Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Ten years before Crystal Dynamics began making Tomb Raider games, they were making rivals to Tomb Raider games. Technically a spinoff from the Blood Omen series, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver saw fallen vampire Raziel on a path of vengeance against his lord Kain and five of his undead brothers.
I originally played Soul Reaver when I was twelve years old, mainly because I was fascinated by its grisly environmental executions. But I remember it for the equal parts brilliant and bonkers level design that made even the maddest of Thief’s missions seem straightforward by comparison. Not only was its sprawling gothic world loopy to start with, but you could also phase between two slightly different versions of it, which formed the basis for many of its puzzles. Think Dishonored II’s “A Crack in the Slab” mission, only stretched out across an entire game.
As this suggests, Soul Reaver was years ahead of its time. The way the world warps around you when you phase between the physical and spirit worlds is still an impressive effect, and the dreary realm of Nosgoth has more than a little of Lordran about it. The writing and voice acting is also superb for a late nineties third-person puzzler. As it happens the game was directed by Amy Hennig, who went on to direct the Uncharted series for Naughty Dog. This in turn was CD’s main source of inspiration for the rebooted Tomb Raider games.
Visually Soul Reaver is showing its age, and functionally is rather temperamental on modern PCs (if you’re considering a purchase, the GOG version is more stable than the Steam version). Otherwise it’s still an excellent game, perhaps the finest example of nineties’ 3D platformers.