Riding in style
I remember the day when Majesco press-released to the world their plans to create a pan-media empire out of a new vampire franchise called Bloodrayne. There would be games. There would be comic books. There would be movies. There would be a Playboy spread. The logo looked like a cross getting titty-fucked. I would like to believe those comics turned out okay, because the movies were gutter trash, the games were sub-average and the Playboy spread was as weird to look at as you think it would be. So this franchise hasn’t quite been the multimedia sensation some were hoping.
WayForward, who has been some kind of a gun for hire developer of various handheld platformers (they made WWF Betrayal! The game were wrestlers beat up thugs to save Stephanie Mcmahon!) has taken it upon itself to resurrect the obsolete franchise in what almost feels like a gutsy miracle revival. The scary thing is that they actually kind of nail it, turning a cold and middling corpse of a franchise into something fervent and exciting.
That might be my favourite part of
WWF Bloodrayne: Betrayal. For a game about vampire undeath, there is a shocking amount of life to the ordeal. The world splashes with bright colours (mostly fleshy red), the characters animate quickly and smoothly both as they live and get hacked to redeath, and the soundtrack is an up-tempo Castlevania death metal collaboration. Rayne herself oozes more personality than she ever did in prior video games or topless photo spreads. After respawning at a checkpoint, she’ll wait for you to assume control by a blood fountain, sipping on blood tea, maybe taking her blood tea extra crusty. And for Christ’s sake, her mode of transporation is a drill-rocket-coffin. In fact, the drill-rocket-coffin might be the best character in the entire game.
To make a duo of semi-obscure references, Betrayal feels like a combination of The Dishwasher and Guilty Gear.
I could barely tell you what the plot of the game is about. The good news is that you don’t really know anything about the fiction to hop in. You are a good vampire, the bad guys are evil vampires, there’s a mysterious anime tweener character in there that might be trying to help you, a Betrayal happens because a PR person thought Betrayal is a cool-sounding word, and then things die. The whole ordeal feels very inconsequential but mercifully does not get in the way of the action often.
Of which plenty of action does happen. Vampires, toad-things, exploding-intestine monsters and other grotesqueries get in your way, and have a habit of dying in unpleasant manners. Rayne does most of her attacking with swinging arm blades that work as advertised, and a gun with about six bullets (because there are few places Rayne can hide ammo clips on her spandex costume. Fashion before function in the Bloodrayne universe.) Your ability to master Rayne’s movement is key to your enjoyment of Betrayal. You can’t cancel out of your attacks into dashes, so treating the game like a straight button-masher will lead to many redemises. It becomes crucial to constantly move around, spread your violence around, watch for the enemy’s EVER TELEGRAPHED attacks and drink blood to regain health, because that’s what vampires do. Honestly, my least favourite part of the experience is how the game doesn’t give a tutorial on Infections until the forth level, and I found that skill very handy early on.
About the infection power: Bloodrayne is not at all a picky eater, as observed by the many strange things she’ll sample the blood from during your quest. This leads to her having a really foul disease where anything she bites and lets live becomes a festering time bomb. A bomb you can detonate at will. The ability to turn any enemy into a remote mine proves most handy indeed.
It’s a very smartly paced game as well. While a large percentage of Bloodrayne is spent making blood rain from the necks of others, the game intersperses them with platforming, wall jumping, and raven-controlling. Like the combat, the traversal is something that you’ll either master and enjoy or never understand and loathe. In particular, if you don’t get the hang of the backflip-jumps and the air dashes, then you can very much expect numerous Homer Simpson moments of crashing from one set of spikes and razorblades to another, and another, and another…
Nonetheless, it stands that the game does a proficient job of spreading itself out. You’ll later gain a second gun, the ability to become a (blood) raven, you’ll solve puzzles that generally boil down to “throw cadaver here.” But the game is almost never not exciting or dull, in spite of the numerous blond vampire duds get thrown at you. In a smart cue from Super Meat Boy (whom I bet Rayne finds cuddly,) dying means you’ll quickly respawn at the last checkpoint with no break in the music, a move that keeps the momentum from petering out. A small but welcome touch. Also, the handful of bosses are appropriately tough, graphic, satisfying, and aren’t embarrassed by their large, glowy pulsating weak spots.
It’s downright shocking to me just how well Bloodrayne: Betrayal does its thing. It’s a game that starts exciting and stays exciting throughout its 5-6 hour existence. Perhaps Wayforward wanted to further advertise to other publishers that they will make any dead license profitable again. So perhaps their next project will be a gore-laden Leisure Suit Larry, or Akuji the Heartless, or Gex, or Bubsy, or Croc, or Aero the Acrobat, or Noah’s 3D Ark, or McKids, or…
4 ½ stars