kain: Defiance stand out as one of the game's most obvious high points.
Apart from the excellent voice acting, Defiance doesn't sound like much. The synthesized soundtrack, which picks up during combat and drones quietly otherwise, loops frequently and, at worst, sounds cheesy. Many sound effects are recycled from previous Legacy of Kain games, the sounds of combat are very subdued, and ambient noise is minimal. Of further note, when Raziel is in the spectral plane, there's no music, but there's this one looping ambient track where you hear a woman crying and other noises that are kind of spooky, but you'll spend so much time in the spectral plane that this gets old, fast.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance has an outstanding premise, but it's ultimately a disappointment. It certainly isn't a bad game, and fans of its main characters should play it just to see more of Kain's and Raziel's interactions with each other and the rest of the Legacy of Kain cast. Unfortunately, though, the gameplay itself just isn't particularly entertaining, thanks to the one-two punch of the constantly shifting camera angles and the lack of a map. The challenge here primarily comes from having to memorize a lot of same-looking passageways and compensate for a camera perspective that impairs fluid gameplay, rather than from sophisticated puzzles or tough opponents. This is one of those rare games whose characters and story to some extent supersede the problems in the gameplay, but not to such an extent that this game can be fully recommended.