By Noct 13 Comments
There’s a reason they made Festival of Blood a stand-alone game and not an expansion pack; in my opinion, that would be because it is most certainly not expanding anything, and actually regresses the game quite a bit, losing some of the original title's charm in the process.
After a painfully slow download and a pretty annoying hassle installing it (that it appears I'm not alone in experiencing), I sunk a couple of hours into this last night to mixed feelings. It’s definately a fun game, and certainly worth the money, but a bit underwhelming and kind of does more to hurt the series then help it really. I think it's fair to say that it is not an expansion as much as a playable chunk of the original game with a cool new story. Yes, you're a vampire now, but unfortunately, you can't really tell, and it's surely not worth the loss of Cole's original selection of abilities... I expected that the vampirism and dark-side-of-the-force powers would merge together to make Cole into some uber, super-being, but it really doesn't come across that way. You don't feel any more powerful than standard Cole, and in most cases, you're actually a lot weaker and more limited.
So far, the only real vampire power I've even seen was a new traversal method that while interesting, is also largely useless apart from it rendering the parkour completely pointless, which I find to be a bizarre choice from a development standpoint... The original title is really carried by three main things, the parkour, the hand to hand combat, and the wealth of powers available. In this incarnation, the parkour is made useless by this new power, the hand-to-hand combat remains largely unchanged (despite the model swap from the tuning fork to the cross-blade), and the powers have been seriously dewindled down. It just feels like a really strange direction to try and take the game, and reminds me a lot of that inevitable moment in a GTA title when you get a helicopter and then realize there's no point to the cars anymore.
Ok, so you're a vampire here, so what does that mean in the context of the gameplay? Well, not much really... You can drink blood, but it really only serves the purpose of filling your new (largely un-needed) blood meter, which becomes the well from which you draw the one vampiric power you have, should you choose to use it. You can use this feeding ability to regain health as well, but you'll probably still opt for the good-old power-suck the seires has always had, as it's faster, more convenient, and has less margin for error or damage.
The only other "addition" I've seen (yet) is the new vision mode which plays out a lot like Batman's detective vision, and really serves no purpose other than determining who to bite and who to zap. Were it important to drink blood or determine who was undead, maybe that would serve a purpose, but it rapidly becomes nothing but a minor distraction from the tiny selection of missions available (there is a running side quest where you try to spot the undead hiding in the crowd, but it's largely pointless and uneventful.)
The other major problem is that the game has been nerfed, hard. I know it's a DLC title and all, so I wasn't expecting the full run of the city, but it does become apparent pretty quickly that you're playing a shadow of the original game. There is virtually no side-content, you fight the same repeating vampire enemies over, and over, and there is really not much to do or see apart from the slim amount of main-missions that I was more than halfway through in less than two hour's time. That might sound ok for the price, but the truth is, the vast majority of that time I was just playing around in the world, and I really only completed a couple of missions. If I had to take a wild guess, there are probably only six-to-eight actual story missions to undertake, and most of them are over fast and largely unremarkable.
The big issue here is variety, and there simply isn’t any. Every enemy is taken from a tiny handful of different vampire models that largely operate and fight in exactly the same way. You will see some take on more of a distanced attack while others will rush you, but apart from that, get used to repeating the same battle against the same enemies, ad nauseum.
Obviously, if you’ve played iF2 you know that the battle engine is spectacular, and it still is here, sorta… The lack of any choice or variation in your powers is a severe hit from the main game, and the fact that enemies MUST be dispatched in exactly the same way every time makes the whole thing seem a lot more repetitive then it needed to be. Basically, you choose your method of knocking the enemy down, then walk over and “stake them” with a context-sensitive attack that is really just an animation swap on Cole’s power-drain ability from the regular game. Weak; how about letting me decapitate them, or maybe burn them alive? It seems like there are easy ways to make the vampire hunting more interesting that were ignored...
There is an overall sense of this shallow pool throughout the experience. While there is some progression, and you will upgrade the given powers you have to some degree, there is no longer a menu of options to choose from. You get the base versions of each of Cole’s gifts, and from what I’ve seen, no additional attacks like his super-tornado or anything. For example, in the main game, you have a handful of different "punch blast" attacks that do different things. Here you get the original vanilla from iF1, and from what I've seen, that's just the way it is.
The missions I’ve witnessed so far were also painfully simple and without excitement. Again, I’ve only completed a small handful, but none of the variety from iF2 was in there; these were basically just, go here, fight these same 4 vampires, move on. iF2’s canonical story and missions were a hell of a lot more exciting than that.
That said, it’s still an excellent game, just a lesser version of it with a great style and fun story. The visuals while not being hugely changed actually seem to look a lot better than the full disk release, but this is just because of the lighting of the city. The whole game plays out in an 8 hour span between dark and dawn, and the way the city looks is really striking. The lighting effects are just stunning and really breathe new life into this city that I’ve already seen every inch of.
It reminds me a lot of RDR: Undead Nightmare in that sense of something being lost in the translation, but the game still being a blast to play. The only trouble here is that the whole moral aspect has been removed, as well as any variety in the actual game play with the limiting of Cole’s power choices, and that takes a toll on a major fan of the series.
At the end of the day, it’s a REALLY strong DL title, especially at that price point, and as a horror enthusiast, I dig the style; unfortunately, they ripped out a bit too much of what makes the original game great in the process and it feels like a shell of that game. Regardless though, from what I’ve seen so far, it is VERY easy to recommend this game, particularly if you haven’t played the others in the series.
***Edit/Update - I just want to add a couple of things here now that I have completed the game.
First, the length. I believe there were 8 main missions, which if you straight-out attacked I would wager you could complete the game (playing it normally) in less then two hours. That said, there is also a signifigantly larger pool of other stuff to do then I first realized. It's still insanely nerfed compared to the full game (which stands to reason), but if you spent time messing around with the world/people and completing all the little side-quests and junk, you could easily stretch this out to 4-6 hours, which is just fine for a $10 DLC title in my book. Add the replayability (which I think is fairly high personally), and it's a home run.
The other thing I want to mention is that I stand completely corrected on the new Vampire abilities usefullness. While I still think Cole is far too weak as a vampire and if they were going to strip powers out they should have ya know, replaced them with vampire ones, his new stuff does actually end up being pretty cool. The new traversal mechanic does eventually upgrade to an attack, and it can be pretty fun to use and really opens up the world to new attack methods (mostly drops). It still drives me nuts that they ripped out his coolest and most useful powers (like levitation of objects and the car-jump), but I grew to really enjoy the powers he does have now.
Also, the Batman vision mode does in fact make a difference. Identifying vampires (first-borns) with the vision mode does play a larger role then simply getting the trophy for it. In actuality, those first borns can be a royal pain to take down, especially if you are also being swarmed by other blood-suckers at the time. Doing a quick scan before a battle to make sure you aren't standing next to a hidden first born is a good idea a lot of the time.
Lastly, I just want to mention how much more I grew to like the battles with the vampires as I got further into the game. I still find the amount of variety to be too small, but they really do kick a bit of ass once it gets going. In several instances I got swarmed by the zippy little teleporting vamps and it became a hectic frenzied blast chasing them around on rooftops all the while other strains of vampires were running at me from the ground and junk; very cool stuff.