2002 has certainly been a good year for action/adventure games. From major hits like The Mark of Kri to sleeper greats like Drakan, fans of the action/adventure genre have more games than they know what to do with. The best part of this year's slew of action titles is that, for the most part, they offer a lot of originality. BloodRayne, an action based adventure game set in the early 1930's, is no different. In the years between the two great wars, Nazi's are marauding all over Europe trying to acquire evil artifacts that would bring them great power, and with it, dominance of the entire continent. Upon realizing this threat, the secret Brimstone Society sends their newest agent, half vampire Rayne, on a quest to stop them. A beautiful young woman, Rayne has many of the strengths of vampires, few of their weaknesses, and a feral blood lust. However, it is not the vampiric nature of the game's heroin, nor the setting or locale of the story, that sets it apart. What makes this game stand out is that Terminal Reality was able to craft a game that deftly blends non-stop action with the kind of dark, almost perversely morbid atmosphere usually found in survival horror games like Resident Evil.
Graphically, BloodRayne is above average, but lacking in certain areas. Rayne and most of the main characters are animated very well and look rather good, but most enemies in the game are fairly uninspired and dull. The backgrounds and environments in the game are also a mixed bag of sorts. Houses, depots, and other structures are very detailed and easy on the eyes, but certain aspects of the environment, such as water and foliage, are just plain bad. While in the marshes of Louisiana, the water seems to randomly appear all over in places it shouldn't, and the trees and plants are devoid of texture and color. Some of the special effects in the game, such as different senses Rayne can employ, have very nice graphical touches. For instance, while using Rayne's Ďaura sense', the immediate surroundings look a lot like they would when viewed with night vision goggles, but with a more ominous twist, highlighting certain areas while casting other in eerie shades of blacks and greens. While in Blood Rage mode the whole world seems to go red as if covered in blood, and time slows down allowing you to see some of Rayne's moves that are usually too quick to catch in real time. However, the biggest plus when it comes to graphics is in the overall presentation. BloodRayne is a game that looks better than the sum of its polygons, providing an atmosphere that is dark, dreary, and dangerously sexy at the same time.
Another integral part of BloodRayne's dark and dangerous atmosphere is found in its surprisingly unique gameplay. Even Rayne's weapons, huge blades attached to her ankles and wrists, are different and edgy. She can execute a hand-to-hand attack by pressing the L1 button, and if timed right, Rayne will perform combo attacks, with up to five attacks in one combo chain. Different weapons can be found throughout the game, most taken from fallen enemies, most of which are fairly useful. Rayne can automatically target any foe, making long range battle more pleasure than pain. However, it is in the supplemental abilities that BloodRayne stands out. Most vampire based action games tend to focus more on showcasing strength and speed, and while BloodRayne does this too, the game also focuses a lot on periphery senses that quickly become a central part of the experience. Rayne has 3 unique modes of vision that she can switch in and out of at ease once she learns them. Aura sense allows Rayne to see in the dark, through walls, and to view objective locations. It also displays enemies in the area based upon their own aura. If an enemy is relaxed and unaware of Rayne's presence, they appear bright red; an easy, filling meal fit for a vampire. If these enemies are aware of Rayne, and especially if they are pursuing her, their aura is blue. However, it is the atmospheric effect of this sense that is so compelling. Sneaking up on an unsuspecting Nazi in the dark and pouncing on him like a tiger in heat is just too much fun. Rayne also has a sense that is, in essence, exactly like binoculars, allowing her to view objects and locations from great distance. This will allow her to snipe enemies from afar, and survey her targets safely. The third, and arguably most important, sense is a mode of vision that is based on Matrix-like bullet time. Dilated vision slows down time considerably, allowing Rayne to process information and react to it faster than her enemies, making her nearly invincible, as nothing, not even bullets, can touch her. These modes of vision can be toggled back and forth instantly, using the D-pad, making them more than just novelties. They are, in fact, both necessary and fun. Another deadly technique that Rayne has at her disposal is her Blood Rage. As Rayne kills enemies, she builds up her blood lust, until she can release it in the form of Blood Rage. Pressing triangle sends Rayne into an overdrive mode, which increases her power, speed, and agility. This mode also unlocks 5 completely different and unique hand attacks, which are devastating, even to bosses.
Despite the impressive nature of these unique abilities, they pale in comparison to Rayne's ability to feed on opponents. Rayne can feed on basically every enemy she comes across, with few exceptions. Being half vampire, feeding is how Rayne regains life during the game, and each victim she drains partially restores her health. Moreover, feeding on an enemy kills them almost instantly, making meals doubly useful. However, the most shocking thing about this ability is how Rayne feeds. When feeding on an enemy, Rayne envelopes her entire body around them, wrapping her legs around their waist with her arms behind their head. If the enemy is lying prone on the ground, Rayne pins them with her blades and then straddles them. Once she has her prey immobilized, Rayne attacks and greedily sucks out every last bit of blood, save the copious amounts that spill over. The whole process of feeding in BloodRayne is very violent, and quite shocking. Fans of extreme violence should be pleased.
For all the unique gameplay elements found in BloodRayne, in the long run it is, unfortunately, quite repetitive. After a while, even the use of the various abilities in the game is not enough to keep the game fresh. While certainly worth playing through at least once, BloodRayne is not the type of game that warrants a lot of replay, unless you're a hardcore fan of the vampire/action sub-genre.
As stated before, this is a game that simply reeks of atmosphere, and the in game sound is yet another contributing factor. Sound effects in the game are done well, and often creepy enough to make you twinge just a bit, especially when Rayne is feeding on an enemy; it is just downright disturbing. The character voice-overs aren't done quite as well, especially when it comes to support characters. Rayne herself sounds decent, except when muttering to herself during combat. Rayne occasionally cracks wise when slaying a foe, and more often than not, the lines come off like something from a B rated action movie. The music, while a bit at odds with the time period the game is set in, manages to walk the line between Goth, action, and a 1930's pre-war setting.
The one area in which BloodRayne significantly falters is its control. At the start of the game, there are 3 different control schemes to choose from: 1st person, 3rd person, and inverted 3rd person. 1st person simply means that you use both analog sticks for movement, and inverted 3rd person switches which analog stick controls movement and camera. None of these control schemes is particularly terrible, but none of them are particularly smooth either, leaving one to wonder why a choice was proffered in the first place. The result is that Rayne often moves rather stiffly and mechanically, which does detract from the overall feel of the game.
BloodRayne is definitely a game that fans of the action genre would enjoy, especially those with an appreciation of the occult. With a finely tuned mix of stylish action and gruesome horror, BloodRayne is slick and sexy, and fun to boot. However, for many this game may be a bit over the top in terms of mature content. Not only is there a gratuitous amount of violence in BloodRayne, there is also a hint of perversity that may turn some people off. In the end, the game may employ a lot of the same aspects that other vampire action games have used before, but there is one rather large distinction between BloodRayne and titles like Dark Angel (older PS2 title not based on TV series) and Blade II; BloodRayne doesn't suck.
12/4/2002 Ryan Hartmann