It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a new BloodRayne title hit consoles. Not since 2005 if you look into the franchise’s history. But now Rayne has a chance to come back into the spotlight (or shadows since she’s a dhampir) under the guidance of WayForward, last known for A Boy and His Blob and Contra 4. Can a new art style and gameplay direction reinvigorate the series? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
BloodRayne: Betrayal is actually the first game in the BloodRayne series I’ve ever played. This puts me both at an advantage as I’m not particularly attached to the previous games’ style, but it also places me in a tough spot since I have absolutely no idea why I should care what’s happening in the plot and who specific characters are.
The game opens up on Rayne being called into a raid on a castle where supposed vampires or some such have been reported doing something or other. An elite task force determines they’re not elite enough and Rayne shows up to do all the work. I was never quite sure whether Rayne was on the side of the soldiers or if they were trying to catch her or what. I suppose it didn’t really matter as they’re just a means to point and say “Go mess up some vampires!”
All of the narrative is told through text-based speech bubbles that appear when something plot-based is happening, such as when new characters are introduced or there’s banter to be had between Rayne and some enemies. I like that these plot points don’t slow down the action, but a few times I was completely unable to read what characters were saying as I had to pay attention to environmental hazards instead, which is a shame because I rather enjoyed the cheesy pun-heavy dialogue characters were spewing, as if everyone involved knew not to take things seriously.
Well, everything except for the difficulty level. BloodRayne: Betrayal is hard, and not for the right reasons. I’d like to consider myself a pretty good gamer, able to push my way through the toughest challenges, but here I nearly gave up on multiple occasions. The problem comes down to a schizophrenic attitude between wanting the game to focus heavily on combat and dropping all pretenses and swinging into full platforming territory. Trying to hover between these two styles of gameplay- sometimes in the same sequences- leaves a lot that still needs polishing.
When it comes to the combat, the first level promises a lot and serves well to introduce at least some of Rayne’s abilities. She can hack away, dash around, suck blood, shoot enemies in the face, and even turn them into walking explosives. The only problem is that some of these mechanics aren’t really explained or needed for quite a while, so through the first half of the game I was wondering what the Y button on my controller did other than make Rayne yell all sexy-like (turns out that detonates your exploding-enemies attack, though I’d never know because I hadn’t created any exploding enemies until the game told me specifically how to do such a thing much later on).
Everything moves smoothly when you hit your rhythm, though it is difficult to see whether combos are flowing into one another or if you’re just mashing the attack button hard enough that it works. There just aren’t enough enemy types to really demand a different attack style. All enemies take damage the same way, so there’s no need to start thinking strategically when posed with the challenge of three or four different enemies on the screen at once.
The only time a screen full of enemies becomes particularly masochistic is when you’re forced to fight them in a room where everyone’s a silhouette and the foreground has pillars and such obstructing your view. Most of the deaths I suffered during these portions were a direct result of me screaming, “Where am I?! Which black blob is Rayne!?”
However, when the combat breaks down and the plaforming kicks in, things don’t really get more exciting. All of this is due to the extremely loose platforming controls. Rayne can do backflips, dash in the air, walljump off some surfaces (but not all), and hop on enemy heads. That last move becomes the central mode of transportation later in the game when you have bottomless pits and acid and lava and such to deal with, meaning that one missed jump will result in instadeath and gnashing of teeth.
I may not be a master at hack-and-slash games, but I know my platforming very well. I’ve conquered Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be The Guy, but trying to hop from one floating orb to the next using Rayne’s down-attack in the air got me about as frustrated as I’ve been in a long while. It’s just not very precise. I’ll admit when I screw up due to carelessness or a general lack of focus, but here I just felt cheated.
Remember how in a lot of older games on the NES and SNES there was usually a problem of having to land directly on top of platforms and that if you were too close to the edge or jumped at a weird angle you wouldn’t land on the surface and just fell right through? Remember how unfairly frustrating that was? That happens all the time in BloodRayne: Betrayal.
As I said, the last few stages in the game stop playing fairly and just send you on extended platforming sections with the same enemy encounters you’ve dealt with before as a reward before getting to the next checkpoint. Having to land directly on top of an enemy fly (having to point the control stick down to do so), then immediately trying to dash to the left in the air (having to point the control stick up and to the left) and reorient yourself to stomp the next enemy, only to be greeted by a claustrophobic enemy encounter on the other side of a rather long chasm pushed my stress levels past the comfort zone.
Don’t misunderstand me here, as I’m not suggesting that BloodRayne: Betrayal is devoid of some fun. I found myself really enjoying the early levels before the novelty of the combat ran out and the platforming became too teeth-gratingly hard. If this were a Newgrounds game, then I’d be praising the short title for having some fun with the source material. But this isn’t a Newgrounds game; this is a full-priced XBLA title. We’re talking 1200 MS points, a price that’s a bit steep for what we’re presented here.
Most of the reason I’m making the Flash-game connection comes down to the art style. Someone is going to love the way the game looks as it’s hand-drawn art with character animations that looks incredibly smooth, but it also looks pretty flat and bland when put on a big screen with HD graphics. It wasn’t until beating the game and unlocking the art gallery that I was able to see what some of these characters actually looked like up close, which is extremely odd since I played the game on a 38” screen and sat like two feet away.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is hard, but it’s not impossible. The combat system becomes stale extremely quickly, the platforming hurts like flagellation, and there isn’t much more to instill a second playthrough beyond Achievements. If you’re looking for something to keep your platforming-hell instincts sharp, or just like the whole vampire aesthetic, then go ahead and give the game a demo.
Enough from me though, what about you? Those who played BloodRayne: Betrayal, what did you think? Or have you been looking forward to this one for a while? Leave a comment and let me know. As for me, I think I’ll just go ahead and avoid this one like sunlight.