Friday 16 August 2019

Soul Reaver's 20th anniversary

It is kinda hard to imagine that it was over 20 years ago when I have first played Soul Reaver Lighthouse demo in March 1999. I was 11 years old when I got my PlayStation and switched from PC gaming to consoles until 2009. Tomb Raider 3 was my very first proper game fully in 3D and I remember I was super excited and disoriented by the new posibilites of moving along all axis in a videogame. I was mostly brought up on side scrolling pixel games so when 3D finally became the norm, it was a totally new world to explore.

We came along way since the old limitations of 2MB memory of the original PlayStation, but back then such limitations gave rise to some of the best games and workarounds in history. Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, just an example of a few games which spawned huge series with a large fan following. However, in 1999, a continuation of a forgotten 2D game was finally released after several months of delays and premature magazine reviews. Eidos has released Akuji just a few months before Soul Reaver's release which felt more like an appetiser of what is to come. Soul Reaver released today 20 years ago and was hugely successful. Everything from the intricate design of its characters, breathtaking intro cinematic which got us all hooked on this gothic fantasy straight away and was heavily promoted.

Soul Reaver was also the first (to my knowledge and no, it wasn't Jak and Daxter) to use seamless streaming of the environment. This allowed for the developers to create a series of interconnected tunnels and larger rooms, while the game would only visualize the ones adjacent to the room you were in. Raziel's model itself was a sight to behold (his iconic idle stance is hard to forget too!) and his smooth animations were expertly done. In comparison to rather simplistic cartoon like look of Lara, it really stood out. The gliding and fighting mechanic were a breath of fresh air after 3 Tomb Raider games of pure shooting, I thought at the time, and the grotesque creatures prowling around in a sombre wasteland perfectly complemented the game's dark atmosphere. 

The dynamic soundtrack which changed not only based on the situation but also on whether you were outside, inside, solving a puzzle or battling a boss was an amazing feat which has never been repeated again in the series in such abundant variety. In comparison, SR2 has a lot less of types of music changing, lacking boss fight and puzzle solving section. The distinction between being outside and inside has been removed as well. Defiance even has trouble connecting the music seamlessly (apparent mostly in the Stronghold) and removes music from cutscenes altogether.

To this day is Soul Reaver still my favourite game and there is not a game like it out there. Many tried (Primal comes to mind) but not even Soul Reaver's own successors could reach the ambitions of this game which cut content can be written about for pages. This inner drive to discover Soul Reaver's deepest secrets has brought me here today.

To commemorate Soul Reaver's birthday, a number of sites released some interesting goodies with regards to our beloved series. The Legacy of Kain Wiki also shared a collection of manuals, sources, comics and other material. The Lost Worlds released a reverse-engineering toolkit for use with Ghidra, useful for those more technically skilled. The Ancient's Den decided it is finally time to release the biggest archive of Legacy of Kain magazine mentions, reviews, previews, interviews, etc. Many of them contain previously unseen images and information. It is all uploaded on G-drive so you can view the individual magazines and read or download them separately. Thanks to everybody who contributed to this collection!