Everybody has a game they consider a guilty pleasure, and the original BloodRayne
was mine when it came out two years ago this month. It had a hot chick slicing and dicing Nazis with huge blades attached to her arms, a host of weaponry, and a great B-movie horror style about it. Unfortunately, monotonous combat eventually ground down the fun factor and kept it from true greatness, though it sold well. The sequel has gone far to improve the variety of the combat model, but BloodRayne 2
can't quite escape some trappings of the original.
This one starts out with the title character in the midst of wreaking vengeance upon the entire family tree of the enemy who killed her family. We've also jumped ahead seventy years, but Bloodrayne, being a "dhampir," half-vampire and half-human, doesn't seem to have aged a day. In the intervening years however, the powerful family she's pledged to destroy has made plans of their own, and it takes a page right out of the Blade playbook--vampires will take over the world and kill all humans by blocking out the sun, and it's up to her to put a stop to it.
As before, there are no health packs or magic balls littered through the map. Rayne gets her health back by feeding on the enemy, and she can refill her Rage points (or mana, in other words) by executing a brutal attack once she's initiated the feeding. There are four different fatalities, two each depending on if she hits the enemy from the back or the front. Unlike the first installment, though, she won't be picking up weapons and ammunition. Instead, she gets a pair of modular guns that she refills by starting to feed, then hitting the trigger button. The more damage the enemy has taken, the less of a refill she'll get, and that goes for health and Rage. As the game progresses, these guns will get upgrades so they can also perform as a fully automatic submachine gun, shotgun, or even a grenade launcher. It's a clever and innovative system, and a refreshing break from the games that ask you to run around and bust crates open. On the other hand, that means there's little reward to exploring the nooks and crannies, and the maps are very linear anyway.
Rayne's famous blades have changed as well. Instead of being hinged and allowing the player to swing them around for a dismemberment attack, they're fixed and noticeably shorter. They're still quite cool, and you'll gradually unlock a move list that can, in theory, make for some pretty flashy combat.
Camera control is an acquired taste, with one stick dedicated to manual, 360-degree control while the other one moves Rayne around. Giving the player so much freedom can actually be a bit frustrating, since the camera won't auto-adjust when you get stuck in a tight spot (although you can click a button to reset it). I personally prefer the hybrid--a game-controlled camera that you can nudge around a little bit. Let me just fight, and have the game help me see what's going on.
Sound fares better, with a variety of weapon sounds, impacts, explosions, and effective ambient music, although you might not like the heavy metal that cuts in for the big fights. Music can muted independently, though, so it's an aspect that can be completely ignored.
In fact, BloodRayne 2 has pretty extensive customization. You can adjust dialogue volume separately, change to "airplane" controls for both camera and character movement, tweak camera speed, remap the buttons, and toggle auto-lock and dialogue text.
Sadly, the game is still generally so easy that you'll never really have to do anything special to take an enemy down. Unlike the original, it seems like only the boss monsters will block your harpoon. Like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, many enemies will be able to block your attack and counter it, but they never try to deflect the harpoon. Instead, you hit them and fling them with your analog stick, and they're automatically disarmed. If you don't get back to them, though, they will pick up a weapon and get back into it, but you can just harpoon them again. When facing a boss monster, you can typically activate your Rage and whale on them by mashing the attack button until they fall down or your Rage meter empties out. The bosses are commonly accompanied by a few street thugs, allowing you to heal up, reload and whatnot, on the occasions that you do take a drubbing.
And the harpoon isn't just for show this time. It will be essential to the progression of the game. You'll need it to interact with objects and to fling people into things. Thankfully, the game gives the flying bodies a nudge if you point them mostly in the right direction, and the world is also full of precipices, electrical devices, propane tanks, and pointy objects that make for some truly squirty carnage. Finessing people into these things will earn you points indicated by a moving slider on your health bar, and once the slider goes all the way to the right, you automatically get your health and Rage filled up all the way. These finesse moves are also commonly captured in Max Payne-style slo-mo, so you can fully relish the havoc you're wreaking. This is not a game for the squeamish.
The harpoon is so handy, in fact, that I eventually stopped using standard melee attacks and just flung anyone who was armed with a melee weapon (as those armed with guns can't block and counter). As soon as they were disarmed, I hopped on them and refilled my health, my guns, and my Rage. Wash, rinse and repeat. I went this way for quite a while during sections where I had to hunt down a certain door or button on a computer console. Aura Vision indicates your objective location as before, but there's some light puzzle solving this time, so once you get to your destination, it isn't always clear what you're supposed to do. When in doubt, fling someone and see if they don't fall into a rotating fan, vat of goo, or other container. You'll be in doubt a few times, as the mission objective is often vague and sometimes incorrect. I was instructed to "explore the area" at one point, a directive that usually means "walk through this door on the other side of the area to continue," but in this case meant, "Hit this button, jump through window, land on the pipe, turn 180 degrees, and harpoon fling someone over you at the electrical device behind you to open this door over here."
The problem is exacerbated when the scripting breaks. I only ran into this problem once, but it might occur elsewhere. At one point, I had to take on a wave of thugs. Killing the last one was supposed to initiate a brief in-game cutscene which led to some objects dropping so that I could hop up to the next area. Not only did the cut-scene not kick in, but I wasn't able to proceed to a certain ledge because of one of those annoying, invisible walls, which magically disappeared when the script did kick in. I could have worked my own way around the problem, but the game was just broken right there. Having a game just stop on you, and the player not getting an indication of a problem, is a Bad Thing and should have been picked up by QA.
Speaking of acrobatics, BR2 uses almost exactly the same mechanic as Sands of Time, with swinging from pole to pole, six directions of movement from a vertical pole, and death-defying altitudes. Although BR2 implements a rail sliding move that can be pretty cool, it's too much of "been there, done that," doesn't involve any puzzle solving or practiced timing (and thereby feels watered down by comparison), and does not make sense in the context of Rayne's gritty, modern world. In Sands of Time, it made sense because it was a purely fantastical environment and you were traversing a well-defended castle full of traps. Here, you'll find poles and rails everywhere--in train stations, office buildings, pumping facilities, and other everyday locations. It just feels a little silly and it would have been better to simply allow her to climb walls.
Despite the changes with the harpoon that have made combat pretty easy, and how silly the acrobatics feel, the sequel does have some cool things going for it. For one thing, the visuals are a heck of a lot better. Superior character models, extensive object destructibility, better texturing, fluid animation, satisfying ragdoll physics, and very good lighting. Second, the game employs small set pieces throughout the game so you don't feel too much like you're facing a constant stream of bad guys. You'll have to deal with machine gun nests, suicide bombers, environmental hazards, beefy enemies, and harpoon-based puzzles. The AI consists basically of running at you with a melee weapon or standing and shooting at you with a gun, but you'll be glad that they're not too smart because you'll be fighting almost all of the time. And BloodRayne isn't about the depth of combat so much as the variety with which you can butcher the enemy.
Although the special moves aren't really necessary, you'll be able to do things like Ghost Feed, which detaches your soul to feed on someone while you fight someone else, and upgrade to your Fury attack that visually enhances your weaponry and turns you into a Dervish from Hell, and that grenade launcher thing I mentioned earlier. What Blood Bomb does is fire an explosive into someone that explodes a couple seconds after it gets lodged inside them. This truly is the chunkiest game I've ever played. There's also a super speed boost, but your points drain pretty fast with this one on. Time Dilation also uses points now, but it's only a trickle.
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