Ever since Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was revealed as a cancelled Square Enix reboot of the 1999 classic Soul Reaver, fans have wept as they saw screenshots and details of the game they wanted for years but never got. NeoGaf user “MamaRobotnik” has obtained a 32 minute video of an early demo from Dead Sun. Fans of Soul Reaver have to steel themselves once again as the video shows a small but eye-opening glimpse of exactly what this game might have been like.
But first, a quick primer on Dead Sun. Taking place long after Raziel and Kain’s adventures, this would have followed a new protagonist, Asher. After he and his family are murdered by a vampire named Gein, something strange happens. In a “two minds, one body” scenario, Asher’s mind would have then taken control of Gein’s body, with Gein remaining as a ghost only we can see, and the two personas would have conversed throughout the game as Asher got used to his new abilities and vampirism. You can read a far more in-depth plot synopsis on the NeoGaf thread here.
Watching this video, it’s clear that the game absolutely nailed it some areas, and failed in others. I wrote an article previously about how Soul Reaver should be brought back, and it’s interesting to look over the video and see where they got it right….or not, at sometimes the case may be.
The shifting between realms that we saw in the 1999 original now takes place instantaneously, just as I thought it would. This is exactly the sort of thing that 15 years of technological advancement will allow – and it looks great. Watching Asher jump around and shift into the spectral realm in seamless real-time (unlike stopping to open a menu in the original), even mid-air, makes one wonder about the puzzling possibilities it would have thrown up. One thing of note is that the spectral realm looks a little different than it used to, and entire structures exist in one plane but not the other. There doesn’t seem to be any of the “morphing” going on like in Soul Reaver, however, but I’m willing to bet that it would have been more prevalent in indoor areas.
This whole area evokes the setting of Soul Reaver’s famous opening video
Another thing that looks good is the setting. More specifically, when the camera pans up and we see enormous smokestacks belching thick smoke into the sky to block the sun, it really shows that the developers at Climax Studios and Square Enix London were really paying attention to the more obscure aspects of the Soul Reaver lore.
In the Neogaf thread, one of the game’s actual developers, going by the username “whatevermort”, has made posts talking about the ideas the team had for the game, as well as its development:
“I hope somebody leaks some videos of other parts of the game. I don’t have any, annoyingly, but others who worked on it might have a video of The Temple Of The Whore Saint, which was one of the dungeons. The thing to remember is that this bit is a small chunk of what was essentially Hyrule field – an expanse designed to lead from place to place. The person playing this is really taking their time with a bit of the game that has zero missions – the actual structure was far more Zelda/Soul Reaver than this might appear.”
The game would have been an epic-sized open world action adventure based on progression through puzzle-filled dungeon areas. That sounds brilliant and anyone who has played Zelda or Darksiders II will agree that an emphasis on great level design and puzzle solving is exactly what is missing in AAA games these days. To see Asher walking around knowing that the structures in the distance would have likely been explorable later on makes it all the more tragic to know that this game was cancelled. In another post, “whatevermort” sums up the grand plan for the game:
“…the plan was: platforming, puzzles, dungeons, huge bosses, a MASSIVE amount of exploration. Outside the tutorial bit (which is in the video), no handholding. Jumping was automated (like Zelda meets AA), but the actual platforming was all puzzle based (realm shifting, tricky jumps, having to move quickly, planning in advance etc). The combat was very Batmanish, though, only much faster. Like an angry pinball with fatalities.”
Speaking of the combat, it does look very similar to the Batman games, with Asher leaping to and from different human enemies as he takes them out. This is one of the weaker aspects in my opinion, as one of the unique selling points of Soul Reaver was that the enemies you fought were all vampires, and so needed dispatching in specific ways, often using the environment. This turned many of the combat encounters into a Bioshock-esque affair as you had many ways to kill the enemies, and it was up to you how to go about it.
Yes, this is a cancelled game that will never see the light of day, and the video shows a very early vertical slice presentation (anyone who’s ever used Unreal Engine 3 will immediately recognise the infamous “lighting needs to be rebuilt” message), but it’s worth pointing out that there are tons of issues with the game. The visual glitches and framerate drops are easily explained as this is an early build, but the dialogue and voice acting sometimes reaches horrendous territory. The nigh-constant swearing and the and the shameless attempt to be edgy with needlessly exposed breasts and enemy taunting (you’ll hear “F***ing leech!” every 3 seconds during combat) falls flat on its face completely, and totally fails in both immersing anyone into the game world and capturing the Shakespearean feel of Amy Hennig’s writing on the original series.
Imagine Michael Bell and Simon Templeman voicing these two
Overall though, I can’t help but feel that Dead Sun would have been a decent game. It would have lived and died by its level design and its integration with mechanics such as the spectral realm, objects such as switches, and any new abilities Asher would have picked up. It feels like that’s what the developers wanted to focus on, and it’s a shame that Legacy of Kain still hasn’t received an update (fun as Nosgoth is, it doesn’t count) but it so nearly happened. Consider this, though: what if the game was cancelled from on high because of its intended emphasis on puzzles? What if it wasn’t “AAA” enough to justify its development cost? We can only hope that something big happens in the games industry to shake up the processes or efficiency of game development to keep costs low or stories like Dead Sun’s will be repeated.