Looking Back on: Bloodrayne (Sony Playstation 2)

BloodRayne
System: Playstation 2.
Genre: Action.
Publisher: Majesco Games.
Release Date: 10/15/02 (Still in the 411Games review rundown here, as we’re hitting one of the fastest downward spiraling franchises in a long while in Bloodrayne. It’s weird to realize the original game is over twelve years old at this point, but it’s also really amazing how one initially promising, if not amazing, game quickly spiraled into “a shit sequel, a nude Playboy pictorial, and one of the worst movie franchises in recent memory,” though the recent WayForward game ended up being pretty decent, at least. Well Sterling hated it but he liked Silent Hill: Book of Memories so I don’t even know with him man.)

Ah, vampires. From the early days of Castlevania and the numerous Bram Stoker’s Dracula ports, to the more recent Blood Omen series and the Buffy game, vampires have been a huge part of video game history for as long as games have been around. Whether you’re playing as the vampires or against them, it’s obvious that the concept is something that has inspired developers to make games based around creatures that drink blood, come out at night, and kill lots of things. (This is mostly still true today, though with Konami’s recent rebooting, and subsequent drowning in a bucket, of the Castlevania franchise the options are a lot more limited.)

Enter BloodRayne. The concept is something of a first, as the title character, Rayne, isn’t actually a vampire, though she looks and acts like one. Rayne is what you would call a Dhampir; the product of a vampire conceiving a child with a normal human (think Blade). She has most of the strengths of a vampire, with less of the weaknesses. It’s not a new concept, but then, I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare coming into this game, so I’m not exactly disappointed. (What I meant there, in that mess of sentence structure, is that the Dhampir itself isn’t a new concept in fiction, but within the world of gaming it’s a relatively new concept. Though I guess Castlevania’s Alucard, or more accurately the correct one rather than the weird modernized one, might also qualify.) In any case, Rayne is the product of her mother being raped by a vampire, so the first thing she decides to do once of the appropriate age is hunt her father down and kill him. You’ve got to love those dysfunctional video game families. However, during her hunt, she is noticed and subsequently recruited by The Brimstone Society, a group of people dedicated to the containment and study of the supernatural.

And it’s here that the adventure begins…

Gameplay
The first one to three hours of game time (depending on your level of skill) are spent out in Louisiana, where you get acquainted with Rayne’s abilities for the first time. Your time is spent killing undead folks and spider monsters, jumping over the numerous plots of swampland throughout the level, and just generally getting used to Rayne. It’s about as fun as it sounds, and sadly, may turn a lot of people off to the game.

After the intro chapter, Rayne goes off to Argentina to fight Nazi’s trying to uncover an artifact in a temple, and it’s here where the game picks up. From here on out, enemies practically pour out of the sides of the screen, and the game becomes all about what it does best: killing things. (Bloodrayne, as a franchise, was really at its best when it was focusing on killing fucked up undead and evil dudes; the second game got too top-heavy, ha ha, with its plot about the world ending and shit, and the end result was a giant mess of a game. I never understood how you could fuck up the formula in one game like that, but there you have it.)

Rayne handles quite well for the game at hand, and even though the controls seem like they might be cumbersome, they come off as quite manageable. For the record, you’re asked to use both analog sticks, the face buttons, and the triggers to manipulate our hero. It’s much more manageable than it sounds. It’s surprisingly easy to control, and you’ll find yourself cutting down groups of enemies like wheat in no time. (Obviously that description makes it sound fairly normal mechanically, but the controls as described in-game seemed a bit daunting, though I since no longer remember how they worked, as it were.)

Also of note here is the HUGE variety of things Rayne has at her disposal. Besides the twin blades she carries on her arms that she uses in hand to hand combat, there are about twenty to thirty different types of guns she can pick up (Which were mostly disposable and were there more because the Nazi’s used them than anything; the appeal was in using the weird blades she had, not so much in the gunplay.), numerous combos she can use, her chain grapple, which she uses to pull in enemies, her Bloodlust meter, which she uses to heap on immense punishment, her slow-motion vision, which slows down the action… the amount of things the developers gave the main character is impressive, to say the least. (Yeah, the game went out of its way to make Rayne into a super-powerful badass, though it essentially implied that most vampire-types were even more powerful than her, so there was a certain theoretically interesting contrast there, where the regular dudes were essentially canon fodder you could obliterate as needed, while the bosses were uber-powerful death tanks… had the game done that, the game probably would’ve been something really memorable.) Add to that the fact that controlling her is relatively simple, even with the amount of different actions mapped to the controller, and the fact that everything imparted upon the character is quite useful throughout the game, and you’ve got quite the gameplay experience.

Sadly, the game is far from perfect. Even though the game is one non-stop killing bonanza, and enemies are numerous and all out for blood, the game seems too easy, even during the boss battles. Every humanoid enemy is a source of health recharge, since Rayne can drain the blood of her enemies to regain life, and this oftentimes makes the game seem unbalanced. (I believe they added in some mechanical tricks towards the end to mess with that a bit, but the game still felt a bit on the easy side, as did its sequel, though the sequel added in all kinds of goofy mechanics that made it, frankly, far less fun to play.) Also, Rayne can use her enemies as a human shield while feeding, and can even fire her guns, thus making potential bloodbaths into a repetitive case of feed, shield, shoot, repeat. (She’d literally jump on their back, do the body scissors deal with her legs, bite down and keep shooting while in this position. You’d think an expert headshot would’ve resolved everything, but nah, you’d basically be nearly invincible while chowing down. It was hilariously stupid.) The developers attempted to offset this by having some enemies block the feed action (though it’s entirely too easy to open up their defenses), arming enemies to the teeth (which often results in Friendly Fire more than anything else) and placing numerous enemies in the game that cannot be fed from (which has an opposite unbalancing effect of making the game too hard), (In theory; in practice, if they were alone you still had plenty of options to take them down, or else they had enemies you could feed from with them. Still, though, the game had a weird balance to it, where it spiked in certain sections because the developers didn’t have a great idea of how to balance the mechanics in a way that made the game uniformly challenging.) but the end result is an unstoppable killing machine. While I’m sure this was the designer’s intent, it honestly makes for a rather mindless playing experience.

Graphics
The in-game graphics are one of BloodRayne’s strongest selling points, as they are quite well produced. Characters move quite fluidly, animation is well designed, Rayne’s hair moves almost naturally, (For the time, obviously.) and the character graphics are very nice overall. Kudos also to the special effects… light sourcing is well implemented in-game, and the explosions and magical effects are quite pretty. The level design is a little boring at times, but for the most part conveys the expected effects, which makes for a more immersive playing experience overall. It should be noted, however, that the enemies all seem to be randomly drawn up from a palette of body parts, so in theory they all look different, but after about the first hour you’ve seen all the possible combinations. (Yeah, I don’t remember the exact setup, but they’d basically assemble enemy models from a set handful of designs so that you’d see elements you’d seen before, only combined in a way that made the enemies different from one another. It wasn’t a bad idea, and in a world with BluRay discs that offer shitloads of storage you’d think someone could do something interesting with that concept.) It’s a nice thought, and it’s better than fighting the same enemy over and over, but some more thought could have been put into it. That’s only a minor quibble, really, but when you’re playing a ten hour game, some more attempts at variety could have been made.

Sound
Musically the game is slightly above average. The music does it’s job quite nicely… it keeps you interested, and you never really want to turn it down at any point. It’s driving and keeps you going throughout the game. On the other hand, none of it is incredibly spectacular, and I was never at that point where a song stuck with me. In short, it’s nothing special, but honestly, what it does, it does well. I didn’t walk into this game expecting anything else.

The sound effects are also above average, but not much more. Gunfire sounds like gunfire, only slightly muted. Explosions sound like explosions. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it does it’s job. I do, however, have issues with the voice acting. Rayne is voiced quite competently, and her voice actor does a good job of conveying her feelings most of the time, but there are moments where she comes across as a bit too 21st century for the good of the game. Also of note, her battle quotes get repetitive after a while… I can only take so much of “Quiet baby, what would the neighbor’s think?” before I stop thinking it’s funny and start wishing she’d shut up. (Yeah, a third of her dialogue was neutral, a third of her dialogue felt too 2000’s for its own good, and a third of her dialogue was bedroom humor because LOL SHE’S HAWT or some shit. That’s the difference between a Lara Croft and a Rayne; both of them were essentially rendered for the male gaze, but Rayne was sexually provocative to the point of self-parody, while Lara was business-minded and didn’t give a shit about being sexy. Say what you will but I’ve never been impressed by female characters who talk sexy as a form of empowerment or whatever; someone who’s all business and only cares about getting the job done impresses/scares me more than someone who’s talking in veiled metaphors for fucking.) The other in-game voice actors are mediocre, at best… they manage to get across the general feelings they’re going for, but none of them are Metal Gear Solid caliber. Of course, they’re not Resident Evil bad either, so I’ll take what I can get.

Fun Factor
This game is fun. No matter what else I say about it, I can honestly say, without a doubt in my mind, that I’ve had a great deal of fun playing the game. Unfortunately, ten hours of fun, no matter how much fun it was, doesn’t really help me justify $50, and that’s really all you’ll get out of this game. (OH FOR THE DAYS WHEN TEN HOURS FOR $50 WAS CONSIDERED A POOR VALUE.) Once you’ve beaten it, there’s no reason to go back and play it again. No really great extras are unlocked by completing it, and the codes offered for the “Cheat” option are, at best, performance enhancers, designed to make the game easier. Well, okay, “Juggy Dance Squad” is nothing more than filler, but besides that, there’s no extras that make the game worth going through a second time. (WOW, THAT’S another fucking time capsule right there. “The Man Show” was a show that was on around this time, and featured a bunch of half-naked women dubbed the “Juggies,” or the “Juggy Dance Squad.” No points for guessing what their role was. As you would imagine, this code made the breasts in the game somewhat bigger; not ridiculously so, but noticeably so. The sequel had similar, and often worse, codes, if you’re wondering.)

I’d like to make a note to anyone out there thinking of making a game that takes place in countries where English isn’t the primary language: The game is substantially more fun if they scream in their native language. I can understand the cut-scenes being in English… it’s important to be able to follow along with the game’s storyline. But when killing the enemies, I don’t want to hear “It’s the vampire!”, I want to hear “Es ist der vampire!”. (Oh for the days when Babblefish was the only translation engine available. For reference, Google Translate says “Es ist ein Vampir!” is more accurate, but either way I’m certain both are probably somewhat wrong.) It just makes the game seem more authentic. They went to the trouble of naming the enemy force the Gegengheist Gruppe, (oh, and for the record, it would actually be the Gegen Geist Gruppe, which actually technically translates to “Against intellect group”, or some form of anti-intelligence.) and bothered to get people with Louisiana accents for the intro chapter… if I’m killing Germans, I’d like them to scream in German before they die. That could be just me, though, but it does add to the ambiance. (That’s a lot more common these days, thankfully; people are actually starting to pay money for authenticity, or as close to it as we can get anyway, which helps with immersion, I think.)

The 411
This game, while far from perfect, is quite an entertaining romp through the world of mindless mayhem and killing. It’s a shame that it takes so long to get warmed up, only lasts ten hours, and has no real reason to go back to it when you’re done. For the casual gamer this game is easily worth a purchase, and will probably entertain you for a while. For the hardcore gamer, however, this is a rental at best. (These days a ten hour single player campaign is a goddamn achievement in gaming, and game length is achieved through collectible hunts and multiplayer. Times, they change man.)

Rating:
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 7/10
Sound – 6/10
Fun Factor – 8/10
Overall – 7.5/10 (I’d say that Bloodrayne probably could fall in the 6-7 range, relative to its time, so that’s not too bad of a score all in all. Little high, but not as bad as I’d expect from myself at this point.)

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