After enduring a rough few years, the BloodRayne franchise has returned under the guiding hands of Majesco and WayForward Technologies as a downloadable title for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. Featuring the gorgeously impressive hand-drawn animation for which WayForward has become known and a striking musical score, BloodRayne: Betrayal sends the half-vampire heroine through a series of side-scrolling 2D levels to create an intriguing title that feels like a combination of Konami's Castlevania (although I understand that the development team hates that comparison) and Electronic Arts's Shank. Unfortunately, presentation isn't everything and the game is missing a key ingredient: fun.
I really wanted to like Betrayal. It has a solid developer pedigree behind it (you may remember WayForward from games such as A Boy and His Blob, Contra 4, and Batman: The Brave and The Bold), it's part of a genre which I enjoy, and it has plenty of style. This is a game where the heroine can stun enemies and suck their blood in order to replenish her own energy. Environmental hazards can be used to attack foes (ever knock an enemy into a pair of grinding gears?). Later levels offer some puzzles and useful tricks such as turning into a bat mix up the combat, plus there are hidden red skulls in out of the way places to collect that add to the challenge. Rayne and her world are animated to an amazingly impressive degree. Everything is right there! This game should work. It wasn't long before it turned into a slog though, and I hate to admit it, but I did not finish this one because I just plain lost interest in it. It became a chore akin to homework more than an enjoyable experience after a while, and that's always a sign that it's time to walk away.
Rayne boasts some neat slash and jumping attacks (not to mention a handgun), but the same sets of enemies charge through the same style of levels in such a repetitive manner for so long that if you've sucked the blood from one goon, you've sucked the blood from them all. One of the game's favorite maneuvers is to require Rayne to hop from enemy to enemy, but I wasn't able to trigger that move consistently. She even sports a somersault high jump useful for reaching high platforms, but it's also a struggle to perform in a reasonable manner. Rayne has a loose, floaty feel to her that I found offputting. This may be my own failing though, as some people can pull off Rayne's moves with acrobatic flair. Either way, I finally reached the point where I started dashing through levels in search of the exit rather than fight yet another wave of enemies just to try and break from the monotony and frustration. I never was able to rise above an F score ranking as I moved through levels, and when I have this much trouble with a game, I can really do without it telling me how terrible I am at it.
It's really a shame that things worked out this way. Betrayal had such potential, as it's one of the most gorgeous 2D titles I've seen this generation and features a beautiful soundtrack that would be at home in any Castlevania game (particularly the secret unlockable Nintendo Entertainment System version of the soundtrack). The soundtrack is even available as a free download directly from the composer. Consider the theme from Dusk Falls and its NES equivalent, for instance. Can't you just picture Simon Belmont whipping creatures and tossing holy water around when you hear this music?
WayForward's team has some serious talent. It's just not entirely on display here. This is a game that absolutely nails the presentation aspects while slipping on the worthwhile interactive elements. BloodRayne: Betrayal just didn't work for me, but at least try the demo and see it in action for yourself. Perhaps you'll find it more to your liking than I did.
Thanks to Reverb Communications for providing a review copy of the game.