BloodRayne Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Terminal Reality


Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

Her mother raped by a vampire, Rayne was born a Dhampir – half vampire and half human with the strongest characteristics of both. The time is the 1930s, and Rayne has hacked her way across Europe to seek revenge on her vampire father. Along the way, she is spotted by a secret organization called the Brimstone Society, dedicated to protecting humanity from supernatural threats. Enlisted into their order, Rayne becomes Agent BloodRayne. Her mission is to prevent the Nazis from tapping into an ancient supernatural force that they believe holds the key to ultimate power and ultimate victory for the Aryan race. As you might imagine, the Nazis don't stand much of a chance. After all, behind every successful secret order is a woman with twin arm blades and a thirst for blood.

Rating:
Rob de los Reyes


Let there be no illusions. When BloodRayne was drawn, she was drawn to be sexy to the graphic novel crowd. And she is. Her attacks were animated to produce a level of carnage that would be gory enough to satisfy all but the hardest of the hardcore blood-and-guts crowd. And it is. Breasts bouncing, enemy gibbets flying, and unceasing action are the enduring images here, crowding out some hinted brooding. Those of you old enough to sprout chest hair may regret that this game doesn't deliver a dark and erotic story with a more mature attitude, but BloodRayne certainly has the opportunity to grow into that role. For the time being, however, it's worth planting your tongue firmly in cheek and enjoying BloodRayne for what it is – an instant gratification action-fest with a heroine whose appeal you only admit to your fellow gamers.

Actually, it isn't quite instant gratification. The first level begins as a helpful tutorial, but, lessons taught, turns into an exceedingly bland "normal" level. The colors are drab, the environments barren (where are all the spooky swamp trees?) and your best combat moves and vision modes haven't been given to you yet. Top it off with jumping puzzles, nondescript enemies and an end boss who's hard to target with your melee moves, and it's easy to understand some of the poor first impressions BloodRayne is making with game renters.

But the splendidly intense and morbidly comic introductory cinematic is a harbinger of good things to come. Those who give up before the second major game segment miss out on a dramatic improvement in gameplay. At the start of the new segment, BloodRayne is given "Dilated" vision mode. Dilated vision mode is, in all but one detail, "bullet time" from Max Payne which is a nifty special effect that simulates extra speed on your part by causing the rest of the world to slow down. By this point you will also have added more combat moves to your chain of combos. In addition, you are transported to Argentina, site of (what else?) a secret Nazi base dedicated to harnessing the supernatural to the cause of Nazism. In brief, nearly every facet of the game gets more interesting in a single transition, and it gets still better after the transition to the final segment.

Dilated vision mode is necessary or useful at a number of moments, but mostly it just looks good. Recognizing this fact, as soon as the mode is made available, you're given a dumber-than-usual enemy to experiment on. Also in recognition of the "cool" factor, and unlike Max Payne, you may activate this mode whenever you wish and leave it on for as long as you want. It was here – plunging BloodRayne's chain harpoon into the torso of a guard, yanking him chest-first across the room, pummeling him, throwing him to the ground and feeding on him as blood spurted in slow motion to the sounds of screaming and slurping – that your reviewer's wife decided that she had had enough of this game and demanded the reappearance of "that game with Frodo in it." Alas for said wife, plenty of game was left to be played, and your reviewer had no intention of stopping.

The added combat moves make a world of difference. These later double arm blade maneuvers are inventive, smoothly animated and yield gruesome results. Their utility will prompt you to structure fights against multiple opponents so that you can be certain of getting to those end effects, and the slick animation will prompt you to activate the Dilated vision mode for a closer look. But even if you don't take advantage of the new moves tactically, you're bound to trigger them on occasion through random button-mashing. At a minimum, then, they provide some variety in a lengthy series of what might otherwise become repetitive fights.

The level design becomes more visually engaging after the Louisiana segment, culminating in the magnificent creepy German castle of the final major game segment. Although much of the action is contained indoors, the levels are sprawling. In general, rooms are detailed and unique. In a couple of rooms, giant Nazi banners hang from a ceiling and flutter when you brush past them – or hack them to shreds. The muted color palette doesn't serve the display of organic material as well as it does military vehicles, warehouses and mines, but the introduction of a "fleshy" level does break the routine. The game areas are frequently multi-tiered, affording the opportunity to bounce around and choose ranged or melee combat. Many objects are fully destructible, and those that aren't get some decal treatment to mark a swipe of your blades. Like a good set of playground equipment, most levels offer enough places to open, hide in, climb on, destroy, jump over and run around to give you a satisfying chance to play around with your superhuman abilities and weaponry.

All of which makes what seem like "rookie" design mistakes so frustrating. The irritating jumping puzzles return briefly, though it seems like an eternity to play. There are a few long levels that lead up to tough boss fights with no save points anywhere along the way. When you die, it's back to square one. On other occasions, boss fights are prefaced by long cut-scenes. The trouble is that, having enjoyed the scenes once, you can't skip past them when, inevitably, you need to redo the boss fight. BloodRayne is lengthy enough in pure content not to need such tricks to artificially stretch out the game. Having said that, some of the content is bafflingly repetitive. You'll be asked to locate a battery on multiple occasions. Even if it makes sense to mix in a few "find the object" tasks amidst the fighting, couldn't it be something other than a battery the second time around? Anything at all, really. And given the number of times you are asked to kill a man in a red jacket, you'll swear the game script was drafted by the same folks who ritualistically killed off all the red-shirted crewmen in the original Star Trek.

Fortunately, you'll generally have few problems finding your way to that battery or officer in a red jacket. A sort of radar system to guide you to your next objective is incorporated into your Aura vision mode, which also operates as a thermal view suitable for fighting in dim rooms. The Aura vision and sensible level design take care to strike a nice balance between making sure you don't get too lost and leading you straight to your goal. The objective marker is visible through walls and smaller the further away the objective lies. Yet often you'll still have to pick your way around, exploring and sometimes heading away from the goal in order to wind back around to it. The marker is helpful without permitting you to check your brain at the door.

As undoubtedly planned, BloodRayne looks like the start of a franchise, perhaps across multiple media. BloodRayne herself is provocatively drawn and voiced with sultry power. The game is rich and vivid, even if a bit transparent in pandering to the lowest common denominator. Like the start of other franchises, there are some birth pangs to be endured here. Strikingly, however, many of the hard bits – like creating an interesting and unique character and delivering complex actions with simple controls – are the ones that appear to have been conquered in BloodRayne's debut. What remains is for the developers to get to know BloodRayne and so find a better variety of things for her to do than "kill officer in red jacket" – or at least find better ways of decorating such missions. Such awkwardness is imminently fixable. If the BloodRayne franchise is able to do so (perhaps even in time for the PC version?), future BloodRayne games will be the object of sharp anticipation. In the meantime, stick this one out long enough to get your advanced moves. When it starts to get good, slap yourself on the wrist for indulging in the kind of game the media informs us is the cause of society's downfall, then hunker down for some hack and slash fun.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 31, 2002 7:30 PM.

The Pinball of the Dead Review was the previous entry.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex Review is the next entry.

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