BloodRayne: Betrayal Review
BloodRayne Betrayal boasts a burgundy bedecked bloodthirsty belle’s bountiful bosom, beguiling beautiful backdrops, and blood bursting brutally from baneful baddies’ bodies by the buckets.
I’m a video game snob. It’s just painfully obvious when I pick up a video game controller and sit down to play a hack and slash game that I’m not easily content. Sure, I’ve played and reviewed the entire Devil May Cry series, Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and Konami’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. I’ve played all five God of War games, both Ninja Gaiden Sigma games, Dante’s Inferno, Bayontetta, and even some of X-Blades (the less said about that, the better…) I’ve played countless side-scrolling Arcade beat-em-ups like Turtles in Time, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Simpsons, X-Men, and other mind-numbing Final Fight button mashers, so it’s safe to say that the entire genre bores me to tears.
There’s the generic “kill wave after wave of the same enemies” type of button-mashers where Tsu Zu’s theories of “The Art of War” are used as props underneath the short leg of your wobbly coffee table. There’s the opposite extreme with games like Ninja Gaiden where you’ll die so many times that you’ll resort to wearing a tin-foil hat because after spending 6 hours on the first level you’ve convinced yourself that the game can read your thoughts. There’s games like God of War and Dante’s Inferno where, despite the developers best intentions at offering diversity, you’re exposed to a shit-ton of pull-and-push puzzles that kills the game’s momentum and make me yearn for the repetitious mashing of the square button through 666 generic zombie enemies, 151 flying bat-things, and 3 Centaurs. Even my beloved Devil May Cry occasionally bores me with its ‘find Object A and take it to Location 2’ moments.
In all honesty, the only games in recent memory that have retained my interest for their full duration have been Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Both games, in my never-so-humble opinion, did excellent work at not only providing ample action, but also ever-so-perfectly walked that fine line of offering diversions from the relentless combat without dozens of tedious puzzles grinding the games to a complete halt. Although both Lords of Shadow and Enslaved trade off on certain aspects (Enslaved having weak combat and Lords of Shadow being so-so on story) both had engaging and extremely diverse ‘diversions’ from the combat, be it climbing, light puzzle solving, Shadow of the Colossus boss fights, First-Person shooting, or surfing on a glowing metal disk through a post-apocalyptic New York that looks like the Garden of Eden.
So why in the hell do I love Bloodrayne: Betrayal? It’s as button-mashy, linear, repetitive, has often infuriating levels, and has almost ZERO story elements.
Let’s dig in and see why this simple game has won the admiration and recommendation of this snob.
So you’re the half-human, half-vampire (Dhampir) Rayne, and you’re an agent of the secret group of operatives known as The Brimstone Society. You’ve been summoned to a creepy old castle to battle vampires, and ultimately exorcise some of your daddy-issues against the King of Vampires, Kagan.
And that’s it.
No joke, the BloodRayne: Betrayal has all of the story elements of an 8-bit Castlevania game: You are a vampire slayer, you slay monsters in an ancient castle, and now you have to slay the biggest and baddest vampire. However, you do meet a mysterious white-haired, androgynous character named Raven whose power is to turn into a raven (clever). But Raven’s presence is minimal even though it’s played like he is supposed to be some enigmatic figure of intrigue and, as the title suggests, betrayal. I’m reminded of the “deep relationships” that the protagonist develops in the NES classic (and my first video game) Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse: You essentially see the new character and in one or two text boxes they say they want to join you, and if you allow a new character to join you the previous character displays another text box bidding you and your new friend a full sentence fond “adieu”. While not quite as limited in the story telling and character development department as 8-bit Castlevania games, the encounters with all TWO other characters (Raven and Rayne’s evil daddy, Kagan) are just as brief, underdeveloped and unrewarding.
Rayne on the other hand does get some time to shine. There’s no doubt that Rayne, the half-human half-vampire female protagonist of the Bloodrayne series has established herself as one of video gaming’s sex icons, even though I’ve never understood the attraction towards a woman who would rather suck you dry than to suck you off. Seriously, that’s some creepy ‘eat-the-male’ praying mantis stuff going on there…
On second thought… Damn…
*unbuttons shirt collar*
Anyways, with what limited dialogue is exchanged in BloodRayne: Betrayal, you do get the idea that Rayne is a self-confident woman with an attitude, despised by vampires and untrusted by the humans who she works for. But if you want a deep and moving tale of love, betrayal, trust and fear of a half-blooded creature torn between being man or monster, there’s better places to look than BloodRayne: Betrayal.
On the other hand, I also recognize that BloodRayne: Betrayal doesn’t necessarily NEED a story given the fact that it resembles a classic 1990s side scroller like Castlevania and should probably be treated as a fast and fun throwback to the classic arcade-styled gaming of the era. While I am absurdly cruel towards big budget modern games not having strong stories or characters, I will let smaller games that intentionally step back in time to gaming’s glory days.
The hand-drawn, animated style of BloodRayne: Betrayal is similar to the 2D fighting games BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and Guilty Gears, which is in no way a bad thing. BloodRayne: Betrayal is gorgeous when you see it in action: Heads roll and their necks turn into blood fountains, female monsters can have exploding breasts when you infect them with a vampire bite, and throwing enemies into gears, spikes and saw blades results in wonderfully bloody messes. Despite their hand-drawn appearances, the character sprites have a lot of detail, exemplified by such enemies as the blood golem monsters, which have corpses sloshing around in their jellyfish-like heads. Rayne herself moves just as smooth and elegantly as you would expect from a female vampire in black leather, running, jumping and fighting hordes of bloodthirsty creatures. But the greatest visual asset are the backgrounds which look as though they’re out of a comic book. Screenshots don’t do the backgrounds justice because there’s likely a half-dozen layers that move independently in the graveyards of the first level alone, creating the illusion of greater depth and a more expansive world in a very linear game.
Despite my gripes and snobbery of other hack and slash games, I’d be lying if I told you that none of them -be it Ninja Gaiden, God of War, Devil May Cry, The Mark of Kri, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow- had ever held my attention despite the redundant gameplay or the momentum shattering puzzle solving. And BloodRayne: Betrayal is no exception, but where I personally believe that BloodRayne: Betrayal excelled, without direct comparison to other big budget games, is that it beautifully blended a button-mashing side-scolling arcade-styled beat’em up with some excellent, albeit frustrating, platforming elements.
Rayne is equipped with a pair of bladed tonfas (think of police riot clubs with blades on them) and what appears to be a sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip, and whether or not either of them contain any silver to better kill the legions of vampires is never revealed, but maybe I’m just thinking too much about vampire lore and I should just shrug and think “Meh, if vampires can SPARKLE in Twilight, then Rayne can kill vampires with 12-guage bird-shot in her game.” The basic controls are simple enough: One button attacks, one button jumps, and your right bumper shoots the gun using the limited ammo you obtain from enemies (unlike Devil May Cry where you can go batshit loco with unlimited bullets). Despite only having one real attack button, you can perform different moves depending on how you chain the attack button together (example: ‘tap, tap, tap tap’ compared to ‘tap, tap, pause, tap, tap’) and whether or not you’re pressing a direction on the d-pad or control stick while attacking (example: pressing up while attacking will launch your opponent into the air where you can chain an aerial combo, and pressing down will perform a leg sweep). All in all, the attack button is utilized the same way as most other action games like God of War and Devil May Cry, which is not a bad thing. The only difference is that, like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the amount of combos available is extremely limited, constricting gameplay. You’re also given some special moves, such as the ability to dash forward, which is handy for both avoiding enemy attacks and reaching those hard to reach places during the platforming portions of the game, and a back flip action which allows you to reach higher places.
The platforming itself is, paradoxically, BloodRayne: Betrayal’s greatest feature and greatest flaw. Some of the levels in BloodRayne: Betrayal demonstrate what 20 years of gaming evolution have yielded in modern platforming games: complex level designs that require ample skill and lots of trial-and-error to get right. HOWEVER, BloodRayne: Betrayal’s later levels are abso-fucking-lutely unforgiving, and one single misstep in transversing over a bottomless pit by hopping on the backs of mutant mosquito through a maze of saw blades and floor/wall/roof-spikes will result in instant death, and you will spend nearly an hour on the same area, give up, turn the game off, pout, and then go back, determined to get that bloodsucking ginger bitch to move her cute pale ass through a 100 yard deathtrap.
Honestly, if you do decide to pick up BloodRayne: Betrayal, beware of Chapter 13 because it will rape you raw. Just sayin, “heads up” so you don’t come bitching back at me later…
In all honesty I was ready to turn my glowing review of BloodRayne: Betrayal into an absolute hate-fest in HTML until I finally managed to beat Chapter 13. And you know what? I felt good, like I’d actually accomplished something. It’s a feeling that I don’t get much in video games ever since the post-1990’s when developers decided that games apparently needed to be easier because people bitched and moaned about the 8-bit era’s difficulty, and where beating a video game required perseverance and skill. Yeah, after beating BloodRayne: Betrayal, I felt good.
A contrasting comparison I draw from Castlevania is the sound in BloodRayne: Betrayal. In Castlevania games, the sound itself is a main character. In fact, most people can identify Castlevania games by humming the music even before they say the names “Dracula” or “Belmont”. The music in BloodRayne: Betrayal does add to the atmosphere of the game, however the music is unmemorable, and is often the same tracks are used repeatedly in the course of this 15 Chapter, 6 to 8 hour game. It’s not saying that the music is bad, because the Goth metal tracks in BloodRayne do heighten the extreme-action, kill’em all atmosphere in this modern Castlevania world, but these are not tracks like the infamous “Bloody Tears” which 90% of gamers can hum by heart. BloodRayne has excellent sound effects which help draw you into this world of cartoon violence, but I was surprised that the game refrained from using voice actors during the few moments of dialogue. My theory is that perhaps the developers decided to learn from the mistakes of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a remarkable game that was slammed by critics for the Godaweful dialogue and voice acting. Instead of losing points on the Critic’O’Meters, they opted to exclude a potential drawback alltogether. Perhaps a wise move.
BloodRayne: Betrayal honestly blew my mind ever since I got my hands on the demo because it not only looked great, but it felt great when I was playing it. I won’t lie if I said that some parts of BloodRayne: Betrayal weren’t repetitive, or too easy in some places, or too frustrating on others. The combat is simple and sometimes repetitive, the story is almost non-existant, and the level designs can be infuriating. However, it’s the counterbalance between the gory yet fairly intuitive and satisfying hack-and-shash action and challenging action platforming that really keeps the game from turning trite.
All in all, BloodRayne: Betrayal is a great game at a great price, and it’s deserving of your attention.