Reviewed: June 7, 2003
Released: October 20, 2002
I have always been intrigued by the premise of vampires, partly because much of my family originated in Transylvania, that twilight province to which both Romania and Hungary have in the past laid claim. But the greater part of my fascination comes from the mystique, the romance surrounding the vampires themselves.
The folklore of Eastern Europe, based on fear and superstition surrounding cruel and sadistic beings, has since given way to the urban legends of the west, where vampires can be charismatic, sexual beings who seduce us with their mental abilities and their bodies- and with the promise of great power and eternal life. Part of us fears them; part of us wants to be them.
“Reluctant” vampires, sympathetic characters with whom we can identify, have invaded popular culture, appearing everywhere from Anne Rice’s novels to TV shows like Buffy. Forever Knight, an old television series, concerned a vampire-police detective who used his powers to protect the innocent, even as he searched for a cure for his “illness”.
My favorite fanged protagonists have always been the badass good guys, the Wesley Snipes-as-Blade types; the Duke Nukem's and Terminator's of the vampire world. The newest member of this select group is the beautiful and deadly Rayne, half vampire-half human heroine of BloodRayne, an action adventure game developed by Terminal Reality for the PC and all the latest consoles. Sporting hair just a shade lighter than the color of fresh blood, and a sexy leather outfit, Rayne is the Vampirella (you young’uns remember her?) for a new generation.
BloodRayne is essentially a kill-fest with a story. Heavy on the action and light on the puzzle solving, the game is geared toward satisfying our bloodlust rather than our intellect. Complementing an impressive arsenal of weapons available to Rayne is a large assortment of moves, and supernatural powers of sight, strength, and speed, which make this heroine as much a pleasure to play as she is to look at. Most notable of these is the ability to dilate time a la “The Matrix”, which serves the double purpose of allowing Rayne to out think and out maneuver her opponents (who appear to be moving in slow motion), while allowing the player to plan and view particularly gruesome methods of dispatching these poor losers.
Living in a 1930s world populated as heavily by mutants and undead as it is by Nazis, Rayne has the opportunity to kill to her heart’s content and still be the good guy. After all, killing Nazis is always politically correct and never goes out of style (I did feel a slight remorse at offing the zombies though). And kill she does, with a gusto and level of graphic detail, which helps the game earn its well-deserved “M” rating.
As Rayne, the player travels from Louisiana to Argentina to Germany, following an interesting story with multiple plot lines. An agent for a secret society, Rayne is committed to thwarting both the Nazis themselves and the various undead being unleashed against humanity. Always in her mind though, is the purpose of finding her father, with whom she has a very large bone to pick.
Gameplay is fairly linear (action games with a plot generally need to be. As levels are completed, the player is rewarded not only by advancement of the story, but by the enhancement of Rayne’s present skills and her learning new ones. I wouldn’t exactly call this “character development”, but it serves to keep the game interesting. I never had the desire to stop playing because it was “more of the same”.
BloodRayne can be played from both first and third person views, and it was a pleasure to see multiple options for controller setup, to suit a variety of preferences. For the most part, control was fluid and the execution of various movements was surprisingly simple and intuitive.
I did have one major issue with the controller setup. When playing in third person mode (my preference), the developers chose to have the right thumb stick control Rayne’s movements. Since I use my right thumb to access the ABXY buttons, I found myself reaching across with my left thumb to handle the stick. This was awkward on the full size pad, despite my long fingers. It would have made more sense to at least give the option for left stick or D-pad control schemes.
Some iffy camera angles mark my only other complaint, but for the most part, gameplay was easy and satisfying, with little to distract.
For starters, the graphics were- quite graphic. In terms of both blood/violence, and sexuality, the game decidedly earns its “M” rating. Bear in mind that I find the free flowing blood in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance almost comical, reminiscent of the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the carnage here can be visually disturbing, even to the more jaded among us. Watching a particularly gruesome death in slow motion, even more so. The sexuality is not overt, merely hinted at, for example in the way Rayne climbs her victims and drinks their blood. I’ve always felt that the ESRB rating system was inconsistent, and that many titles have been misrated in both directions. Not so, here.
Cinematics evocative of the Final Fantasy movie (or the best of that PlayStation series) introduce Rayne as a kind of dark superhero, and serve not only to advance the story, but also to set a suitably gothic mood to the game through a good smattering of cutscenes. The in-game graphics were also quite good, and were further enhanced by a high level of interactivity between player and environment. Most objects are destructible, and small details like curtains, which flutter and tear add to the game’s realism. Rayne’s movements were usually smooth and lifelike, as were those of her enemies.
Overall, BloodRayne’s graphics are a part of its appeal.
I have mixed feelings about the voice acting in BloodRayne. Often, especially in the cutscenes, lines were understated, with little if any melodrama, complementing the graphics to create an uncannily realistic feel. Other times, especially in the game itself, comments were a bit cheesy and repetitive. And yet, even at its worst, these lines didn’t bother me, they just made the game feel a bit campy, in a Duke Nukem kind of way.
BloodRayne’s moody soundtrack was more than competent, though not memorable, and I can’t really say I have any complaints about it, although I can’t help but think some fun could have been with it. A bit of experimentation and some chutzpah by the sound team could have yielded some great results. Perhaps some heavy metal in some locales contrasting with a bit of “Flight of the Valkyries” in others. Sound is a powerful tool that can alter the player’s heart rate and his or her reactions to what’s happening on screen, especially when there are abrupt changes in mood and tempo. This is why musicians will choose the order of their tracks carefully when arranging them for a CD, often following a ballad with an quick, upbeat piece or vice versa.
I always have a problem with this heading. If value has to correspond to play time and options, well, there’s not much here. BloodRayne is relatively short and not that difficult, without much in the way of replay value. There’s also no multiplayer. In that respect, value gets a low score. But for my money, the game does wonders for relieving tension and unleashing a bit of hostility in an acceptable manner. To me, that’s value.
You have to take BloodRayne for what it is, and know what you’re buying before you get to the cashier. As long as you don’t expect more than a diversion with lots of killing and little thinking, you’ll have a great time. An epic masterpiece it’s not.
It’s kind of like the movies. Certain types of movies will never win academy awards because they will never be taken seriously. Michael Myers will never be “Best Actor”, and the Austin Powers series will never be nominated for best picture. But when I’m up for catching a flick, I’m more often in the mood for some good laughs than I am to sit through a heavy piece like “A Beautiful Mind” no matter how many awards the latter takes home.
BloodRayne is a fun diversion for those looking for one. The graphics and gameplay, especially the cool powers and abilities sported by Rayne make it an above average action title. If a sequel comes out, I’ll buy it.