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ups: Fun gameplay; cool vision modes; lots of gore; great tongue-in-cheek undertones.
downs: Some slow spots; some clunky spots; maybe you don't like cheesy horror stuff?

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game: BloodRayne
four star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Majesco
developer: Terminal Reality
date posted: 09:10 AM Fri Dec 20th, 2002

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Majesco's BloodRayne is truly a break-out title. The company has created some interesting titles in the past, bringing Soldier of Fortune to Dreamcast and PS2, and has been a major player on the Game Boy Advance with loads of titles released for the handheld system. But they've suffered the same slings and arrows as most new game publishers: lots and lots of mediocrity. With BloodRayne, Majesco and one of their premiere developers Terminal Reality (you may know them from hit games like Fly! and 4x4 Evo) have pulled out all the stops and created a game that doesn't just put the company on the map, but stakes out a fairly unique territory.

Let's think for a minute about what makes a great game. Most reviewers and gamers will tell you that it's innovation ? doing something new makes that thing great. However, games like Seaman don't do so well, and if that's not innovative, what is? It turns out that innovation is something of a misnomer ? we want something that feels \"new\" but also feels \"comfortable\" (a euphemism for \"old\"). I believe that what many gamers want is a continuing evolution. Developers shouldn't throw out great gaming elements just because they've been done before, but they should evolve those elements. Unfortunately, \"evolution\" in the game industry is usually interpreted as \"copying,\" and that doesn't necessarily trip our triggers. When games come out that feature groundbreaking innovations, we often see a wave of games afterward that simply implement these new gameplay elements with little or no thought given to potential improvements, or evolution of the technique. What does all this have to do with BloodRayne? Let's see.

BloodRayne is a third person action game in which you play agent BloodRayne, a half-human, half-vampire operative working for a secret society between WWI and WWII. BloodRayne begins her career in the bayous of Lousiana, but eventually ends up globetrotting through exotic locales like Germany and Argentina in order to kill Nazis and hunt down the evil Jurgen Wulf, who is experimenting with turning normal humans into mutated monsters. BloodRayne is endowed with the abilities and strengths of the vampire as well as the drawbacks. She must feed on blood and obstacles like water pose problems. But the strengths more than make up for these small holdups.

BloodRayne is always equipped with a pair of blades on her wrists that she can use to slice up the most mutated baddie. Using the blades enough allows her to build up her Blood Rage, which she can use to become a whirling dervish of rampaging vampiress. Over the course of the game she can also upgrade her blades, but she's by no means restricted to these melee weapons. She also carries an arsenal of firepower that includes shotguns, pistols, machine guns, dynamite, and many more. The combination of melee weapons and missle weapons adds a variety to BloodRayne that is more than welcome, and the gameplay is designed so that you'll find yourself making strategic decisions about how to fend off your enemies and you probably won't favor one weapon over all the others. This is a tough balance to achieve, and it is just the first place where Terminal Reality got things right.

But what about that whole evolution versus innovation thing? Here's where it begins to come into play. BloodRayne is also gifted with four different modes of sight. She normally sees the world as you would expect, but you can toggle her into aura vision, retinal zoom, or a slow-mo vision very similar to the \"bullet time\" in Max Payne. Games like Max Payne and Aliens vs. Predator have done a lot of work with multiple modes of vision, and Terminal Reality is obviously taking a page from the book of gaming history. But they pull it off so well in BloodRayne that you can't fault them, and why would you fault them when, ultimately, these different modes of vision are really cool? They have innovated on how these modes are implemented and created a unique enough game to prevent BloodRayne from ever feeling like Max Payne or AvP, so in my book they've succeeded at evolving a quality game technique and implementing it in an original manner.

The loads of weapons, blood rage, and multiple vision modes help you really feel like you're controlling a character with vampiric abilities. Add in the insane jumping ability of BloodRayne and the feel is complete. It is so cool to jump from a stand still from the ground to a second floor balcony ? it really feels like you're swooping down on unsuspecting baddies with your badass vampire self. But what kind of vampire would BloodRayne be if she couldn't suck blood? So, of course, she does, and she does it as much as you want. BloodRayne can either grab the nearest bloodbag or she can use a type of grappling hook to drag them close. Although you can get blood from defeated bad guys, the more fun thing is to grab hold of live enemies and use them as a shield while you drain their life.

And what a sight it is to behold: BloodRayne wraps legs and arms around the enemy torso and lustily sucks out their blood, grinding against them as she goes. It's all vaguely sexual, and that is no accident. This is a mature game for mature audiences, and it is obvious that Terminal Reality is drawing from the tradition of B horror films. Many have compared this game to a Troma movie (Tromeo and Juliet, Class of Nuke 'em High, Toxic Avenger), but it really isn't anything like a Troma movie, and these reviewers are just showing how they haven't watched enough B horror fare. BloodRayne is much more like a Russ Meyer film (the focus on breasts and breast physics is more than coincidence), mixed in with some Herschel Gordon Lewis (all of that blood and gore reminds me of classics like Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore), and topped off with a healthy dose of Vampirella and Elvira sort of mixed together. What you end up with is a campy, overblown story that makes you groan and laugh more than it makes you jump or scream. For folks like me, who have obviously spent too much time watching B horror films, this really makes BloodRayne worth playing. Although the gameplay itself is enjoyable and the game is well-made, it is this camp focus that really gives it a zing and makes it more than another action horror title.

The graphics and visuals are nice ? slice up a bed in the German U Boat compound and you'll see feathers fly, and you can mark walls to trace your path ? but they aren't going to win any awards. Likewise, the sound is good (some of the sound effects are spine tingling and just plain gross), but nothing to write home about. Overall, this is a tight package that was created to accommodate a wide range of systems, so BloodRayne has that generic \"next generation\" look to it that marks so many multiplatform releases. Still, the game looks good enough.

The storyline is engaging, as I spent a lot of time explaining above, but the pacing is spotty. The opening is very slow and includes some of the most tedious gameplay in the whole game. Why do we want to work so hard to walk on wires? There are a couple of other spots where the game just slows down, you trudge through a fairly boring sequence, and then it explodes into something really interesting again. It would have been great to see a more consistent pacing to the story, and that opening is just inexcusable ? many gamers will not get past the overly long and tedious first level, which is unfortunate.

Overall, I recommend BloodRayne to any fan of action games and/or horror films. The smart and savvy storyline brings everything together, and the elements borrowed from precursor titles are well integrated and fresh. The illusion of controlling a half-human, half-vampire character is conveyed very well, and overall BloodRayne is just a lot of fun. If you can handle, or even enjoy, some gratuitous gore and sophomoric sexual humor, then you'll really dig this title.

Shawn Rider (12/20/2002)