Review by Syonyx

"Yet another licensed game that has value only for fans of the source material."

Mid- to long-term gamers know that, with very few exceptions, licensed games suck. This rule of thumb has held true for a very long time, from the tortured virtualizations of The Smurfs and E.T., to more recent fare based on the new Star Wars installments. Bottom line: games based on TV/movie licenses provide potential enjoyment only to big fans of the originating material, and even then only to the subset of those fans that play video-games, and even then only to the subset of that group that don't care if their game is mediocre, as long as it fuels their fandom. Of course, as technology has advanced, and development houses increase their skills, licensed games have improved compared to themselves, but when held up against other contemporary releases not based on non-gaming media, they just can't hold their own.

And then along came Buffy: Chaos Bleeds , which proved the above rule to be just as true as ever. Though making good use of the source material, offering a competent storyline and being true to the beloved characters of the Buffy universe, as a video game it falls victim to the same traps that have marred licensed games for years.

The biggest of these traps is the core gameplay structure: the interminable fetch-quest. Character A runs around to find door B, which is locked, prompting a search for key C, which can only be obtained by getting past obstacle D, for which you require the flamethrower, which it turns out is out of fuel when you find it, etc, all the while pummeling endless waves of grunt enemies whose only purpose is to slow you down and create the illusion of tension. Granted, not every level in Chaos Bleeds is equally bad is this respect, but the ones that are are bad enough to warrant painting the game as a whole in this light.

The combat, at least, is relatively satisfying. You are given a decent number of moves and combos (more so with the Slayer characters that the others), and there are lots of different weapons, both melee and distance, each with different fighting mechanics, for a lot of variety in how you tackle your foes. The character and fighting-style variety helps a lot in the enjoyment of the game. Playing as a Slayer, you're obviously more skilled and powerful, but this is offset by the times you play as a more human character, without great combat skills, or physically weak and relying on magic spells to engage your foes. As for defeating your enemies, since most of them are vampires, to kill them you have to stake them through the heart once you've worn down their health, so simply button mashing with your combos isn't enough. The enemies are capable of doing a fair amount of damage to you, too, providing some challenge to the fighting, but you recover a bit of health by absorbing energy after each kill. It does, however, get tiresome fighting endlessly regenerating enemies, when all you're trying to do is try each locked door to figure out which one the damn key you just found opens, so you can continue on your merry way through the game.

On the down side, the combat has some targeting problems (meaning that both you and enemies will be doing ‘air combos' if not aimed properly at your intended target). Also, most of the later levels have you scrambling to find a stake as soon as they start, since you begin with no equipment and often a couple of enemies running at you right away. Additionally, the game suffers from some control-scheme issues (at least on the PS2 version, I can't vouch for the Xbox). Your inventory is controlled by the D-pad, while movement uses the left stick. This causes problems when you want to switch your current weapon at the same time that enemies are trying to get you, requiring that you use both hands on the same side of the controller, one keeping you out of danger while the other scrolls through your inventory. That function might have been better mapped to the shoulder buttons. Overall, the control scheme never really becomes intuitive or automatic, meaning that you'll likely be making incorrect button presses throughout the game.

The only area in which the game shines is in the use of the source material. The script, the witty, contemporary reference-laden dialogue, the environments, and the characters are all highly true to the Buffy television show. So in this respect, fans will get what they hope for. Most of the character voices are provided by the original actors, too, with a couple of notable exceptions (Buffy and Willow), but even for them, the voice actors did a fair approximation of their tone and vocal qualities. The game plays out in familiar environments, such as the Magic Shop, Sunnydale High, Sunnydale downtown, the Factory, and other locations that all look spot-on. The character models are pretty accurate, too, for the most part, although the game seems to default to widescreen mode, so unless you have a widescreen TV, they'll look too thin unless you think to change this in the options menu. (On that note, bonus to the game developers for including a widescreen mode. More games of the current era need to include this option.)

So graphically, the game is adequate, reflecting and staying true to the visual source material. Musically, the background music is pleasant and again fits right in with what fans of the show would expect. The voice acting extends beyond cut-scenes and provides snappy lines for each character, including enemies, that are spouted in a context-dependent manner. Try to open a locked door, and the character will make one of five or so amusing comments (but try to open 25 locked doors, and it'll start getting tiresome). Characters will make varied comments depending on what weapons you pick up, secret areas you find, the type of enemy you're fighting, etc. This is another plus for fans of Buffy.

In addition to the main game, there are a few multi-player modes, but these are pretty half-assed. Mostly, you'll just be engaging in combat in very small arenas, with some random powerups (both positive and negative) thrown in for variety. You can at least choose from a list of 20+ characters in multiplayer, including most of the enemies from the game (and Joss Whedon too!), but most of the extra ones only have 2-3 different moves, and they aren't balanced in combat at all.

In playing through the game, there are many extras to unlock, too, such as actor interviews, voice-over recording session footage, and multiplayer characters and arenas. You can unlock more stuff by finding all of the secret areas in each level. None of these extras add anything to the main game, however, so the re-play value is low. As for the interviews and such, you'll want to watch them once, and then that's it. This is a game that is made to play through once, look at the extras, then trade it in at the store for something else.

So overall, this game won't hold much appeal except to pre-existing fans of Buffy. It makes strong, loyal use of the source material, but still falls victim to repetitive combat and the fetch-quest syndrome. I suppose that there's a place for licensed games in our world, but I just wish that they would be made better as games and not just as continuations of the source material. As long as they keep selling, though, I guess companies will keep churning them out.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 06/06/05

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