Being a vampire is cool. I think it's safe to say, that along with the ranks of your Secret Agents, your Ninjas, Dragons, and the like, Vampires are among the top of the 'that dude is cool!' meter. And with that, comes Blood Omen 2's biggest selling point, just the fact that you can be the Vampire with all the cool moves, sucking blood and kicking good guy ass, the anti-hero if you will. In the past, most vampire games without Castlevania in the title have tended to be fairly mediocre affairs, but when Activision released the original Blood Omen for the Playstation back in 1996, it struck a chord with vampire-loving gamers everywhere. Now six years later, with the Blood Omen franchise in Eidos's hands, Blood Omen 2, the next-gen sequel has been released on both Playstation 2 and Xbox.
Blood Omen 2 takes place after Blood Omen 1, and about 1000 years before Soul Reaver (the other title in the Legacy of Kain series). You don't need to have played the original Blood Omen to get Blood Omen 2's story at all, but if you've played the original you'll enjoy some of the subtleties they both share. Anyway, as the story goes, after the events of Blood Omen, Kain (both game's lead character, and arrogant, vampire bad ass extraordinare) eventually came to be the king of the Vampires, and so, also the king of the human race. His reign would not last forever though, as the humans would soon form a resistance, and eventually an army, lead by a mysterious knight from another world. As Kain was to squash the very existence of the army, he was struck down, beaten by the knight, and robbed of his most prized possession, his mighty weapon, the Soul Reaver. Flash forward a few decades, Kain has been revived, only now he has been brought back to serve a vampire resistance. The humans and their army, still lead by the mysterious knight, have driven the vampires into hiding. Irony pulls a fast one on poor Kain, and now instead of slaughtering the resistance against his rule, he must now fight back, on the side of a resistance, struggling to keep his own race alive.
The story in Blood Omen 2 is lead along by cut-scenes, usually after completing a chapter (10 chapters in all) or overcoming a significant obstacle. The script is obviously over-dramatisized, and definitely well thought out, which works very well for the gothic, medieval-like setting. Kain's character is also one of the most interesting I've seen in recent games, with an extremely good voice actor and great lines, he definitely gets you rooting for the badguy. And it's not just Kain that has an exceptional voice actor, almost all of the characters are given life by some very talented voices, most of which fit the characters very well. One thing I did notice though, is that in certain areas, the back ground sounds jump from their normal volume to insanely loud, making the voice work almost inaudible.
The game play in Blood Omen 2 is really fairly simple, even for an action game. The game gives you an easy combo attack, some grabbing attacks, and lets you earn some special abilities (called Dark Gifts), and that's about all there is to it. Seriously. Keeping with the simplicity theme, the game is also extremely linear. You're never really given a choice as to where you want to go, and there are very few places you can go that stray from the main path in the game. Another integral element in the game that again keeps with the simplicity element, are the puzzles. Box pushing and lever pulling will quickly become your best (or more aptly, worst) friends, and constant switching of Dark Gifts to complete a given puzzle will become the norm. And really, the annoying part here, is that almost every single puzzle in the game is very straight-forward, the only times you will likely get confused or stuck are if you don't understand a small, seemingly unimportant piece to the puzzle, making each puzzle more of an exercise in button pressing than an exercise in puzzle solving.
One of the more strategy-centric and talked about parts of Blood Omen 2, is the fact that Kain is constantly loosing blood, one drip at a time, making the need to kill everyone you see of importance. And here lies another useless feature, as each person gives you plenty of blood (which even increases per person as you go on), making the tiny bit you lose every few moments pointless. That's not that you shouldn't drink the blood of everyone you see though, no, there actually is a reward for drinking peoples' blood. Every time you drink someone's blood, not only do you rejuvenate part of your life bar, but you add a tiny bit to your lore meter. After drinking the blood of a number of people or enemies, your lore meter will fill up, and once full it will increase your maximum health bar. This also increases your lore bar though, so each time you increase your health bar it becomes harder to increase the next time.
On a graphical standpoint, considering Blood Omen 2 is a port of the Playstation 2 version, it still looks quite good compared to Xbox standards. It's no Halo by any means, but it certainly holds it's own. The character models in the game are all pretty simple (except for Kain and a few other key characters), but are animated nicely (despite some terrible collision detection problems). The textures and towns are expansive and generally very interesting in how they paint their foreign world. The frame rate also stays at a very nice, consistent pace. Some areas had me getting dizzy quickly though, with the game's camera and tight corridors.
All in all, Blood Omen 2 is a good game. It's not a triple-A, system seller, but it's a solid game none the less. If you enjoy story-driven games, gothic settings, or vampire bad asses, you'll enjoy BO2. It's definitely worth a rent at the least, if you're in the market for some action. As good as the hype? No. Good? Yes.