Blood Omen 2
Vampires kick ass. It’s such a simple truth, a concept that has been passed down through the generations. When it comes to complete and utter coolness, vampires take the medal. The pale flesh, the mystical powers, even the never-ending thirst for blood make up one of the most feared characters ever conceived by the human mind. We’ve been graced with Dracula early on, a legacy that has helped cement countless other vampire tales and one of the most popular gaming franchises in gaming history. But in this current generation of consoles, what’s left for these creatures of the night? Unfortunately, Dracula’s heyday seems to have past with the previous generation. Aside from BloodRayne, the only video game with a heroic vampire is Blood Omen 2.
Have you ever played a Castlevania game? Do you ever wonder what happens to the evil vampire once you’ve supposedly vanquished him for all eternity? Blood Omen 2 takes you past the glitz and glamour of vampire hunting and puts you in the perspective of a vampire down on his luck. We become familiarized with Kain, a vampire who’s been defeated in battle. Apparently, his defeat resulted in him losing most of his strength, special powers, and even his memories. If those weren’t bad enough, he’s also lost the Soul Reaver, his mighty weapon of death and destruction. Needless to say, things aren’t looking too good for this creature of the night. However, another vampire named Umah has revived him. This femme fatale of the underworld represents the Cabal, a small band of renegade vampires. Since Kain’s infamous battle, a new group has come to power in the city of Meridian. The Sarafan, a group of gung ho human vampire hunters, have taken control of all the major cities around. The only way to stop this influx is to assassinate their leader and bring the Cabal back in charge.
That’s a pretty big task to give someone when they’ve just woken up from a coma. What’s Kain supposed to do? He has no weapon, no powers, and to top it all of, he needs a drink. All he can do is go through the unavoidable training mode and relearn every sick and demented battle technique he’s acquired over the years. He may not have a sharp metal object to do his dirty work, but he still has some formidable claws and a few fancy karate combos to back him up. He’ll eventually be able to pick up various weapons from the foes he’ll devour on his path of retribution. You’ll be able to wield daggers, maces, swords, and just about every weapon that your average medieval warrior can throw at you. Also, he can reacquire some supernatural abilities as he makes his progress through the city. Take the Mist Ability for example. When you activate this power and step into a patch of fog, you can sneak around the area Solid Snake style. Since you’re basically invisible in the duration of the spell, you can sneak past guards or ram a sword through their backs. But it doesn’t matter if you choose to be stealthy or if you prefer the head on approach. In the end, you’ll be gargling every liter of blood that flows out of your enemies’ bodies. Once you’ve thrashed them around long enough, you can stand over the corpses and drink their blood at your leisure.
However, it’s not all about terrorizing hapless victims. In order for Kain to progress deeper into the city, he has to navigate the terrain. Meridian is a labyrinth of dark alleys, rickety catwalks, dilapidated buildings, and a fair amount of rats. It’s up to you to completely take in your dismal surroundings and look for a possible entryway to the next section of town. It’ll usually involve jumping from a certain rooftop or wandering into an alleyway. Since the level setups are linear, you’re not going to have too much trouble figuring out where to go next. However, there are quite a few minor puzzles to impede Kain’s progress. Apparently the Sarafan have implemented their technology throughout the city, creating all sorts of barriers and obstacles along the various paths. Kain will have to turn off force fields, move a few conspicuous items, and grab onto some conveniently placed ledges. With plenty of these little obstacles strewn throughout the levels, you’ll have to pay closer attention to what you’re actually doing.
However, none of these mini puzzles are particularly difficult. It’s just a matter of finding a certain item or button to press in order to solve it. The real difficulty stems from a few control issues. For an undead warlord, Kain has some pretty laggy attacks. The button responsiveness is occasionally unreliable, lending to the game’s periodic slow downs. When you execute Kain’s three hit combo, it takes almost a full second before he’s ready to continue his offensive. Not only are the attacks out of sync, but the actual hit detection can also be aggravatingly unreliable. Sometimes you’ll take a swing at close proximity of your victim, but you’ll hit nothing but air. And as you wait for Kain to recover from his missed attack, your foe will likely slash you a few times to return the favor. There are also a fair amount of glitches when it comes to Kain’s jumping and landings. If you somehow miscalculate the jump onto a rooftop or ledge, Kain will slowly slide down the face of the building. It’s all of these minor problems that add up to one major headache as you progress through the game.
But if the game designers got one thing right, it’s the presentation. The city of Meridian is a dark and Gothic place, perfectly befitting of such a character like Kain. We’re thrust into a place that looks like it’s been modeled after post-industrial London. The slums are shadowy and mysterious, with only a few lanterns to help out the inhabitants. There are factories, taverns, sewers, cemeteries, and just about every other generic location that you’d find in this kind of a game setting. The flickering of oil lamps and campfires lend so much more realism. Too bad the characters are all deformed and out of place. Sure, the peasant folk are dressed in rags and knights wear some tough armor, but their proportions and overall design are lackluster at best. It’s sad when the most realistic looking character is a vampire with milk white flesh and glowing red eyes. However, the general portrayal of the city and the foreboding atmosphere make up for the other shortcomings.
This presentation is augmented with some terrific audio quality. All of the voice actors have performed with superb talent and ability. Kain has a curt, almost gentlemanly voice. Every time you trigger a cutscene, you’ll be treated to his thoughtful observations and his commanding tone of voice. Even though the dialogue doesn’t always match up perfectly with the character animation, the quality is still there. Also, all of the victims have a few lines of their own. For some reason, it’s so much more stalking your prey when they’re backing away from you and screaming for help. As you progress through the levels, you’ll be subject to the overall ambiance of a desolate city of death. The soft wind blowing through the streets, the cries for help, everything just seems to fall into place once the volume is turned up.
What future is in store for this wayward vampire? To be honest, I’m not sure if this series has enough momentum to make it to another sequel. While the original Blood Omen was top notch by its standards, Blood Omen 2 falls just a little bit short of expectations. While this game could have been fun, the list of glitches and problematic controls makes this game a little bit a chore to complete. While it features an excellent overall presentation, the actual gameplay comes off dull and uninspired. Of course, there’s nothing quite so novel and chugging your enemy’s blood.