Rivers of Alice Review

"It’s likely those who play adventure games to be challenged or engage themselves in a well-written narrative will be disappointed by this release. However, those who value an emotional journey over a cohesive plot will likely be drawn to The Rivers of Alice’s singular visuals and audio while a brief length and accessible difficulty level pose a welcome experience for beginners."

Check out the full review over at Tech-gaming

Poncho review

Poncho is a game filled with beautiful ideas, both in narrative and in concept. Shifting between background planes opens a world of possibilities and fully encourages exploration, but it comes with its own grievances as well. An over-abundance of backtracking, secret paths necessary to progress and challenge repetition will mar the experience somewhat. Regardless, anyone willing to look past these will find a mostly non-intrusive philosophically engaging storyline coupled a retro themed, visually stunning experience. "

Check out the full review over at Tech-Gaming

Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2

To say the Legacy of Kain series had an inconsistent output throughout its iterations would be something of an understatement. Soul Reaver featured a brilliant execution on the aging Playstation, but it spawned a disappointing sequel while Blood Omen failed to deliver on its lofty promises. Yet, this vampiric franchise hadn’t truly hit its low point until Blood Omen 2, a title which seems to miss almost every mark set by its predecessors.

Upon Soul Reaver’s critical and commercial success, Eidos mandated that the franchise be split in two; Blood Omen which would be focused on a younger Kain before his rise to power and Soul Reaver which follows Raziel in his quest for vengeance. Sadly, Crystal Dynamics already had its hands full with the Soul Reaver games and so a different team within the studio was tasked with handling Blood Omen 2. However, in a story that is not at all dissimilar with past entries, Blood Omen 2 wasn’t created from scratch; rather, an existing project was adapted into it.

Many retro gamers may be familiar with a Sega Genesis/ Mega Drive action platformer by the name of Chakan: The Forever Man. What they may not know is that a Dreamcast sequel was in development before being canceled due to the console’s demise. In essence, Blood Omen 2 is what became of this project, taking many locations, characters and concepts and combining them with yet another unreleased title known only as Sirens.

This hodgepodge of ideas and game design had to be retrofitted so as to fit the Kain mythos all while being helmed by a different team. It’s true this story is similar to that of Soul Reaver itself and that it proved to a winning formula, but sadly, this was not the case here. Blood Omen 2 ignores almost every convention set by previous entries holding only the most tenuous of connections to the Legacy of Kain franchise.

Taking place between the events set in Blood Omen and Soul Reaver, we learn there was a period when Kain’s conquest of Nosgoth came to a sudden halt as the self-appointed vampiric monarch died by the hand of a newly formed Seraphan crusade. Thankfully, vampiric allies were able to resurrect a weakened and amnesiac Kain 200 years later during a time where this new force controls the entirety of Nosgoth and vampires have once again been driven to near-extinction.

Plot-wise Blood Omen 2 seems unnecessary, the setting doesn’t add value to the series' arching plot, making it seem like the entire adventure is a mere pit stop instead of a grandiose undertaking. Worse still, as the game progresses, many narrative elements raised contradict events in previous games. Characters who were killed off walk amongst the living once more with no explanation as to why. Important developments which should have affected previous (and future) games are raised only to never be heard from again upon Blood Omen 2’s conclusion.

Even the dialogs were massively scaled back, featuring none of the series’ florid monologues or long, theatrical character interactions. Actors who once shared great chemistry together now seem stiff and wooden though one can hardly blame them, even the best performer would struggle to draw any artistic flare from these conversations. In fact, Blood Omen 2 doesn’t have a story so much as it has people giving you orders.

The tone has changed quite a bit as well; if previous game entries felt as though they were written by someone who held extensive Shakespearean knowledge then Blood Omen 2 seems as though it was created while listening to Evanescene or some other edgy band. This isn’t to say there is no artistic value in this approach, but the tonal shift is staggering and not at all positive. Kain is now (even more) needlessly aggressive, spouting cheesy one-liners and generally acting more like an aggressive teenager rather than a centuries old vampiric nobleman.

Changes were not limited to intangible elements as Blood Omen 2 now braves into a more action focused gameplay. The open words of past entries have now been replaced with linear stages, players are expected to go from point A to point B with little to no exploration ever being encouraged or even rewarded. More often than not, veering off the beaten path results in hitting invisible walls. Instead, Kain is expected to force through enemies and guards, most of which will attack on sight.

Battles have little variation to them, as players are only given a handful of possible moves, including a simply three-hit combo, blocking, side-stepping and throwing. Weapons may also be picked up, but these bring no new moves and generally only add incremental damage. This of course means once you’ve weilded a weapon, you’ve weilded them all, adding to the feeling of repetition.

Some light platforming, puzzle and stealth sections are used to diversify gameplay, but these, much like the combat itself, are often unsatisfying. All of them are under-developed and pose no challenge, often employing the same trick countless times between levels. For example, all stealth sections require players to traverse through limited, foggy areas, stand behind their foes and perform a killing blow. Puzzles often require you to either press levers, push blocks or both. Even the platforming sections are overly simplistic and manageable, with the greatest challenge stemming not from level design, but from Blood Omen 2’s stiff controls.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to try to and jump forward only to see Kain jump straight up with no forward momentum. Other times I had trouble walking where I wanted to, dodging strikes or even picking up weapons.

Every couple of levels Kain must face-off against a boss, whose defeat grants the titular character a new ability similar to what we’ve witnessed in Soul Reaver. These can either be powerful combat moves which must be charged by blocking strikes or puzzle/platforming skills. They were my main motivator to progress through the main campaign though towards the later stages frustration and boredom had become a common mainstay.

Unlike previous games, death is a real threat. Should kain fall into water, a bottomless pit or die from combat, all progress will scale back to the last checkpoint, reviving all foes and resetting any puzzles or plot events. Most of these tasks are already monotonous by themselves, but they become truly egregious in later stages due to particularly aggressive and defensive NPCs.

Upon striking a killing blow onto an opponent, Kain may draw their blood to replenish the player’s health. Feeding accumulates ‘lore’, acting as a make-shift experience bar, when filled, players win a permanent health bonus, though anyone hoping for skills points or the ability to improve existing skills will be sorely disappointed.

Adding insult to injury, Blood Omen 2 is not nearly as technically sound as Soul Reaver 2 despite launching a year later. Graphically, character models have taken a step back from their detailed, expressive selves. In Soul Reaver 2, dialog sequences were lovingly adorned with facial expressions for each line, whereas now, those very same characters are as dull and lifeless as the lines they speak. This Playstation 2 version also suffers from persistent framerate stuttering as the console struggles to stream each level without needing to pause the action in order to load. Oddly enough, even the stages and environments seem smaller and claustrophobic when compared to the large open spaces traversed by Raziel.

As a Legacy of Kain title, Blood Omen 2 is a farcry from its predecessors featuring none of their strengths be they narrative, artistic or gameplay-wise. On its own merits, it's still a below average title, suffering from repetitive combat, an overabundance of bland puzzles and uninspired platforming coupled with a barely coherent plot, needlessly edgy dialog, unlikable main character and framerate issues. At the end of the day, Blood Omen 2 bares few redeeming features.

Trivia: Did you know Blood Omen 2 originally began as a sequel to Chakan: The Forever Man? The finished product also threw in elements from another game called Sirens and added the Legacy of Kain lore onto it

- We finally get to play as young Kain in 3D
- Interesting locations
- Good character design

- Framerate issues
- Repetitive combat, uninteresting platforming, puzzle and level design
- Story, characters and voice acting are a farcry from previous games
- Barely feels like a Legacy of Kain game

Final Grade: D

For all my criticisms of the game, I have to say this is a fine cover. Not only is it eye-catching, it manages to properly convey what Bloog Omen 2 was aiming for. My only criticism here is that Kain is weilding the Soul Reaver, something which won't happen until the last few minutes of this title.

Inside you'll find an Eidos catalog, a manual featuring an alternate cover, the disc and a registration card. It's interesting how Eidos was hoping to entice gamers to register by giving away a pair of VR goggles, I can only hazard a guess as to how akward these must have been if we consider the fact this technology still has a long way to go over a decade later.

I was satisfied with the manual, it held a pleasing design that fit with Blood Omen 2's theme. It accurately summarizes events leading up to the game and manages to give detailed instructions on how to play. Sadly, it contains a few minor spoilers by providing bios for characters who will appear in later stages, but considering how Blood Omen 2's plot was never great to begin with, no great loss here.

The catalog features several titles both published and developed by Eidos including Deus Ex, Time Splitters 2, Soul Reaver 2 and of course, Blood Omen 2. Most games shown here include a quote from the media and I couldn't help but chuckle when Power Magazine stated Blood Omen 2 was a "blockbuster in the making", AH! Hardly.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the packaging, it's a step above of Soul Reaver 2's, if only I could say the same for the game.

Final Grade: B+

Primal Carnage: Extinction

" Primal Carnage: Extinction is an interesting experiment in gameplay, balance and theme, but one which ultimately fails to deliver on a compelling, lasting experience. It suffers from limited content, unbalanced factions and little gameplay variation. "

Check out the full review over at Tech-Gaming

I Can't Escape Darkness

" I Can’t Escape: Darkness is psychologically eerie and avoids cheap scares, gamers seeking sophisticated chills in their experiences would do well to seek this one out. "

Click here for the full review

Warhammer 40,000: Regicide Review

I reviewed Warhammer 40,000: Regicide over at Tech-Gaming.com

The idea of combining 40K with chess may have been questionable, but in the end, Warhammer 40K: Regicide surpasses expectations. "

Full review HERE

Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos

Soul Reaver featured a scale uncommon for games at the time, in fact, much of its plot and contents were removed and later reworked so as to fit a sequel. What would have been too much for Crystal Dynamics to handle for just one release became more manageable when spread out across multiple ones. From a narrative standpoint, this decision helped solidify the series' lore and story, as Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 effectively manages to tie all preceding titles together in one, brilliantly written bow.

Yet, many gameplay elements were scaled back in this Playstation 2 game. What was once a a near-perfect blend of Tomb Raider and Legend of Zelda had now abandoned most its Hyrule roots in favor of a style more befitting our British archaeologist. While still not bound by levels or stages, Soul Reaver 2 is no longer an open-world title as its predecessor was. All paths are linear, with no secrets or hidden locales to explore. Moreover, Raziel no longer has to fight bosses nor does he gain abilities as he did before. Rather, he keeps those learned when fighting his brethren save for Dumah's constrict ability, though that particular skill was never all that useful to begin with. Even the glyph magic is now gone, with no available substitutes to earn or unlock.

For as many step backs as the game took in gameplay, it seems to have take twice as many when it came to story, character interaction and dialogue. There's a reason why Soul Reaver 2 is remembered for its plot and to put it simply; this game provides possibly the best time-traveling storyline ever written. As a newcomer to a different era, Raziel plays the perfect conduit for players, he is as lost in this world as we are, knowing only what we do from Blood Omen.

This vulnerability opens a web of lies, conspiracies and mistrust where neither player nor character know which side to trust. From the titular Kain to the return of the Elder God, Moebius and a few new characters, we are never sure on which side, if any is speaking the truth. Sadly, we are never given the option to decide for Raziel, rather we simply guide him as we platform, face enemies and explore long abandoned temples.

Combat also took a turn for the worse. No longer facing off against vampires, Raziel's foes are either human, spectres or demons all of which can die rather easily with enough strikes, so carrying impaling weapons, while still useful, are no longer a necessity. The Soul Reaver also gains increased prominence as it can now be used at any time regardless of whether or not our anti-hero is in full health. The wraith blade is as its most powerful here, becoming more powerful with use until it instantly kills enemies with just one strike. However, should it become over-aroused it will also start hurting Raziel, needing a cooldown period to recover. Regardless, combat hardly ever poses a threat, not once have I felt the need to properly learn it simplistic combo system as I never had any trouble dispatching even the toughest of foes.

Though Raziel no longer gains any abilities, the same cannot be said for the Soul Reaver. In order to progress, we are often required to explore ancient forges which grant upgrades to the wraith blade. These act as dungeons, all of which carry their own specific theme such as light, fire or air and require players to unlock several puzzles related to their element. Upon clearing a forge you are granted a reaver upgrade though their usefulness is limited. Rather than providing combat or exploration enhancements, they open specific doors or must be used in fixed/scripted points. Employing its power in these spots can create shadow bridges, light darkened areas or create wind torrents to better guide you, however, the fact you cannot use them at will greatly diminishes any sense of reward from acquiring them.

Thankfully, the puzzle design in Soul Reaver 2 is stronger this time around. No longer are we required to slide blocks, having to rely instead on thematic puzzle-solving and jumping. With no boss encounters throughout the experience, this is another point where Soul Reaver 2 feels hollow. In fact, the only reward for progressing is learning more of this carefully crafted tale.

Indeed the plot is without a doubt the main reason to play. All voice actors without exception perform their roles admirably as their characters come to life through their Shakespearean dialog. Not once will you ever question Raziel's motivation for what he does, but at the same time you question everyone else's as you never know who is an ally or if you even possess any. The game makes it clear there is much you're not being told, but it only drops you small bits of information as you progress, motivating players to press on further. While I won't reveal the ending, I will say it ends on both a plot twist and a cliffhanger and an outstanding one at that.

Throughout his quest, Raziel will travel through different time periods of Nosgoth. However, the portion of the world we see is but a fraction of the world size in Blood Omen or even Soul Reaver for that matter. Thankfully, the land is beautifully rendered, ranging from bright, vivid colors to dark, depressing locales and times. Still, one can't help but feel disappointed as to how little we get to see, which is made even worse by the fact that we are constantly re-visiting the same areas in different time-zones. To make matters worse, Soul Reaver 2 is criminally short, taking little more than an afternoon to complete it.

From a narrative standpoint Soul Reaver 2 is one of the best games of its time. A well-crafted dialog, enticing plot and engaging characters serves as the main motives to progress. Sadly, the gameplay itself is a hollow experience, sacrificing many of its predecessor's strongest elements in favor of dull combat, a linear world and no replay incentive.

Trivia: Did you know Soul Reaver 2 was originally going to launch for the Sega Dreamcast as well? Leaked screenshots showed it to be nearly indistinguishable from its Playstation 2 counterpart. Sadly, with that version was cancelled with the announcement of the console's demise

- Well-written plot with Shakespearean dialog
- Some of the best voice-acting output ever put into a videogame
- Possibly the best time travel story ever told
- Stronger puzzle design with no sliding blocks

- Combat has been simplified and is now useless at best and annoying at worst
- No longer an open world, Soul Reaver 2 is now entirely linear
- Unlike its predecessors, there are now no secrets to explore
- Zelda-like elements have been cast-off
- Short

Final Grade: B-

The Playstation 2 packaging ditches the hologram cover of the first one in favor of a more traditional model. I can't say I appreciate the box art as much as I did in the original game. Inside, you'll find the game, manual and an Eidos registration card.

Funnily enough, the back of the box is misleading, stating Raziel can earn new glyphs and physical abilities, something which never made it onto the final release. There's even a screenshot featuring Raziel performing an animation from Soul Reaver which isn't present in Soul Reaver 2 either.

The manual is pretty solid, effectively summarizing the events of Blood Omen and Soul Reaver while detailing the game's intricacies. The text is adorned by screenshots and the occasional artwork though sadly, all images are in black and white. Overall, I quite like this packaging, even without the hologram cover it's still a solid packaging.

Packaging Grade: B