Platforms: PSN | XBLA (Reviewed)
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
I've been banging my head against a brick wall during the process of writing this review... both literally and figuratively. Rarely has a game proved to be so frustrating and yet so bizarrely compelling; delivering a sucker punch of aggravation, fun and a host of contradictions. Where does one draw the line between being taxing and outrageously cheap? Between time-sensitive combat mechanics and abject, broken clunkiness? Between being complex and overly fussy? Or between good... and terrible?
Confusingly, BloodRayne: Betrayal is all of the above.
WayForward' 2D platform brawler casts players as the iconic Dhampir Rayne, who's back for an intense adventure against a league of evil vampires in an underground castle. Using her ridiculous burrowing subterranean Coffin Rocket (which we adore, by the way), the deadly seductress will butcher her way through fifteen gory levels in an experience that's purposefully light on story but relishes in bombarding its players with new and exciting challenges. Hordes of campy vampire swordsmen, scythe-armed demons, exploding cancerous buboe fiends and countless other horrors await you in the dark demesne, attacking in huge numbers that demand technical precision and brutal efficiency in combat. On top of that, Betrayal delights in some outrageously hardcore platforming segments involving split second jumping and all manner of horrendous spiky obstacles.
The art direction and graphical style is by far the most impressive part of the experience. WayForward have pulled no punches to ensure that BloodRayne: Betrayal is unrepentantly over the top in every way imaginable. Lurid and gorgeous level design stuffed with overtly gothic design elements rub shoulders with chunky, crisp sprites that pop out of the screen, along with liberal buckets of blood and rolling, bouncing body parts. It's bright, colourful and vibrant despite the grisly dark setting, displaying competent use of stark silhouettes and caricature. It's also worth noting that the crunchy hair metal soundtrack even gives Castlevania a run for its money.
Naturally Rayne has an enormous host of combat abilities at her disposal. Her arm blades make light work of enemies at short range thanks to a huge range of combos, including aerial attacks, ground pounds, stomps and fluid, visceral Foes can be whipped up into the air and booted into spikes or grinding gears (that frequently act as switches, in a neat touch). You can leap on enemies' heads to act as temporary platforms, dash through their incoming attacks with the left trigger and even gorge yourself on their blood to restore your health. This mind-boggling array of skills can be overwhelming at first due to some weak tutorials, but BloodRayne's combat is as technical as you'd expect from the Ninja Gaiden franchise.
Firearms such as an incredibly powerful magnum pistol and a light cannon also help to even the odds from long range, balanced by low ammo counts and the ability to be used as innovative puzzle solutions.
Unfortunately the controls and mechanics aren't responsive or considerate enough to be considered fit for task. Every single combo and combat option is mapped to the X (or Square) button, meaning that you'll frequently trigger the wrong moves in the heat of combat by accidentally flicking the stick in the wrong direction. PS3 players may find that the Dualshock's directonal pad is more competent, mind. The dash move probably the worst offender as it's horribly inaccurate and the animation doesn't commence the instant you depress the trigger, resulting in numerous frustrating deaths when it's the only way to avoid certain obstacles.
In fact, the only combat mechanic you can consistently rely on is the blood sucking, which can be triggered mid-combo if you knock an enemy off guard with regular attacks. It's powerful, immediate and rewards close examination of enemy sprites to notice when they enter a stunned state.
Even the basic movement and jump controls feel unresponsive and overly weighty considering how lithe and graceful Rayne ought to be. Wall jumps and backflips are fairly simple to pull off, but rarely with the intended effect during a combat situation. Some players (I'm looking squarely at Demon's Souls superfans here) may argue that this is a perfectly acceptable way to increase a game's difficulty, but we're having none of it. If a game sets out to be difficult, it needs to ensure that the player is empowered by unimpeachably tight mechanics so that they can't blame their numerous deaths on anyone but themselves. See also: The Dishwasher and Super Meat Boy.
It's time to face the issue of difficulty head-on. BloodRayne: Betrayal bares its fangs from the very beginning by exhibiting frequent knockdown attacks, split-second platforming sequences and a staggeringly steep learning curve. Factor in the aforementioned control gripes and you've got yourself one tough little title. It ultimately boils down to personal preference, but many gamers will find the experience to be unpleasantly punishing.
But despite all that, BloodRayne: Betrayal is absolutely astounding when everything comes together; those frequent moments when your experience and a little blind luck conspire to create some gloriously visceral carnage. Chaining together different combos and techniques results in a balletic dance of death as Rayne seductively slaughters her way through dozens of enemies, cleaving apart her foes with gory effieciency that's genuinely sexy to behold. Practice eventually makes perfect, and BloodRayne: Betrayal ultimately shines as an homage to uncompromising, old-school design mentality.
Replayability is also surprisingly impressive thanks to a dynamic scoring system that rewards creative kills and speedy completions. Netting the higher rankings for each level is an exercise in trial, error and grind, but one that's surprisingly compelling as your skills, awareness and feel for the controls develop over time.
- Brutal, satisfying combat and platforming
- Outstanding visuals
- Surprisingly impressive value
- Inconsiderate controls
- Sluggish, unresponsive and finnicky mechanics
- Often ridiculously cheap
The Short Version: BloodRayne: Betrayal is a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous that deserves to be praised as an uncompromising, flawed 2D masterwork. Control and mechanical gripes threaten to turn what should have been a satisfyingly tough experience into a frustrating horror story, but there's enough polish and visceral carnage to garner a solid recommendation to those who like their gaming fast and hard.