Monday, May 10, 2010

Legacy of Kain: Soulreaver (I)

Legacy of Kain is actually two series of related RPGs.  The Soulreaver series contrary to the Blood Omen series follows the adventures of Raziel, a fallen vampire lord turned wraith manipulated by the supernatural forces that spin the fictitious world of Nosgoth.  Raziel was once a lieutenant of Kain, A vampire king.  He and his brethren ruled the vampire activities for thousands of years.  Every now and again each of the vampires (including Kain) would undergo a metamorphosis that would endow them with even greater vampiric powers.  Raziel had been the first to surpass his King and in doing so he was exiled and sentenced to death.  Kain had Raziel thrown into a deep lake which to most vampires would incinerate them like acid on flesh.  Raziel was destroyed but his remains wash up in the chambers of a subterranean deity (known as the Elder God) who restores Raziel as a wraith.  He sends Raziel on a quest for vengeance on Kain who the Elder God considers an abomination to the cycle of life which he maintains.  Raziel now feeds on spectral energy such as the newly severed souls of the freshly killed lives, or the soul energy of a felled undead.  Since Raziel's life force was once that of a vampire's Raziel can absorb the powers of his felled brethren - especially useful since he is being specifically sent to the living world to hunt down all of his brethren and Kain as to return them to the Wheel of Fate the Elder God is the personification of.

The gameplay is third person (over the shoulder) perspective.  You play Raziel who you must navigate through 3D freestyle seamless environments which are first interwoven by caves and roadways and tunnels but as you pass certain waypoints you activate a portal that Raziel can travel back and forth from.  You are free to go anywhere but are usually guided by accomplishing puzzles and unlocking more of the world.  Your search for your brethren and Kain will push you through puzzles, respawning encounters and boss fights with key characters of the game's story.  After each boss fight Raziel absorbs new powers that either allow him to deal with more dangerous enemies or allow him access to more parts of the world.  He must also as well search for artifacts that boost or extend his life energy.

Perhaps the neatest thing about being undead is that you can't die.  When Raziel's life energy falls below empty Raziel disappears back into the realm of the undead where he must fend of malicious spirits and feed on felled soul energy to phase back into the realm of the living.  Furthermore, if he is defeated even in the realm of the spirit, he is reborn back in the chamber of the Elder God where he must travel back to his last point of progress - hence the waypoints become even more important in saving travel time.  Raziel can also shift back into the realm of the spirit at the players own choosing and use to his advantage the differing properties of both realities.

The interesting brainteasing environment puzzles are well balance with the equally challenging button mashing combat that can be unleashed in many satisfying ways.  If you are perhaps not so into incinerating your foes you can as well grab spear-like implements from the environment to whack and impale your quarry.

Raziel's first journey through Nosgoth ends with a promise of more soul sucking adventures to come as Kain escapes Raziel's clutches through a time portal.  You can find Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (I) on Ebay for less than $20 USD.

The Mirror's Edge

I hate racing games and I do not have the reflexes to enjoy games that involve precision jumping onto precariously high places.  But I do enjoy this game which has both.  The Mirror's Edge is a slick well done FPS style game that involves running, jumping, and scaling through a realistically rendered futuristic cityscape.  You play Faith - a futuristic courier who contrary to real couriers (who run the streets) run the roof tops of high rises.  The couriers are portrayed as an underground network that corporations use to deliver sensitive packages that could otherwise be intercepted by rival corporations or the law.

Faith has just returned from being out of action from a fall she sustained previously.  But just as she gets her legs back her sister who is a police officer is framed for the murder of a prominent mayor candidate.  She must now rely on her connections to the underground to find out why her sister has been framed and avoid the police who is out to arrest her as her sister's suspected accomplice.

The game has an FPS gameplay but no weapon inventory.  Faith instead can use her speed to quickly disarm her pursuers and use their weapons but she must throw away the weapon to perform her acrobatic feats.  Other than that the game's focus is on basically getting to the next cut scene anyway you can.

The graphics are very slick and opposite to many 3D games the cutscenes are actually cel shaded like a comic book where as the gameplay is realistically rendered.  Both are very effective at delivering the story behind the game that is somewhat a complicated conspiracy plot.  The visuals are very (very) bright and contrasted of sunlit solid basic colours and bright white.  On the default settings of the game pathways are indicated by solidly coloured (usually red) structures that players can easily spot amidst avoiding gunfire and the the adrenaline rush one gets running through this game.

The Mirror's Edge is a console port (from XBox).  For some odd reason the default mapping of the controls was reversed for my PC-gamepad and I spent a couple of hours finding and successfully editing.  I, however, am still out on which control method is better.  I find my self constantly switching between "noob-stick" and keyboard and at one point had the gamepad on my left hand to control motion and mouse on my right hand for precise targeting and combat.  You'll have to find your own comfort zone on this one but I am quite surprised controls for a well produced game can be so awkward.  Further more the game apparently has the down button for forward and an up button for backward - not an easy thing for even anyone playing on a gamepad.  Luckily these are all quite fixable with some config file editing.  The Mirror's Edge can be found on Steam for $29 USD.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

This is book one of what fans of Stephen King call his magnum opus.  The Dark Tower is an epic series of books written by Stephen King inspired by the poem "The Childe, Rolland, to the Dark Tower Came".  The series is not your usual monster horror novels King has become famous for cranking out.  The series is an actual fantasy epic.  It follows the journey of Rolland Deschain in his desperate quest to save his dying home of Mid-World.  To do so he must find the legendary Dark Tower - a nexus of universes that might hold the key to reversing the decay of time and space that has ravaged his homeward and thrown his civilization into chaos.

The series starts by introducing Rolland Deschain.  He is a lone man crossing a barren plain armed with two sandalwood handled six shooters and dressed in the image of what we recognize as that of a cowboy on the western 19th century North American frontier.  We are told he seeks the man in black who goes by the name Walter because he would know what had destroyed his childhood home. 

We are not given much more about Rolland before he comes across a hermit tending to his meager crops.  He invites Rolland for diner at which Rolland confesses to killing everyone in a nearby town called Tull.  He explains that he had angered the fanatical priest who controlled the town and upon getting ready to take his leave they attacked him thus forcing his epic dispatch of every citizen.  He adds that perhaps the man in black that he had followed to the town was somewhat responsible for the attack.  The next morning Rolland with out incident leaves the hermit to continue his pursuit of Walter.

The next part of his journey wears at his strength as the desert dries him of most of his water supply.  He happens upon an abandoned town where he meets Jake Chambers - a boy who was killed in present day New York of our world.  He saves Rolland by finding him much needed water and takes to Rolland like an orphan takes to a father figure.

At this point through flashbacks we get a quick synopsis of Rollands youth.  He was the son of a king who held court with an army of law bringers known as Gunslingers.  They lead disciplined lives and learn the ways of the gun and the laws they were to uphold.  He grew up early - enraged by Martin (A man who was an adviser to his father and of whom Walter is working for) who had taken his mother as a lover he faced his test of manhood a year before he was expected.  His father who was somewhat aware of a conspiracy afoot sends Rolland on a quest to survey the outer rim of the kingdom to inconspicuously keep him away from the hidden dangers plaguing his court.

Rolland and Jake continue on the path to the man in black but not before they are chased down and cornered by undead in a mine.  Rolland is then faced with saving Jake from falling into an underground chasm or follow Walter before he loses his trail.  Rolland chooses to follow the man in black and Jake falls into the chasm.

Rolland finally reaches the man in black who states that he himself is only a pawn for the man who controls the Dark Tower and that he is there to convey a message by reading his fate on a deck of Tarot cards.  Walter tells him that his quest will lead him to the Dark Tower depicted by the Tower card at the center of the reading.  He also tells him he will not be alone and will be accompanied by three characters depicted by the three cards: the Lady of Shadows, the Prisoner, and the Sailor.  The man in black continues by trying to discourage Rolland in that his journey might be in vein and poses to him that he is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  He gives Rolland the choice to turn back and live the remaining years in peace or to continue knowing the troubles to come.  Rolland choses to continue at which he falls into a deep sleep.

When Rolland awakes it is ten years later.  Still at the same place Walter read his fate a skeleton which he can only assume was the man in black sits across the ashes of the fire they sat at.  Rolland gets up and continue his journey towards a distant but visible shoreline.  Book one of the Dark Tower series ends here with a promise of his epic journey to continue in the next book of the series - The Drawing of Three.  If you are still not convince that these books are a "must read" then I suggest you at least read this book before you make that decision.