Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
It’s been roughly a decade since game stores where littered with the image of a redheaded, blade wielding vampire seductively staring at the gamer. An action/adventure game with a heavy emphasis on hack and slash, the cover of Bloodrayne has perhaps became more memorable than the game itself. I figured it was about time I played this game and see what the lack of fuss was about. Having heard next to nothing about this game, I went in completely clean, how did I come out?
The story takes place in the 1930’s in which a Dhampire (half human, half vampire) named Rayne is recruited by the mysterious Brimstone Society, an organisation that is trying to rid the world of Vampires, though still trusts Rayne due to her only being a half blood. During her first mission, Rayne uncovers the threads of a Nazi plot which plans to collect the scattered body parts of a powerful demon and use them to reinforce the Nazi war effort.
It’s very difficult to tell what the intent for the story was as there’s very little drama, next to no drive and the characters barely seem to exist. We are introduced to Jurgen Wulf, the main enemy of the game, near the end of the first level, yet he promptly disappears from both the game and the narrative for the most part. The majority of the game consists of you being given a list of names who you must kill, which seems kind of arbitrary given that this is hardly an open world game, after which you are free to leave the area.
There is little reason to assume that what you are doing has any effect on anything and Rayne herself has no arc. The secretive and enigmatic Brimstone society that recruits you seem destined to have a secret or two hidden under their cloaks, but after the opening cutscene they are never seen and barely heard from again, Rayne may as well be working on her own. The drive is almost non-existent.
Another confusing part of the narrative is the tone. There appears to be hints of The Matrix and Blade, though it’s ultimately hard to tell what the developers wanted the game to be. The majority is a rather dull, serious and emotionless affair which has you diligently go about your mission. Rayne may give the occasional one liner, but they’re given with the emotion and charisma of a second hand couch.
After slaying two major bosses at the end of the game, some rather jarring pre-rendered cutscenes kick in which show an almost completely different Rayne who frequently grabs her bouncing breasts and flipping the bird to the dead enemies with the demeanor of a stroppy teenager. Add this to the several attempts at titillation which stick out like a sore thumb, Bloodrayne suffers somewhat from “Vacuum Design” (a term of my own creation) as certain aspects of the game appear to have been made completely separately from each other with no clear oversight.
The tone that feels best suited to Bloodrayne is campiness. The serious, sure footed tone doesn’t befit a tale of “sexy” vampires (more on that later) killing Nazis and monsters with arm blades. Although, there is a boss battle near the end in which you fight German twins. They each have one arm as they were formally conjoined, they finish each others sentences and (for some reason) can feel each others pain. The whole scene is flirty, playful, intriguing and upon the twin’s demise, there is a somewhat somber and maybe even touching moment that defines Rayne’s character. In stark contrast to the rest of the game, it’s a well made segment. If the entire game was like this, my overall impression would have been vastly different.
It seems a common trend towards te end to introduce an intersting aspect, only for it to be immediately disposed off (including the twins).
I am now entering SPOILER territory, if you wish to avoid, skip down a paragraph. In the opening mission, your friend and mentor, Mynce, is seemingly killed. It’s not too much of a shock to learn that she survived and is now working for the enemy, but at least something in the story is actually happening. Mynce is immediately killed off again. Though yet again, she survives and reveals that she is a double agent! Another twist! You team up to kill the bad guy, but she is once again killed off, for real this time. It appears that a story idea can be too interesting for this game. END OF SPOILERS!
In terms of the story, the bottom line is that it’s uninteresting. Not camp enough to be fun, not interesting enough or with likable characters to instill any drama. Not scary, tense or particularly sexy. The story starts with Rayne supposedly looking for her Father, but is promptly forgot, as such Bloodrayne’s biggest crime is perhaps being an extended trailer for its own sequel. There is the occasional flash of creativity but not enough to keep you interested.
The game has a rather simple control scheme. Your blades are controlled with the left mouse button, your guns with the right. Expect excessive button clicking before the adventure is finished. The game responds well enough and cutting off limbs can be strangely cathartic but there isn’t much depth or choice given to the player beyond simply running up to your enemy and clicking until they die.
Those that have played the Jedi Knight series, namely Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, will instantly recognise the combat system, but at least in those games there were more options in terms of dispatching enemies from throwing your lightsaber, using your blaster and so forth, that encouraged more creativity in fighting multiple foes at once. Whereas here you can do little but attack one enemy until he falls before moving onto the next one.
One aspect that simply teased potential was the ability to use enemies as human shields whilst sucking their blood. There is even the option to shoot whilst doing this, but in stark contrast to the rest of the game, the camera and controls are strangely sluggish when sucking blood, meaning that it takes longer than you’d like to put your shield between yourself and gunfire. Add to this the fact that guns feel less powerful here than they do in Devil May Cry, it feels like a squandered opportunity.
Hack and slash is the name of the game here, though there are some light platforming elements. Jumping for the most part works fine (again, reminiscent of Jedi Knight) and while not perfect can be strangely accurate once mastered, a light spin jump which acts as a “double jump” helps. The camera can be uncooperative and snappy every so often though, especially when running on tight ropes, but for the most part things run fine.
The only real issue is the repetitiveness of the game. Fighting is fine and even somewhat fun at first but soon gets boring. Despite the short running time (approx. 5-6 hours) I can still only recommend that this game be played in short bursts. There simply isn’t much diversity here; an escape from an exploding building is fun, as is the first boss fight (you also get to fight in a Mech, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds), though most “boss fights” are simply fighting normal soldiers with longer life bars. While it is a nice change of pace to fight bosses based on the games mechanics and not simply dodging a few times then hitting weak spots, having more fights like the first and last boss would have been welcome.
It would be hard to talk about the Bloodrayne’s presentation without talking about the supposed allure of the star herself. From the game’s cover which shows just the tinniest amount of cleavage, to the camera which takes a time out every so often to show off the leading ladies’ curves (with a bizarre addition of jiggle physics), it’s clear that sex appeal was a major selling point. It can be easy to call out the juvenile (and at times, laughable) attempts to make a sexual icon out of Rayne, though even judging it on it’s own merits it isn’t successful.
Apart from the extremely suggestive noises that are made when Rayne sucks blood, the majority of the attempts to titillate tend to fall flat on their face. As mentioned before, Rayne herself is a rather lifeless, dull protagonist who seems disinterested in what is happening around her and is simply along for the ride. Even Lara Croft, whose fame is admittedly derived largely from her figure, has a degree of charm and more importantly, personality to her. During gameplay, Rayne just doesn’t seem like a very alluring character, her hair color may standout and she may have distinctive eyes but that’ about it. This may seem like a non issue, though I felt it necessary to address given how prevalent it is.
As for the rest of the presentation, the game isn’t much of a looker. It functions well enough though most of the textures are rather muddy and even for the time the characters and environments are rather drab. The level design could leave a lot to be desired too, as a frequent frustration in some levels was simply knowing where to go as all the doors, whether locked or not, look the same.
Voice-acting feels like something of an after thought (as does the story) and is largely unmemorable, along with the music. Not bad, but I only finished the game yesterday and apart from the menu music, I can’t really remember any of it.
One more thing I’d like to point out. We’re fighting Nazis right? Then why don’t they wear Swastikas? Instead they wear some strange 3 legged design. Is the Swastika under copyright or something? Would people find it too offensive in a game involving dismemberment and gratuitous sexuality? Strange.
Bloodrayne is a fine game. It plays well enough and doesn’t frustrate too much, but despite the ancient, mythical catalogue it dips into, it isn’t the most creative tale ever told, nor do any aspects of the gameplay stand out. It is a nice, gentle reminder of how games were made a decade (or more) ago, so if you’d like a little nostalgia kick, by all means give it a shot, just don’t expect a memorable experience.
The Final Word: A competent action game with forgettable characters, story and setting. The occasional spark of a good idea is drowned in repetitive design.