September 11, 2011

Review – BloodRayne: Betrayal

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
I am fail.

While that conclusion will come as no surprise to some, the suspicion was finally confirmed for me after clearing the first of Betrayal’s stages, wherein I was awarded an “F” grade, and the designation of “wormfood”. That the same reward awaited me at the end of every stage would seemingly suggest that WayForward’s resurrection of Majesco’s dhampir vixen is a difficult affair. And while plenty of voices across the Internet support this argument, it’s simply not accurate.

The near infinite supply of health, unlimited lives, consistently well placed checkpoints, wide-sweeping attacks, and even a laser cannon that spreads across the entire screen, make it ridiculous to suggest that Rayne’s 2D debut reaches anywhere close to the difficulty of nostalgic side-scrolling titles that kept gamers grinding their teeth and stores selling a steady supply of replacement controllers back in the day.

Betrayal does liberally sprinkle stages with cheap trickery however, situations that depend as much on luck as a mastery of the controls – split evenly between platforming sections that unleash floating projectiles while requiring precision jumping, and arena areas where waves of enemies work to drain the blood with the advantage of restricted space.

The real difficulty of Betrayal is in reconciling the shortfalls that leave a promising release far less the experience it could have been, delivering a digital title where every element that makes it excel also directly causes it to disappoint – where the high point of Betrayal causes direct gameplay hiccups that undermine the effort and expose the under-developed nature of the entire game.

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
While there’s no direct timer ticking away over the player’s head, time is of the essence within Betrayal. Enemy encounters begin a countdown that decreases the available score players receive based on the time it takes to dispatch them, but there’s a different thread of time on my mind here.

The divisive power of Betrayal is going to rest on whether players believe that WayForward has purposefully created a nostalgic throwback to brutally hardcore nostalgia, or whether the developer has used that angle to finish a project that could have offered more to a wider audience. What leaves me reaching the latter conclusion rests almost entirely on the remarkable achievement that is Rayne’s transfer from 3D to 2D, for which WayForward deserves a hearty salute.

Rayne’s movements speak plenty of well deserved and flowery words to WayForward’s mastery of 2D game design. The strange comic-bookish color palette makes her every move pop with curiously fresh energy, leaving me squinting to take in every detail as she sucks blood from enemies to replenish her health, devastates and tears enemies apart with her blades, and stretches a beautiful arc when executing her back flip jump. It’s hard not to lose oneself in the glorious play of style on display, though it will assuredly leave players falling to the healthy supply of enemies – while plenty more deaths will be the direct result of those splendid animations.

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
While Rayne does have all the right moves, the extended accentuation of each will often leave players at the mercy of enemies, who will have no trouble striking at Rayne while she’s still locked in the play of previous commands. Whether turning around after triggering an attack, or getting up after being knocked down, Rayne’s animations leave a critical window where players lack the ability to defend themselves, and enemies gain every opportunity for cheap hits that leave nothing to do but curse at the air, which we all know is generally indifferent to the plight of late night gamers.

The frustration increases given Rayne’s lack of a defensive block, instead substituted by a dash move that makes her temporally invincible. Rayne suffers no lack of options for dispatching enemies however – she can unleash punishing slash combos upward, downward, and across the screen. At anytime she can also fire bullets with a limited supply of ammo that can be regained from enemies – until players reach the previously mentioned super cannon near the midway point of the game.

Rayne can also head-stomp with the best of them, remaining in the air almost indefinitely should enemies below continue accommodating the action with their presence. And while she lacks the ability to duck the occasional bullet, which at times causes further aggravation, there’s no reason to suggest that her arsenal of moves leaves her anywhere near incapable of tackling the challenges the game offers. Even as infuriating as the animation issue can be, Rayne can regain health by stunning and sucking enemies dry, even biting some and suddenly finding herself able to detonate them like a bomb to destroy multiple enemies – there’s simply never a time where you can’t kill everything and/or regain health in a hurry.

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
Given all the attention poured into Rayne’s character, the rest of the game pales in comparison. As gorgeous as enemy deaths and the never-ending flow of blood are, the environments serve as flat and uninspired playgrounds for enjoying everything Rayne is capable of. There’s never any space to really appreciate what she can do, only tight areas where mastering her movements is immediately required, and where even the slightest deviation in attention quickly results in death.

This could be a design decision that WayForward and I simply fail to see eye-to-eye on, were it not for the way the developer has taken the most base trappings of hardcore memories and employed them to stretch out the play of the game, creating areas that are meant to stall many, but more crucially, fail to encourage any investment in the environment.

Saw blades, spikes, laser beams, poisonous lakes and open pitfalls – these are the tired toys littered throughout Betrayal’s stages. Certainly these implements of torture are placed well enough to create challenges that feel good to overcome, but there’s no question that falling back on such trickery leaves a bitter taste on my tongue that makes it utter a bitter word – “lackadaisical”. These are all things that can be used to create levels in a hurry, which is exactly how Betrayal feels, whether because of a lack of time or because WayForward is stretched too thin – both of which are distinct possibilities here.

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
Take the first stage of Betrayal, where spotlights outside the castle Rayne means to infiltrate can be destroyed, or left working to cause her and any other vampire enemies to burn under their light. That simple idea left me imagining a wealth of surprises that never materialized afterward.

Instead, the game descended into paint-by-numbers speed-run torture chambers that deprive the player of making any real connection with the stages, and thereby any real incentive to replay them beyond the few that will seek to top the leaderboards for blood and glory. Hidden skulls are tossed throughout the stages for the illusion of depth, and finding them will offer players a chance to extend their ammunition count or health, but there’s no deep exploration at work in the searching.

The short comings are also seen in enemy designs, which are portioned out carefully given the small amount available. The first two boss encounters are essentially one in the same, though later battles offer something closer to the hardcore patterned demands one would expect from an oldschool throwback.

Review BloodRayne Betrayal
As much fun as it can be to play as Rayne, and as good as the game looks and feels in motion, hell even in the few times where I smiled at having overcome some of its challenges, the lack of real replay incentive, expense, scaled down sense of space, and reliance on story progression stages to tell a rather flat tale, make it hard to recommend a spin at this game.

While I’ve never placed much emphasize on applying numbers to gaming experiences, scoring Betrayal has caused me more stress than usual. The game’s style makes it hard to rank it as the wormfood it declares me to be, and there really is something special here at times, but the experience falls critically short of the game needed to bring back a franchise that’s been resting in the graveyard for far too long.

And it’s a damn digital shame, because there are truly promising elements here that deserve a chance to flourish. It’s always a good thing to be left wanting more, and I want more from this take on the franchise.



PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network), Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade) (Xbox 360 Reviewed)


Release Date
September 7, 2011

$14.99, 1200 Microsoft Points

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. Great review! I’m currently playing it for a review as well and trying to do a trophy run…which has been made harder by the Pro Vamp trophy. Scoring in the game is even more strict than DMC or Bayonetta and I’ve only gotten it in two levels so far. Still, very fun game that looks great.

    Comment by EdEN — September 11, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

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