Review by Bloomer
Uncorking your bloodthirst with extreme prejudice.
... "Half human. Half vampire. All woman."
So says the opening spiel on the back of the box of Bloodrayne, Majesco's crazy vampiric gorefest from 2002. Rayne is the shapely, leather-wearing redheaded bloodsucker who attaches giant blades to her arms in order to fight alongside members of the Brimstone Society during the 1930s against such vile people as Nazis, or other vampires who have churlishly decided to use their powers for evil, and not for good.
This enjoyably silly idea is hardened and delivered as an action title of such bloody-minded salaciousness and gleeful bad taste that it's practically a poster child for the supposed base desires of teen boy gamers. Bloodrayne gives you control of a voluptuous female body which is nigh on indestructible, thanks to the fact that it's juiced up to the eyeballs with super vampire powers and launches you on a revenge quest whose major side-effect is your assassination by the most sadistic means possible of everyone who even remotely gets in your way. (It's a revenge quest because Rayne's human mother was raped by a vampire; incidentally, this resulted in her being born the biggest badass in history, with all a vampire's pros and few of the cons.) When you're not drinking your enemies' blood, you're throwing their severed limbs to the four corners of the earth or delivering bad Bruce Willis-like one-liners at the expense of their corpses.
Bloodrayne tries to mollify its outward appalling-ness by (A) reaching for a level of ridiculousness that prevents it from being taken too seriously, and by (B) making Nazi soldiers the butt of its extravagant violence, because nobody likes them. What's surprising about the game is that it imparts the sensation of being something like an all-powerful superhero far more successfully than most games which are actually about superheroes, and not about Nazi-killing vampire women. And it plays very well, with level after spacious level of detailed action. The violence is also about as detailed as can be. It figures so strongly in the game mechanics that it will end up framing most players' ultimate response to Bloodrayne, one way or the other.
You behold Rayne from a wide, third-person behind-her perspective. She is extremely responsive to the neat FPS-y controls, acrobatic as needed and capable of being steered in any degree of motion at almost any time. Her great pace ensures that the scale of the game world is big, with far horizons and cavernous war bunkers always drawing you onwards. The opening level set in the Louisiana swamplands acts as a moody but not too exciting tutorial. You can practice hacking up dumb swamp zombies with your blades, snagging them with your grappling hook and straddling them to drink their blood. Sucking the fluid out of these putrefying mutants is a pretty unappetising prospect, but you only have to destroy a few bigger Evil Dead-like swamp monsters before the game jumps ahead five years to 1938, where the real action begins.
The Nazis have a base in Argentina, where they're searching for occult artifacts à la Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's up to you to foil their plans and assassinate their highest ranking officers. At this point in the story, Rayne automatically acquires the superpower known as Dilated Perception. Tapping down on the thumb pad throws you into a world of vampire-speed sensory intake in other words, Bullet Time on steroids. Everything goes slow-mo, and while you can now perform all of your actions with extraordinary precision, the bad guys are reduced to moving at a fraction of your speed. The programming for this is exceptional, with a warping effect on the visuals, and sludgy, slowed down sound effects, and you can activate and deactivate the ability as often as you wish. This makes for a very satisfying arrangement compared to the situation in the great body of games which only allow you to use the coolest powers or weapons on one level, or deliberately hobble what should be a superpower by contrived means. Bloodrayne's slow-mo is both thrilling and consistently useful.
As you seek out your goals using Aura Sense, a lower level power glomming together x-ray vision and a so-so radar, the Nazi forces try spectacularly, but rather in vein (* a little vampire humour) to stop you. Dozens of armed soldiers pour into the playing area at a time, scrambling about like maniacs, screaming orders in German and pouring the contents of their automatic weapons in your direction. If you don't respond appropriately to such onslaughts, you might be killed, but in truth it's rare to fall to anything that isn't a boss or an environmental hazard in this game. The point of Bloodrayne is that you are a nightmare unstoppable force whom everyone rightly fears. The question isn't, "Can I destroy the one thousand people who get in my way?" but, "How will I destroy the one thousand people who get in my way?"
With your huge blades, you can hack limb after limb off screaming soldiers. Gibs, blood and decapitated heads splatter everywhere. Groaning wounded who are crawling away can be yanked back mercilessly with your grappling hook. Being a vampire, you can feed on your human enemies, wrapping your legs around them all sublimated sexy-like and slurping the lifeblood from their necks to the sound of your own orgasmic moans and slavering. Doing so also recoups huge amounts of health. The more blood you let, the more your Bloodlust meter fills up, until you can activate Blood Rage. You need to enter this hyper-damaging mode to beat most of the bosses, but Raging the regular Joes results in mass eviscerations, as if every Nazi on the screen had just been dropped into a blender.
There's no scoring system in Bloodrayne, and if it occurred to you to do so, you could probably run through significant chunks of the game ignoring the bad guys en route to your goals. Players who don't respond to Bloodrayne's constant invitations to explore its crazy sadistic possibilities will probably end up doing something like this, and assess the game as being overlong and repetitive. For those like myself whose fantasies of atrocious wickedness are stirred, Bloodrayne is one of the best torture rampage games out there.
The soldiers' obvious terror in the face of you is like a red rag to a bull. They shriek, flee, holler "Get it off me!"... If you start striding towards someone, their fate is sealed. You can tear off a guy's arm, watch him flee screaming, shoot him in the back to make him stumble, overtake him with your supernatural speed, slash his throat and then drink the remnants of his life from the geysering torso while repositioning it to shield yourself from gunfire. Your victims' roars of pain and helplessness sound particularly nightmarish and protracted during the sludge of slow motion, and the game engine allows every killing to be as gruesomely detailed and unique as the one just described.
If these people weren't all Nazis, or if the whole thing wasn't so overblown, Bloodrayne might have become one of the most controversial and morally reviled videogames of the Noughties but they were Nazis, and it was overblown. Professional reviews hovered around the 70% mark, sensibly pointing out legitimate but workaday flaws like the fact that it's possible to get lost in big, empty areas of the game you've already cleaned out. As for the detailed fantasies of blood-drenched omnipotence Bloodrayne clearly speaks to, probably nobody wanted to admit to those, but the game's best programming is mostly in their service.
Bloodrayne is rare in the extremity of what it offers, and for that reason has a very solid fan base who appreciate its attention to overkill, and who thus also accept the equal degrees of cynicism and sensationalism behind its creation. Players who react badly to such exploitative material or aren't interested in a heavy focus on personal violence have tended to interpret the features of the game which actually sustain those qualities as major failings by traditional gaming standards for instance, Rayne's near invulnerability (the game isn't challenging) or the sheer number of violent encounters (the game is repetitive). Nobody from either camp would praise Bloodrayne's level design. Though huge and highly destructible, its environments also tend to be samey, and mostly function as big empty spaces in which to toss around body parts. In spite of such flaws and the game's heavily weighted nature, Bloodrayne still managed to gain some positive middle ground with those who simply found it to be a fun and freeing action title.
The subsequent ride through popular culture of the character of Rayne herself has been a bizarre one. Her extraordinary physical appearance, free-spirited badness and fetishistic appeal (whether you like leather, stilettos, vampires or gymnast ribbons, Rayne is or has all of these things) instantly made her a cult gaming figure of some sort. She became the inaugural covergirl of Girls of Gaming magazine, a frontwoman in MTV's Video Mods series, where she performed an awful Evanescence song, and capped off her dubious list of achievements by being the first videogame female to bare her breasts in Playboy.
Majesco managed to get their intellectual property back on mission when they released Bloodrayne 2 in 2004, a very good sequel addressing almost everything anyone had ever said was at fault in the first game. The second instalment also shook up the overall dynamic by pitting Rayne against a gallery of enemies more supernaturally her equal. The developers wisely recognised that there was no need to repeat the story of one all-powerful vampire completely lording it over an army of pitiful humans. The original Bloodrayne was already the Citizen Kane of repeatedly dismembering people and drinking their blood.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: BloodRayne (EU, 05/23/03)
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