When I think back over the history of Video Games and the kinds of games that I really have enjoyed while I've been what some would say a Hardcore Gamer. I realise there have been a lot of various genres, platform, shooter, puzzle and others. Some have been combined in one game more than once, but somewhere along the lines it's usually the story that suffers and the voice acting.

I think for me the first game that changed all this was Soul Reaver on the PC and PS1. And I'm glad to have had the chance to review Soul Reaver 2 for the PS2. Is it better than SR1? Is it worth playing? I think so on both of those counts.

Essentially the game stays the same, the level load times that plague most games are absent from SR2 as they were in SR1. The combat system has been improved and tweaked, the graphics are much more dynamic and richer thanks to the PS2's system and the careful detail the programmers/developers have put into the game.

SR2 picks up roughly where SR1 leaves off though it does alter the ending of the last game a little to lead in to more of the story. Raziel confronts Kain in the Chronoplast chamber and Kain escapes into the past. But I won't tell you how or why or the dialogue that they exchange since it will spoil the story/game somewhat.

So I'm going to concentrate on what has made this a good gaming experience for me and some of the things that you might like to know about that have been altered and changed. As I said the combat system is a lot better than SR1, the same hand to hand moves are there although the animation's better and the system is more responsive, camera angles can get in the way of a fight sometime but you can quickly use the right stick to whip the Camera around to get a better view. Also there's a lot more fighting in SR2, with 2 or 3 enemies surrounding you all set on turning Raz into a pulpy blue mass.

Raziel can now take weapons from fallen enemies and use them against another, there's a nice selection of spears, pole axes and swords to be nicked now. Since you spend a lot of time fighting humanoid adversaries you'll be deluged in red spatters in no time. Yep there's a little more blood in SR2 than there was in one, and it's all different colours. Expect to see blue from Raziel as he's struck hard and red from Humanoid, some demonic creatures leave green. Raziel has several death strikes he can do when opponents are stunned, one of my favourites has to be still the thrust of a lit torch into the foe and their flailing arms as they ignite. Got a sword, Raziel does a credible Highlander and takes off the poor sods head.

You can autoface an enemy as per usual or choose to run around and try a sneaky stab or thrust while they're trying to get a bead on you. Enemy Combat AI has been improved a little but they still have an annoying habit of just using the one attack on you over and over again. You can dodge however, a quick push and tap of X and Raz is away usually around the back of them.

Of course the Soul Reaver is back and Raziel keeps all his powers that he acquired from the first game, wall climbing and spectral shifting through bars and grates. There's not so much an emphasis on puzzles in SR2 that is a good thing for me, I think the puzzle and battle elements are nicely balanced throughout the whole game. I do really prefer SR2 to 1. It has to be said. What puzzles there are will keep you occupied and tax your brain quite a lot. There are some really nice ones and they are all worth completing, much more a sense of reward comes from doing so. There's also less emphasis on freeform roaming in SR2 which is again a good thing, you're not put on rails but you are guided a little more, listen to the dialogue and watch the cut scenes to learn where to go. Ignore nothing...I can't stress this enough.

Ok the Soul Reaver itself is now much more a part of the game; Raziel is allowed to summon the blade at any time after an event that transpires early on, which I'll leave you to figure out yourselves. You now embark on your new journey through Nosgoth's land in the past, fighting Vampire Hunters and learning about the History and the tragedy of the land through Raziel's eyes. And about yourself, where you fit in and what part you've played when you were part of the living. As you move on you'll come across puzzle areas that hide an elemental forge. There are several of these as you play the game, Dark, Light, Air and Fire. The Reaver can be put into these places and imbued with special powers of elemental energy as you play the game. Again I'm not going to spoil it for you.

The graphics to SR are nothing short of jaw dropping, the sense of scale and architecture are preserved and rendered in some of the finest looking gothic style buildings I've seen in a game of this type. The character models are stunning for Raziel and the other characters in the game. Once more Raziel has been brought skilfully to life with a carefully animated set of motions. In the many games cut scene moments he has a full range of expressions using his eyes and brows. Not bad for an undead Soul Chomping being I can tell you. The other characters are fully lip synched and animated with emotions showing perfectly through with a careful use of facial movement, eyes, lips, mouths, teeth and tongue. It makes watching the scenes a joy to be quite honest.

Then there's the use of sound to compliment the gorgeous indoors and outdoor environments, top notch again, added to the game's wonderfully scripted dialogue and outstanding voice acting. Soul Reaver was a game that introduced a very coherent plot and some of the best talent in voices I'd ever heard. And the cast of one is back to redo two and they do a wonderful job at it.

Simon Templeman and Michael Bell as Kain and Raziel are supported with a cast of competent and famous voice actors from TV, Movies and Stage. With the introduction of Rene Auberjonois as one of the characters and Anna Gunn back as Ariel from Blood Omen (Legacy of Kain) and Soul Reaver the whole of the game is packed with top quality audio from start to finish. Evocative music and powerful speeches from the characters weave a story that has yet to be bettered by anyone.

One of Soul Reaver 2's features that I am particularly glad that they put in are the beacons that draw Raziel back to them if he loses his energy on the Spectral Realm. It's impossible to actually die in SR2, you can be beaten to a pulp and you will slip to the Spectral, get beaten there and you're back to the last illuminated beacon. Fortunately these are placed in decent places around the game and you don't have usually far to go to get back to the place you died at.

There are also markers like large Obelisks for you to save the game at, this will allow you to come back at a later time and carry on. I will say SR2 does have some bugs in that will annoy you so always save, you see one of those markers, use it and keep using it when you've beaten a puzzle or gained a new power. Save often and save a lot are my tips for this game.

There's probably a lot more I could say and yes it's wide open for a number 3, that's not a bad thing. It's nice to see a sense of continuity between the games and to say one last word, complete SR2 and you get a code to unlock the locked bonus content on the DVD. You'll love it or you'll hate it, the same as SR1. Personally I loved it and still do, so I recommend the game to you as a good break from the current set of releases. Until next time and Soul Reaver 3, laters.