Review: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (XB)

Okay, I’ll admit it. My name is Cory. I’m a heterosexual male, and I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Of course, it’s not that hard to be a straight man and love Buffy. Not only is Buffy herself (Sarah Michelle Gellar) hot, but you’re also treated to the beautiful-but-semi-evil Cordelia (former San Diego Chargers cheerleader Charisma Carpenter), the demon-turned-hottie Anya (Emma Caufield), and the cute-as-a-button Willow (Alyson Hannigan, who is doing her best to make me forget about Gillian Anderson). On top of that, this is, or rather, was a tightly written show that always delivered wit and some kick ass fighting scenes. Comedy, fighting, and babes. What else does the male demographic need, beer?

“Beer good.” — Buffy Summers, Season 4.

It spawned one of the first games for the then-fledgling Xbox, and a good adventure game at that. The close up graphics weren’t the best (especially the apparently zombified Xander) but the action and environments more than made up for it.

Our latest chapter is touted as a “missing” episode from Season 5. People have been confused on this point, and I’ve heard every season from 4 through 7. It *is* Season 5, and I know this by the following indicators:

– Spike is still evil, but helping out. (Seasons 5 and 6)
– Joyce Summers is dead. (Mid-season 5 and after)
– Tara and Willow are an item (Seasons 5 and 6)
– Giles is still in town and running the Magic Box (Season 5 through mid-Season 6)
– Buffy isn’t dead (end of Season 5 — very early Season 6)
And the kicker”¦.
– Buffy isn’t schtuping Spike. (Season 6)

So this “episode” occurs somewhere in mid-season 5, since it doesn’t appear like the whole Glory story arc has taken off yet.



Game: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Eurocom
Distributor: Vivendi
Favorite line in the game: Buffy: “Just what a girl needs — a nice hard shaft. Wait”¦.that didn’t come out right.” (She was talking about a wooden stake”¦.that you kill vampires with.”¦..perv.)

STORY

With Joss Whedon and his crew taking care of some of the writing duties on this game, you know it’s going to be good. Weird things are happening around Sunnydale (NO! REALLY?!), but this isn’t your normal Sunnydale type of weird. Old bad guys are coming back from the dead”¦.wait, that DOES happen fairly regularly. It turns out they’re coming from an alternate dimension”¦..wait, THAT happens fairly often too”¦.and it all has to do with Ethan Rayne”¦that’s it. I’m going home. *clop clop clop clop clop clop SLAM!!*

I kid. It’s actually a really good story. Ethan’s back and he’s made a deal with The First Evil. Buffy-philes will know that The First wasn’t just the Big Bad of Season 7, but made it’s first appearance far earlier in the series when it brought Angel back out of the hell-dimension for the purpose of killing Buffy (which he not only wouldn’t do, he almost committed suicide by sunrise to prevent it from happening).

So Ethan’s made a deal with The First, and the Scoobies end up traveling into The First’s own dimension, and an even more twisted version of Sunnydale than the “real” one, to battle it. Along the way, you are treated to some pretty typical (read: good) Joss Whedon writing, and even the cinematography of the cut-scenes is straight out of the show. You end up quitting the game and saving out of pure exhaustion, because you want to finish the level to find out what happens next, but some of the levels take up to an hour to complete, and you just get wiped out (more on this in the addictiveness section).

In a nutshell, with Joss writing it, you KNOW the story is going to be the strong suit, and the game does not disappoint.

GRAPHICS

The character models are much MUCH improved. Buffy actually looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar. Willow looks like Alyson (be still my beating heart) Hannigan. Xander looks like something other than an extra from “Army of Darkness.” Giles still looks a little too much like the Joker, and a couple of the other principles have kinda washed-out features (Faith is attractive enough, but she DOESN’T look like Eliza Dushku), but they’re still so much better that even that doesn’t bother me”¦.much.


The gang’s all here! And they actually look like the gang!

The improved character models carry over to the bad guys too, although you’re still treated to the same 10-ish vampires over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s not really distracting or anything, but when you have to kill as many vamps as you have to in this game, it’s the sort of thing you notice. There’s one vamp (if I may cross-reference my wrestling fandom for a sec) that looks a little too much like Matt Hardy; so every time he would show up, I would think “Hey, it’s Matt Hardy,” and I thus could gauge exactly how often they reused the vamp models. Animation is good through all aspects of the game, as is collision detection; although, they’re a little liberal with where a vampire’s heart can be when you stake them. Not a complaint, just an observation. Several times I was able to kill vamps by stabbing them with a stake IN THE CROTCH. Owie owie owie! On the plus side, they got the “dusty” effect when you stake a vamp just right.

The environments are wonderful. They really did a great job at making places look legitimately creepy. I’m not prone to claustrophobia, but some of the maps gave me that feel, and that was a rush. Lighting was spot-on (pardon the pun) everywhere. I still get goose bumps thinking about going into the church in the second level, it was that creepy.


Nice place to look at. But I wouldn’t want to visit there.

Camera angles could be better sometimes. Enemies seem to have a habit of coming out of where the camera isn’t looking, so you get into the habit of spinning the camera view around first thing when you hear a vamp coming. Sometimes you see it before it hits you, most of the time not.

SOUND

As the environments are wonderful, so are the environmental sounds. Background music is just like you’d want it in a TV show. It’s there, it adds to the feel of the scenes it needs to, but it doesn’t overpower. So many games nowadays bludgeon you with their music that it’s nice to see someone use background music in an understated way for once.

Once again, they couldn’t get all of the principles for the voice talent (Why, Alyson?! Why?!) but they got quite a few. Nicholas Brendon (Xander), Anthony Head (Giles), James Marsters (Spike), Amber Benson (Tara), and Robin Sachs (Ethan) all recorded for the game, and that helps reduce the cheap-y factor that ALL games based on movies or shows have. For the voices they couldn’t get (Buffy, Willow, Anya) they at least found voice talent that was REALLY close to sounding like the actual actors, and those surrogates obviously did their homework in practicing how the TV show characters speech patterns fell out. Most casual Buffy viewers won’t ever know the difference. Each character is reading official Joss Whedon lines, and it shows in spades. Whether it’s the cut-scenes, or the throwaway lines that characters use during combat, you are continuously treated to the genius that is Joss.

Action sounds are appropriate and varied enough to assist in the suspension of disbelief. They didn’t wow me, but then again they’re not really supposed to, are they? They’re there to immerse you into the world you’re playing in, and the action sounds do that well.

CONTROL

If you’ve played the original Buffy game, you’ll be pretty much familiar with how things are run this time around. There are some not-so-minor changes, though. On the plus side is the inclusion of the “auto-stake” button. If you get into a combat and you’re not armed with a stake, all you have to do is press the black button and it automatically arms you with a stake (provided you’re carrying some) AND swings, so you won’t miss an opening to dust a vamp. On the bad side is that you can’t arm or use items out of the pause menu anymore, so if you need to arm anything besides a stake, you pretty much have to run around in circles to buy yourself time to search your inventory for what you need. Actually it sounds harder than it actually is, since the inventory is easy to access and maneuver through, but it’s still a bit annoying for us who played the first game.

The big change this time is that you play different characters at different points in the game. So, of course, each character has different abilities. Buffy has her Slayer-ific moves, Willow has magic, Xander has”¦”¦..has”¦”¦..ah, he’s got nothin’; but years of fighting alongside Buffy have just made him a general bad-ass. You even play a little bit as Sid the Dummy, and I’ve got to say he’s got an awesome running windmill attack.

As for maneuvering, I love how easy it is to maneuver when you’re not fighting; especially when you have to interact with ladders or ledges or the like. Some games get really tricky in those situations and I’m glad to say this isn’t one of them. The approach angles for ladders are wide, so you don’t have to line up perfectly to climb them. Ledge grabbing is a lot easier than it has any right to be, and I’d personally like to thank the developers for that. Falling two stories 10 times in a row trying to grab a ledge is not something I enjoy doing.

The other side of the coin of ease of maneuvering is that you can’t turn that off when you’re fighting. Like most gamers, I have some sort of embedded expectation that, when you hit an attack button, your character should auto-target an opponent to some degree. Now, I don’t mean seek out and turn to and whatever, I mean that if an opponent is in front of you but at a slight angle, turning to close that angle on the attack. It’s funny that you don’t have to line up just right to climb a ladder but you almost have to if you want to punch somebody in this game. Of course, a lot of it is the button-masher mentality, but there have been times where I thought I was lined up and the opponent stepped to the side right when I hit the attack button so Buffy executes a wonderful combo a foot to the left of the intended target.

It’s not really detrimental to game play, but after watching hours upon hours of Buffy shows, It’s a little jarring to me to see her missing that badly.

To end on a good note, there is one really neat aspect that they incorporated into this game. You can knock vamps back into parts of the environment; say, fires or broken and protruding 2x4s; and kill them, which is something done quite a bit in the show.

REPLAYABILITY

To help this the added some multiplayer games which are surprisingly fun, if a bit odd. Three words: Catch. The. Bunny. (It’s an inside joke for Buffy fans that I won’t get into here.) That, and the ability to go back and re-do previously cleared levels (in order to find all of the secret items and thus unlock characters for use in multiplayer modes) give this an above average rating. However, really, how many times do you replay an adventure game? Once in a while when you haven’t touched it for six months or so, or if it has an exceptionally good multiplayer mode (Halo) but otherwise?

BALANCE

As with most adventure games, the first level is pretty much a tutorial which eases you in pretty well. The increase in challenge with higher levels isn’t so much tougher opponents as it is energy management, i.e. killing vamps more efficiently so you don’t lose as much energy throughout the round. The only places you run into brick walls, so to speak, are those times you can’t figure out where to go next; and that’s a problem that ALL adventure gamers have at some point. I need only point to the original Zelda for an example there. The fun level stays pretty constant throughout the game until tedium begins to set in (and when you’ve killed your thousandth vamp of the day, tedium DOES start to set in). There aren’t many changes in game control to keep interest fresh, but this IS an adventure game, so it’s expected.

ORIGINALITY

On one hand it’s not original at all, with the killing the bad guys of the night and all that. On the other hand the fact that the writers and actors worked on this game to give it a real and compelling story makes it VERY original. How many movie/TV show games have you played where you felt like you were actually in the show? Not many, I wager; and that’s where this game shows its originality.

Average adventure game + above average script = slightly above average originality

ADDICTIVENESS

This game is so well written that the story compels you to keep playing. However, the levels are so long that exhaustion (and in some cases, motion sickness) takes over and you end up saving and then not going back for a while. There are adequate save points throughout the levels, but just the thought of spending an hour on ONE level, especially when you’ve pulled yourself out of the story, makes it hard to motivate yourself to get back in. This is supposed to be representative of A missing episode of Buffy, but you end up devoting about 7 or 8 times that in time spent on this game. Now, I’d rather have it that way than feel shortchanged by the game’s length, but it does hurt the addictiveness aspect of it somewhat.

Of course, there are lots of adventure games like that. Hardcore adventure gamers will be sucked in no matter what bedsores they get. The story actually compels you to want to start the next level, so the addictiveness is slightly above average.

APPEAL FACTOR

Considering I haven’t seen this game on the rental shelves yet, the only real appeal this game has is for existing Buffy fans. However, since I feel that the show was under appreciated during its run, the game will surely be under appreciated as well. I’m hoping adventure gamers will give it a try, because I think they’ll appreciate it. Otherwise, I don’t see it appealing to anybody but who it’s supposed to.

MISCELLANEOUS

I’m using this category to talk about the extras, which are some of my favorite parts of the game; specifically, the interviews. As you progress through the levels, you unlock new characters for multiplayer, but you also unlock interviews with the actors and highlights of their voiceover recording sessions. These interviews are not 30-second blurbs. They run multiple minutes, and the Joss Whedon interview that is unlocked out of the box is positively LONG, not to mention hilarious. Again, as I’ve pounded into the ground by now, Buffy fans will adore these bits, but non-fans won’t give two shakes about them; but compared to most other game “extras” this is rather sizeable and deserves some accolades.

Also when you beat the game, you can unlock the playable character of Joss Whedon himself. Of course, as the writer, he has the powers of ALL of the characters, and he has his own stable of smart-ass remarks to make. It’s the modern version of Tobias-Boon, but I plotzed over those extras too.

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Control: 7/10
Replayability: 6/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10
Average Rating: 6.5/10