We've seen this before haven't we? Comic book turns movie turns sequel turns videogame turns hideous cash cow. Blade II was a reasonable recent successor to the not-bad Wesley Snipes action flick, but can the fast action, insane martial arts and satisfying gruesomness be pulled off to proper effect in game form?
"Let's see you fight like a real man"
Blade II rather predictably takes the form of a mostly hand-to-hand combat game through several levels, beating away hordes and hordes of vampires with your leathery fists and occasionally Blade's collection of shiny and sharp things. There really isn't much to tell of a story; Blade is a tortured soul kind of fellow with part human and part vampire blood endowing him with some incredible strength, and it's his job to take on a kind of Duke Nukem-style ass-kicking crusade against those who would oppose him, namely large organised groups of vampire drones in parking lots and sewers and the like. Honestly, you know the drill.
In practice, the gameplay is entirely out of the ark, and plays rather like arcade classics Double Dragon or Final Fight, and if you've played either of those lately then you'll know why this isn't necessarily a good thing - walk a bit, punch and kick some enemies for a few seconds, walk a bit more, repeat. There's some kind of apparently amazing 360-degree combat engine thing in place here though, so let me explain how this "works"...
You move about with your left analogue stick, while your right takes on the battling duties, as opposed to the regular button based configurations we're used to in this type of game. You sidle up to your enemy, who surround you and proceed prodding you in the face with fists and bottles or whatever, so you start waving the right analogue stick to get Blade to start pulling off some crazy moves, but instead he'll just stand there going "punch... punch... punch". The game then lets you know that you need to move slowly and rhythmically, all the while you have a crowd of dark-eyed weirdos jostling around you and hissing in your face. So you slow things down a bit, and eventually you sort of get the hang of it as Blade pulls off kicks to enemies behind him, and punches to enemies in front in tune with where you're pulling the stick.
You'll also occasionally stumble across combos and slightly amusing finishing moves - we liked the one where Blade declares his love for his gun, and removes a vampires head with it just to prove it. Unfortunately, the way the system is implemented has turned Blade's martial arts abilities from a brutal dance of death to more of an awkward waltz of confusion.
"Now I want to see you real mad"
Naturally, Blade has guns and steel ware, too - a pistol, shotgun and a sharp head-removing boomerang called a "glaive" make an appearance along with others once you've unlocked them for use, but you can't carry them all at once, instead being forced to select from your collection and filling equipment slots at the start of each mission.
Further limiting the player is the requirement for Blade to use his sword; you have a rage indicator that rises as you dispatch opponents, and at set levels you get first the ability to use your sword, then invulnerability for a short time and finally increased combat power. But why should you have to wait to be able to use your sword? You should have the option to whip it out willy-nilly and swing it about with reckless abandon. The limits imposed on the player merely stifle the amount of creative fun we should be having with this type of melee combat.
Visually, Blade II is alright - character models are fairly well done but animated like they have enormous rods up their backsides, however the disintegrating death animations are really quite cool. Environments also leave a great deal to be desired, with a lack of detail and dull textures that leave little to take in as you're bopping another band of vamps on the head. On the audio side of things, the soundtrack is lacklustre and repetitive, and the attempts of a voice actor to emulate Snipes' trademark drawl are worryingly bad. Some of the effects aren't too shoddy, and the weaponry sounds quite meaty but frankly there's little atmosphere to drag you in.
Blade II is a missed opportunity. What should have been a good chance for some Devil May Cry-style combat with fantastic characters and recognisable environments has instead turned out to be an extremely dull and awkward jaunt through some dull levels, and a combat system with complications that only serve to make things... dull. A decidedly mediocre title in short supply of redeeming qualities.
4 / 10