I'll be honest with you. Playing WayForward’s BloodRayne: Betrayal was not something I was looking forward to. The franchise itself has a bad reputation for being shallow and repetitive, and for me, it’s right there in the name: BloodRayne. It’s “blood” and “rain,” but with a “y.” Maybe I’m judging a game by its cover, but this brand of witty wordplay is why I usually don’t like going to “shoppes.” Still, WayForward can’t be blamed for the franchise and they’ve put out some good games in the past. Let’s hit play and see what happens.
A few bloody hours later, and I’ve come away knowing one thing for sure: BloodRayne lives up to its name in every way.
Rayne may be a vampire, but the plot of this game is more like Frankenstein's monster: the armored anti-vampire soldiers are straight from Hellsing and the half-vampire huntress feels like Blade's little sister. The original game also sported evil occult Nazis, so I think we officially have enough stitched-together cliches to pitch this to George Lucas as the next Indiana Jones movie. Luckily the game doesn't take itself too seriously, so the plot just fades into the background.
The backgrounds themselves, on the other hand, are gorgeous. The game's art style is clean, sporting vivid colors and smooth animations. The first time you load up and Rayne is sitting on a fountain of blood, drinking coquettishly out of a teacup with the massive glowing moon behind her tells you all you really need to know about the art. It's simple, it's stylish, and thankfully isn't just gray and gloomy like dozens of other "dark" games.
Betrayal’s gameplay follows a pattern that should be well-worn and familiar to anyone who's ever held a controller: a little combat, a little platforming, fight a boss and then repeat. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the way these features interact, so let’s take a page from Rayne’s book of problem solving and chop the game up into manageable pieces.
First, the combat: this is where the game really shines. It’s hard to balance a game to make you constantly feel both in danger and in control, and WayForward has done an excellent job. The options open to you are fairly basic. You get a few sword combos, a gun with piercing ammo, a defensive slide and a bite/grapple. It’s the way these attacks combine during a fight that really brings a grin to my face. The game throws a lot of enemies at you, and each one can take a significant hunk out of Rayne’s health bar. To keep your health up, you’ll have to keep a close eye on each enemy and interrupt them before they can shoot, stab, or otherwise maim you. If you do get hurt, you can stun an enemy and then bite them to heal yourself.
Put all this together, and the combat snowballs in intensity. In any given fight, you’ll be making Rayne do a frenetic dance across the screen. She'll slide under a bullet, knock an enemy into the air, leap up and finish him, bounce off another's head and land behind him, draining him of blood to top off her health bar. If things start to get overwhelming, Rayne can even bite an enemy to turn him into a sickly green walking bomb that you detonate with a button press. Did I forget to mention that? Vampires can now make you explode. I guess Rayne's been eating people who take nitroglycerin for heart problems. Throw in a couple of environmental hazards like ultraviolet spotlights, and BloodRayne's combat is easy to learn and fun to master.
The platforming, on the other hand, felt more like "that annoying bit before I get to more combat." The same fluid and slick animations that let you dance around in combat will frequently be dancing you right off the edge of a cliff. The same gorgeous backdrops you were admiring earlier do a terrible job of distinguishing between a platform you can stand on and one that's just decorative.
Some of the platforming sections are incredibly difficult and will require numerous repetitions before you finally make it to the other side. Since improving your high score is pretty much the only thing Betrayal offers in terms of replay value, this can be especially frustrating. It doesn't matter what kind of incredible efficiency you can crush a group of enemies with if you fall into a chasm six times trying to get to the next group of them. It'd be one thing if I thought I could just write this off as my own lack of skill, but the game's controls are definitely made for fluid combat and not precision jumping. Rayne literally cannot do anything but sprint, which makes small adjustments on a platform pretty difficult to do.
Other platforming puzzles are so simple that I found myself wondering why the game didn't just let me run across a flat path to the next set of enemies instead of wasting my time. One of the early puzzles was just a platform moving back and forth on a rail, looking like it had escaped from Super Mario World and was hiding here until the heat died down. I'm not embarrassed to say that the mental image of Rayne turning a Koopa Troopa into a walking bomb was literally the only enjoyment I managed to squeeze out of the game's platforming sections.
BloodRayne: Betrayal surpassed a lot of my (admittedly low) expectations. Most of the game is genuinely a lot of fun, a great example of how to balance health and damage to make combat fluid and challenging. The platforming segments feel like either pointless filler or pointless frustration. The art is great, the plot is weak. So is it worth fifteen bucks?
I don't think so. The only replay value comes from literally replaying the game to beat your high score, which got old quickly for me. If WayForward had just focused on the excellent combat instead of muddying the waters with bad platforming, I'd be giving a hearty recommendation. As it stands, all I can say is absolutely try out the demo, and if you ever see it on sale, snap it up.
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Release: September 6, 2011
Available On: PlayStation Network (PS3), Xbox Live Marketplace
BloodRayne - Hate it
Ninja Gaiden Ė Meh
Dynasty Warriors series - Like it
Castlevania series - Like it
Hellsing Ė Like it