Inside Pulse 12

Review: Bloodrayne: Betrayal (Xbox 360)

Bloodrayne: Betrayal
Genre: Action/Platform
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 09/07/2011

If there is one video game franchise that, despite several attempts in multiple forms of media, noone has really been able to make successful, it would be Bloodrayne. How noone has managed to take a barely clothed hot half-vampire chick who kills Nazis AND vampires with blades on her arms and make something really awesome out of it is bizarre. The original Bloodrayne game was released almost a decade ago and, while it was rough around the edges and had some technical issues, there were some fun moments of mowing down Nazis (Hell, change Nazi to zombies and I would’ve just described Dead Island). The second game managed to do more with the combat, but it was also a bug ridden mess, had repetitive “puzzles” (throw X amount of enemies into Y got old, fast) and fell into the shadow of better action games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden.

Still, despite having two games that were lukewarm at best critically, the franchise has managed to stick around. Rayne has been in Playboy, there have been three movies based on the franchise (terrible, terrible movies) and even a comic that no one wanted to read. I’ve played the games, seen the movies, looked at the Playboy pictures, and ignored the comic, because the core concept is interesting. At least the games have come close to doing something great with it.

WayForward took the reins of the franchise, and when I heard about that, I couldn’t have been happier. WayForward is one of my favorite developers. I’m a fan of 2D gaming and their art and design are always amazing. As well, they had already successfully made modern versions of other games I’m a fan of, like Contra 4 and A Boy and His Blob. I figured if anyone could take the series and do something with it, Way Forward could really do something with the idea.

They have, for better or worse.

First thing that should be noted is that the previous history of Bloodrayne is thrown right out the window. In fact this game is very light on any story elements. There’s a gathering of vampires by Kagan, Rayne’s father, and she is dispatched with some Brimstone soldiers to take care of the problem. Along the way she meets Raven, a character with little to no explanation about who he is and what his motivations are despite being integral to the plot. Considering the prior media for the series has woven a dense tapestry of mythos to draw from, even if it wasn’t always good, it’s sort of a shame that WayForward didn’t really do anything with it. I understand that they might want to separate their version from prior versions of Bloodrayne, but this game doesn’t really have much of a story, whether it be original OR based off of the past games. It cherrypicks some themes, like Rayne working with Brimstone, and hunting her father, while disregarding others, like the fact that she’s a Dhampir (aside from the best score rank you can achieve, it isn’t mentioned). The stuff that they’ve added, like Raven, is so barely there that when the game does throw in a plot twist, it means nothing. Yet they managed to fit their company name into character dialog.

When you put the word betrayal into the title, you expect that when the betrayal happens in the game for it to actually carry weight. It doesn’t.

The rest of the presentation of the game is amazing. WayForward has an art style that can make a game look more like an animated cartoon than a video game. The backgrounds look great and the enemy designs are fantastic. From the bosses to the minions, they are all hand crafted beautifully. Rayne herself is designed in a way that makes her look both feminine and dangerous, but without seeming exploitative. I’m a a big fan of the small details, and the developer enriches every level with little things, like how Rayne sips blood in a teacup at checkpoints, to try and convey things with visuals instead of words. The game is a joy to just look at, and to watch in action. This is one of the few games that I consider the unlockable art gallery as a significant reward. The background music and sound effects are also well done, as it is a mixture of horror and rock that fits exactly with the themes of Bloodrayne: Betrayal.

As far as the meat of the game, I’d like to clear something up right away. I’ve read many other reviews and message board posts comparing the game to Konami’s Castlevania series. I think that is a mistake and likely to frustrate a person who buys Bloodrayne: Betrayal. If indeed it is similar to Castlevania, it certainly is not similar in the more recent Metroid-esque style of Castlevania, but closer to the original NES roots of the series. Even then, just because a game is set in the side scrolling views, has a gothic castle and has vampires does not make it analogous. That’s like saying the Echoes mode of Bulletstorm and Halo are the same type of game because they both feature other worlds, first person views, and aliens to kill by the dozens. In fact, playing the game by carefully making your way across the map, exploring every nook and cranny like Castlevania means that you’ll almost certainly get an F-ranking at the end of the level.

Bloodrayne: Betrayal is about speed, controlling crowds of enemies wisely, and pulling off devastating combos on enemies (which if you are familiar with Bulletstorm‘s Echoes mode, you can see why I chose to make the prior analogy). It also is about tricky combat and difficult platform jumps.

When you get the hang of the combat, dashing between platforms, how to handle different enemies, and so on, there are times when the separate elements of the game come together in way that is wonderful. Once you start to figure it out, it is like learning to play an instrument and making different notes come together in a gorgeous gore covered symphony. Take a moment to spoil the first level and watch someone S-Rank it at some point. You can see how everything comes together.

However it is when those elements do not come together that the game falls apart and you’re left wondering why WayForward hates you so much.

The game is a combination of platforming and action. Each level is usually broken up into platform sections with the occasional arena section. The action is fairly straightforward. You move Rayne with the joystick or D-pad, pressing X for attacks. After an initial attack, Rayne can stagger her opponent enough to suck their blood. A brief taste will infect the enemy and make them glow green. Then they can be made to explode with the Y button. The left trigger is used for dashing about the screen, and when dashing Rayne is invincible, a move that is important both in combat and for the platforming sections. Right trigger fires her gun, but be warned that though powerful, her bullets are limited. On the platform side of things, A is to jump, quickly running forward and changing direction and pressing A will cause Rayne to backflip.

The first problem is that despite making a game that is different than either hardcore 2D action or platform games, the game itself does very little to tell you exactly what to do aside from the very basic moves, or how to get a better score. Bloodrayne: Betrayal is going to be a love it or hate it game, and the developers really only have themselves to blame for it. While I’m not a fan of games that hold your hand and feel the need to spell out every game mechanic, Bloodrayne: Betrayal doesn’t do enough to really inform the player what they’re doing wrong or how to do better.

Not only that, but some of aspects of the game just don’t work very well. There are some brutal platforming sections, if you approach these by trying to carefully time the jumps, you’re dead. These areas require precise jumps and dashes in order to get across a level, often with the focus on jumping and dashing as fast as you possibly can. Unfortunately there are areas where the platforms are very tiny, and the slightly floaty jump and dash moves don’t feel tight enough to accurately make these kind of jumps. The scoring mechanic of the game requires you to make these jumps with precision and at a quick pace or suffer a low score. Seriously, the scoring mechanic is so brutal that if you are looking to A or S rank a level and you miss a jump and die, just restart the level because you’ve got no chance.

That’s not even counting the sections where you have to cross gaps by jumping on the heads of enemies. There were multiple times I could have sworn I was inputting the command correctly only to fall through the enemy because I was a hair off of the mark. What is even more frustrating is that at one point in the game Rayne gets the ability to turn into a bird and fly past these obstacles. However the game then takes that ability away in many of the levels right after that so that you just don’t fly through the difficult sections. Why give an ability only to make it pointless for most of the remainder of the game?

That’s not to say these areas are impossible, only that there seems to be a divide between those that wanted to make a difficult platformer and those that wanted to make a score based game where time was an important factor. I don’t think the game was anymore tough than some other platform games I’ve played. I’ve certainly died more in Super Meat Boy or Ms. ‘Splosion Man than during the fifteen chapters of Bloodrayne, yet those deaths felt like they happened because I didn’t jump at the right time, instead of because the game didn’t recognize that I hit the button to bounce off of an enemies head.

The combat portions are way easier than the platform sections. It’s all about crowd control, using the guns and different combos to juggle different enemy types. Here’s a tip, don’t be afraid to use the gun, enemies drop ammo pretty regularly, and during timed challenges it can be a lifesaver. Also, while it can be easy to forget with everything going on, remember to use the ability to explode enemies. There are multiple combat arenas throughout the game, and the developers tried to make the most out of it by making these varied with different environmental obstacles to use to defeat enemies. Different enemies have different patterns and it is important to learn them all and the best way to defeat them in order to really maximize your score.

The combat isn’t without problems as well. For example there are a couple of areas where the combat arena is set in a silhouette. Creative idea, but all the shadows make it so that it is sometimes impossible to tell where Rayne is on screen, and as mentioned, one death can kill your score. Yet despite what seems like creative divisiveness, there is a level that manages to take all my complaints, somewhat imprecise platforming, sections where the bird ability is not allowed strangely, and silhouette fighting and strings them all together in a row. Stringing together the biggest flaws of the game and setting them in a level that rocks back and forth on top of that was a let down after a great boss battle.

Still, when you get the hang of it, the game has moments of brilliance. Dashing around, slicing enemies up, and slipping through giant buzzsaws has rarely looked so good. If the game was only a little more user friendly about explaining what the expectations of the player are. I know I started enjoying the game more once I saw an S-Rank run through of the first level and realized that was what the game expected of me. If you think that the game DOES impart this on the player properly, well think about this. When I got a C-Rank on the first level, that put me into the top fifty players at that time. Even my first completion score, which had more worm chow than a school cafeteria, I was in the top 300 players.

The game is fifteen levels long, and took me about four hours to complete. That doesn’t sound very long, but the game is all about getting a higher score, doing more combos and trying to race through it. While some people may not like that, they can still enjoy the game despite the F ratings they may receive. However this game was obviously designed around the idea of doing speed runs for better score. I have to admit, one of my favorite moments of the game wasn’t completing the game as much as it was going back through a level and after the fourth or fifth try getting a much better score on it.

As far as difficulty goes, the platforming can be picky because of some of the hit box issues mentioned earlier and the level of accuracy jumps require, along with the time it takes to get used to dashing between platforms quickly. Once you get the hang of it the platforming isn’t nearly as difficult as something like Super Meat Boy. Nearly all of the combat moves are mapped to the X button and it is easy to do once you learn to control different enemy types. Checkpoints are scattered throughout the levels, and are placed well so that death doesn’t usually mean replaying large chunks of game (with a couple exceptions). The real difficulty in the game is trying to get a decent score, which requires a level of perfection in both speed of getting across the level and in not getting hit at all during the combat portions. Sadly, aside from the most dedicated or obsessive compulsive gamers, I don’t see many people replaying the levels to get to the point where they can S-Rank them all.

With fifteen levels, the scoring system looks to encourage replayability of these levels. However the difficulty of getting a good score is so high, it feels like the game is actually insulting you for replaying a level and failing to do well. Maybe it’s just because games now reward you for nearly every action with an achievement or unlockable or whatever, that when this game calls you worm chow after you’ve managed to barely survive, it is not a feeling you want to relive over and over again until you manage to actually get a decent score.

As a fan of WayForward, 2D games, and games that can be brutally difficult, I should love Bloodrayne: Betrayal. However it feels almost like there are two different games, a white knuckle platformer with careful jumps and flashy combat on one hand, and a game that that encourages speed and mocks you when you die on the other. I like the game, a lot even, but I don’t love the way they combined some of the ideas. If they wanted to encourage speed runs through the levels, why not have a leaderboard that lists time of completion instead? Or have some ability to view others score runs? Why call the player Worm Chow for not scoring well on a level if there is nothing within the game to show a player how to get a better score? I had these questions and more while playing Bloodrayne: Betrayal. Whatever issues the game might have, it is still the best Bloodrayne game I’ve played, even if that’s not a high bar to jump over. I’d like to see WayForward get a chance at making another Bloodrayne game because they showed some interesting concepts in the game, and I’d like to see them get a chance to further develop those ideas in another game.

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Amazing
Audio: Very Good
Controls: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a great looking, blood-soaked thrillride that at times is at odds with itself over what kind of game it wants to be. There are some frustrating moments when jumping doesn’t appear to work as intended, and the game doesn’t bother to instruct the player what exactly is expected of them, but I still had a fun time with the game and I hope this will lead to a larger future between the franchise and WayForward.

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