Blade II Review
Ever since the early fifties, American society has been infatuated with comic book super heroes. From Batman to Superman, Spider-man to The Incredible Hulk, these quirky yet powerful beings have been a source of inspiration for people young and old. Over the years, most of these super heroes have had large followings, resulting in movie deals, cartoons, T.V. series, etc. However, for quite a long time, one particular comic book bad ass never got the recognition he deserved. Possessing an amazing gift/curse of vampiric proportions, Blade, also know as the "Day walker", is half human, half vampire, containing all the strengths of the demons of the night, with none of their weaknesses. With this unique ability, Blade stalks the night, vanquishing vampires with Teutonic efficiency. With his first silver screen appearance coming in 1998, with one sequel to date, some wonder why it took so long for Blade to make it big, especially while we were force fed terribly bad Superman movies for so many years. Either way, Blade is the super hero for the new millennium, and there is no arguing that. Activision, looking to capitalize on the new found success of Blade, bought the license to the series in the hopes of turning it into a powerhouse of a franchise. Their first effort was shameful, to say the least. Now they have teamed with Mucky Foot Productions in the hopes of remedying past mistakes. Did they? Not really.
Blade II tries to follow along the lines of the movie that released earlier this year, but fails miserably on all accounts. Nothing that really resembles a story ever surfaces, leaving you to wonder what is going on and why you are doing what you are doing. You will see a few parts of the movie show up here and there, mostly in the form of catch phrases that get uttered so often that they become good motivation to turn the sound down. Of course, some new weapons and items, along with a semblance of a story every fourth level should be more than enough to carry a movie licensed game, right?
Graphically, Blade II is surprisingly bad for a second generation Playstation 2 title. Perhaps if this game were launched alongside the console almost two years ago, the grainy visuals and uninspired animations would be almost forgivable. However, after seeing what the Playstation 2 is capable of, there is no reason for Blade II to look as bad as it does. The backgrounds are bland and lacking detail, using the same repetitive themes over and over and over. Character animations are dull in the extreme, and nothing really differentiates vampires from each other, even though there are ostensibly several different types of enemy to encounter in the game. Blade himself looks average at best, but overly boxy and squared off. Without the sunglasses and custom armor, it would be difficult if not impossible to tell you were looking at the Day walker himself.
However, the most abysmal aspect of Blade II's visuals is the incredibly poor animations. Every now and then, Blade will execute a finishing move with either a weapon or his bare hands. Most of these are meant to look really cool, furthering the image of Blade as the ultimate bad ass vampire hunter. However, these little cut scenes will have you in tears, either with laughter or crippling depression. Most of the animations when using the sword are fairly nice. However, since you get to use the sword only rarely, this is not much consolation.
This inability to use the sword as much as you would like also hampers the gameplay as well. Despite the horrid graphics, this game still had amazing potential in the game play. With a variety of weapons to choose from, including the mach pistol, shotgun, glaive, UV Grenade, and of course, the acid etched sword, combat in Blade II could have been a pleasure. Using these weapons is easy and straight forward, as enemies can be automatically highlighted for you, with the ability to strafe across your field of fire. The Glaive can take off up to 5 or 6 vampire heads at a time, provided you time your release; the shotgun can blast away entire groups of suckheads with ease; the sword can decimate an entire floor of night crawlers in seconds. What then, is the problem? Hand to hand combat, the worst and arguably most important part of the gameplay. Whenever engaged in hand to hand combat, you must use the right analog stick in timed succession to execute attacks. Simply press the stick in the direction you wish to attack, and watch Blade as he pulls off the same move over and over. You will constantly be reminded that you need to use the analog stick slowly and in rhythm to execute combo attacks, however this does nothing but slow Blade down. Worse yet, you will often find yourself surrounded by a dozen or more enemies at one time, finding that you can only attack those directly in front of or behind you, or directly to either side. If a vampire is behind you and slightly to the left, you'll have a hard time hitting him at all while he fills Blade full of lead. Basically, Blade II attempts to incorporate a fighting system similar in style to Mark of Kri, allowing you to attack in any direction at any time. However, this game fails miserably in that regard, creating a cumbersome fighting system.
The fact that you absolutely must rely on hand to hand combat does not help either. At the start of each level, you are only allowed to take so much ammunition with you, and you will never be able to carry enough to dispatch all vampires that lay in your path, even if you manage to pick up a few extra clips along the way. Also, you can only use your sword once you have built up your ‘rage meter', a meter on the bottom left hand side of the screen that slowly builds up as you kill vampires. Unfortunately, however, you can only build up your rage meter with hand to hand combat; using weapons will not raise the meter. Once you do manage to build up your rage meter, you can begin to unleash an amazing repertoire of attacks for a limited amount of time. Once your rage meter is depleted, you will be forced to sheath your sword once again. In other words, Blade II limits you to a poorly designed hand to hand combat system at every turn.
Just as combat in Blade II is limited to poor design elements, so is the sound. The first thing that players will notice about the sound in this game is that neither Wesley Snipes nor Kris Kristofferson are in the game. The voices of Blade and Whistler are done by lesser known and far less talented actors, which makes you wonder why Activision went to the trouble to secure the license in the first place if they weren't going to bother to secure the voices of its stars.
Music in the game is average, and would not have been that bad at all if it weren't repeated over and over in a short and pointless soundtrack loop. The same techno beat plagues every level, and the only good thing about the soundtrack is that it sometimes fades out if you haven't been in combat in a while. In each of the Blade movies, there was an admirable diversity of music to be found. Why that kind of diversity could not be implemented in the game is a mystery.
As stated before, this game had a great deal of potential. Great weapons based combat really helped make for a fun game, only to be ruined by ridiculous hand to hand controls. Actually moving Blade through the level is not that hard, but once in combat you might as well have lost control over him completely. There is no way to intentionally execute attack combos, since following the guidelines set forth in the manual just leaves you more vulnerable. And since Blade will become almost solely reliant on a few different moves, all of them equally weak, hand to hand combat becomes a tedious and frustrating affair. In some games, there are a few different things that combine to make a game unplayable. In Blade II there is no mysterious combination of factors that makes this game unplayable- it is the control; the terrible, horrible, ridiculously unresponsive control.
Overall, Blade II is one of the most disappointing titles to come out this year. It can often be frustrating to see a game that could have been a lot of fun turned into an exercise in frustration. Most gamers have now learned that movie licensed games are almost always a bad bet due to the apparent lack of effort put into them. One would think that it would, in fact, be easier to create a game based of a movie, especially since you already have most of the elements in place. However, Activision has sent us a clear message with this game- if you liked the movie, go buy the DVD, and stay away from this game at all costs.
10/14/2002 Ryan Hartmann