Looking back on: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Microsoft Xbox)

(Some people start off their sites with welcome posts or some shit, but fuck that, let’s just get right down to it. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was repost old articles in a place where I can mercilessly mock my own writing style from ten years ago, because perspective is for losers, and since Scott Keith started doing it with his “Scott Sez” commentary a couple years ago, I liked that particular format, so I’m making this an homage to his work. Because that’s not stealing, you see.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
System: X-Box (I never understood the whole “X-Box” thing, looking back on it; I honestly think that was a thing I picked up from 411Games, because I stopped doing it not too long into writing for Inside Pulse/DHGF. Either way, it looks really stupid now.)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 8/19/02 (Oh my God I’ve been writing about video games for twelve years and haven’t been paid for it once. There is clearly something wrong with me.)

It’s a pretty accepted fact that licensed games, for the most part, really aren’t any good. To be honest, most of them are a lot like hitting yourself in the face with a hammer: it feels really good when you stop. (This has changed a bit in the past decade since this game was released; these days most licensed games are just “meh” and don’t quite reach Acclaim levels of badness. Hell, even South Park: Order of the Stick was astonishingly good, and that franchise has one of the worst track records in history. Brave new world indeed.)

For those not in the know, here’s a short sum-up of the source material: Buffy is a blonde valley girl character who also happens to be the chosen slayer of all things evil. She is joined in her quest by her friends, and spends most of her time killing vampires, hence the title, though she also kills demons, zombies, and other sorts of creatures of the night. (Here’s a short sum-up of my writing style: it took me about five years to learn how to properly transition between paragraphs, and even now I’m not great at it. Also I’m pretty sure, at this point, that Buffy had moved on to killing weird shadow-corporation assembled Frankenstein monsters, but at least we weren’t at the part where she was whining about being dead for a whole season.)

When I sat down to play Buffy, I was filled with mixed emotions… on one hand, I was deathly afraid of playing yet another poorly created licensed title made for the sole purpose of funneling in the almighty dollar. On the other hand, most of the actual talent from the show had agreed to do voice work for the game, the pictures I had seen of in-game action looked really tight, and I personally am a fan of the series itself, so I figured at worst, I could enjoy it based on the in-game humor.

Turns out I needn’t have worried. (The sequel, on the other hand, sucked out loud.)

Gameplay
The overall gameplay is based around a very simple to work with combination of Tomb Raider meets Tekken style of play. (Jesus, really? Was this style of game really that uncommon at this point that I described it as Tomb Raider meets Tekken? Holy shit. It plays like an ancestor of the Rocksteady Batman games, for reference.) Buffy moves fluidly, is very responsive, and can easily be used to solve puzzles one second and kick butt the next. (This was before my move to “curse as much as you want” levels during early Inside Pulse/DHGF days, before I eventually got tired of THAT and decided to only break out the heavy swearing for special occasions. So basically I’ve become a physical representation of the WWE, except with less muscles and tattoos.) The fighting combos are simple to learn, but difficult to master, (I hate that phrase but twelve years later I’M STILL USING IT.) thus making the game that much easier for beginners, or that much more fun for veterans. There was really no point where I felt that the controls were cumbersome, and for the most part, everything seemed to click. The item and command menus are also a snap to get through, and you can change weapons on the fly, which is important when you’re trying to get to a stake after your crossbow runs out, for example.

(It probably would’ve been good if I’d actually explained how the game worked, IE, how you would get different weapons as you progressed, like a holy-water-filled Super Soaker, or how you could instantly stake vampires if your timing was good, or that you even HAVE to stake vampires in the first place. Jesus, no wonder Bebito Jackson thought I sucked for years.)

Graphics
Unsurprisingly, the graphics are beautiful. I expected nothing less from the X-Box, but I was actually surprised with the amount of detail the developers included in-game. All of the characters look like their TV show counterparts, and each character model expresses emotions when talking, which really lends an air of reality to the game. Buffy in particular benefits from the most aesthetic beauty, as she’s incredibly well animated, to the point where her facial expressions change in battle and her lips move when she wisecracks. (You wouldn’t think that’d be a big deal or anything but Dragon Age: Inquisition STILL doesn’t do that, and that came out a month ago, so clearly that’s still a thing.) The random minions don’t benefit from quite as nice a makeover, but manage to look attractive enough that they don’t detract from the experience. Also of note is the in-game camera… it actually works for the most part, and it never hindered me to the point where I got upset with it, which seems to be a major sticking point with games of this type. The game’s backgrounds are, for the most part, well done, but nothing really jumps out at you… thankfully, the game’s special effects more than make up for that. Lighting effects are well accomplished here, and lend an eerie feel to the game’s environments, and overall, the mood is well established visually. (Well I sure learned a lot more words over the past decade.)

Sound
The nicest thing to say about the game’s sound is that the cast of voice actors is star-studded. Everyone from the TV show reprises their role in-game, with the notable exception of Buffy herself, Sarah-Michelle Gellar. (To this day that’s confusing as hell to me. I mean, consider this: Gellar has only ever contributed her voice to one video game, ever, and that was Call of Duty: Black Ops, when she was essentially playing herself. Meanwhile, her husband, according to Wikipedia, has worked for WWE for the past four years and did voicework for two Bioware games, as James Vega and Iron Bull. Who’d have thought Freddie Prinze Jr would be the nerd in that relationship?) Thankfully, the voice double they got to stand in for her sounds almost identical, so you won’t miss Gellar too much. (Or at all in my case.) The voice actors for the NPC’s are also enjoyable to listen to, and really seem to put their heart into their lines, thus making the in-game banter all the more enjoyable. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be enough comments to go around, as you will often hear the same lines used over and over and OVER again. (Still a problem twelve years later.) There’s only so many times I can hear Buffy say “This is my town” before I get tired of it. (“Yosuke, keep your head in the fight!” “Why’re you picking on me?!?”) Musically, the game is decent enough, with moody background music when appropriate, and heavy guitar driven beats when kicking butt, but there are, sadly, more than a few instances where there is no music whatsoever, and that makes this experience a little tedious at times. It’s a shame the game didn’t take advantage of the custom soundtrack ability; it would have been nice to whoop the undead hordes while listening to something with a little more bass, but that’s a minor complaint. (It amuses me that I had this huge hard-on for custom soundtracks during the early days of the Xbox and 360, but these days I could give a fuck less about it, mostly because virtually no one used the function because they’d sooner use their own in-game music. On one hand I completely understand, because I wouldn’t want to pay someone to make a soundtrack no one is going to listen to, but on the other, if you can tell me that you know the difference between orchestral pieces in Call of Duty titles you’re a fucking liar.)

Fun Factor
The game is actually very fun, even for people not acquainted with the show. The amount of weaponry and combat moves available makes fighting a breeze, and the fact that you can try to stake vampires whenever you wish makes the experience all the more interesting. (Okay so I did mention that you could stake vampires on the fly, but with no context associated to it. Good job me from twelve years ago, really pro.) The in game dialogue is humorous, for the most part, and the voice actors put their all into the acting, so the game gives you that energetic feel some games really lack. The enemies are diverse enough that they keep the game lively, and the environments change noticeably enough that you don’t feel like you’ve played this before. My only real complaints here are small… the difficulty seems to be very skewed at times; when the game begins, you fight vampires, which makes sense storyline-wise. Two levels into the game, however, you find yourself fighting spiders and the undead, who, by comparison, are MUCH easier to kill than vampires. (Basically how it worked was that vampires HAD to be staked, and while you COULD stake them randomly, more often than not you had to beat them to death for an unreasonable amount of time. Normal monsters, on the other hand, lacked the instant-kill option, and were much easier to kill to counter-balance that. It was kind of weird.) Also of note is that as they give you new toys to use, the game seems to get substantially easier, and nothing is ever thrown at you to really change that fact. In addition, there are times where you get stuck, with no idea of what you should be doing, and the game gives you no real idea of where to go next. This happens infrequently, but it’s often enough to be noted. (These days Buffy would be repeating “I HAVE TO GO TO THE SCHOOL” every sixty seconds while a mini-map would be showing you where to go at all times, which isn’t specifically an improvement.)

The 411 (I have cousins who don’t understand what that means because no one has had to use that term in a decade. Just saying.)
I walked into this game expecting nothing worthwhile of note, and came away pleasantly surprised. The game is a real treat for fans of the series, as it accurately captures the look and feel of the show almost perfectly. For those who don’t watch the show, surprisingly, this would also be quite a fun game to get into, and if you can overlook the slight feeling of repetition, you’ll find a solid and entertaining game, with tight controls, an interesting story, and beautiful graphics. While not the best game ever made, this is one of the few licensed titles that really would appeal to fans and otherwise alike. I recommend you pick this one up. (I still do, in fact; it’s playable on the 360, and while it’s not cheap and hasn’t been rereleased because, I assume, of licensing issues, if you liked the show it was pretty fun. I might have to stream it one day, come to think of it. Don’t bother with Chaos Bleeds, though, that game was the shits.)

Rating:
Gameplay – 8.5/10
Graphics – 8/10
Sound – 7/10
Fun Factor – 8/10
Overall – 8/10 (not an average) (I don’t think we had a numerical requirement for what score we assigned to the “overall” value over at 411, while IP and later DHGF did require the overall score to be an average, which made a lot more sense, before we did away with scoring altogether. Just saying.

Also since we’re here anyway, I feel like modern me should comment on old me’s scores, so: while I feel like the gameplay was probably a little stiffer than I thought it was at the time, I’d say that I’d stand by my score, relative to the time I assigned it, so kudos old me! I’m sure that won’t last.)

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