BloodRayne. It sounds like a B-movie, doesn't it? Well, we'll let you in on something: it looks, sounds, walks, talks and feels like a B-movie, too. It's a magnet for clichés. Oh you want examples? How about Nazis with supernatural ambitions, vampires and spectral law enforcement agencies (like Nocturne, then), zombies, mutants, giant spiders, bouncing breasts, wacky accents, bullet time, zoom vision, an abundance of firearms, swamps, mountainside installations, rocket launchers, mystical artefacts, acrobatic combat, and, lest we forget, abattoir-threatening levels of blood spillage. You see what we mean now.
Into view with a vampire
It's not such a bad thing to build a game out of used parts though, is it, as long as the composition is solid? And B-movies can be fun, even if they never threaten the blockbusting action epics. And 'tis but a short walk from B-movie cinema to cult classic status, as proven by films like From Dusk Till Dawn. BloodRayne too can be fun, but the real question is whether it's £40 worth of fun.
You control the little lass BloodRayne in the third person, using both thumb sticks, or sharing camera control with the CPU so you only have to worry about one. BloodRayne, since you ask, is a half-vampire, half-human redhead jaw-dropper in a tight leather outfit - the kind of girl that having seen on the street you'd cry yourself to sleep at night - who just so happens to have a couple of massive great serrated blades strapped to her arms, and belongs to a spooky organisation trying to suppress the paranormal. (By beating the unliving shit out of it, generally.)
The most important thing here is that developer Terminal Reality does not take BloodRayne too seriously - they know how wacky the "Nazis go hunting for the ruler of Atlantis' misplaced immortality" sort of plot is, and they play it up. Any friendly characters and NPCs you run into sound like graduates of the Fake Accent University, Ze Nazis all sound like Monty Python exports, and BloodRayne herself even cracks the odd one-liner. She's hardly Bruce Campbell, but she can say the right thing from time to time.
However the first section of the game does nothing to live up to the peculiar premise. BloodRayne and her Lycra-bound mentor Mynce (…yes) go hunting for the cause of a peculiar epidemic in the mist-shrouded swamp-end of nowhere. A closed community of churchgoers with redneck/French accents (don't ask) appear to be falling foul of some nasty disease, which turns them into mutant zombies and eventually mushes their brains for good. Those not infected are quickly dying at the hands of giant spiders, too, which doesn't help, and you have to clear out the various pockets of paranormal activity with your array of slash moves (left trigger) and good old-fashioned artillery (right trigger).
But the whole 'swamp' element is a real thorn in your side. On the one hand it's dull as dishwater (almost literally) to look at - a bunch of feebly textured islands in a sea of mist, peppered with gravestones, spider-holes, angular trees and half-downed telephone lines - and on the other it's surrounded by health-sapping water. Vampires don't like water, see (someone should tell Buffy), but BloodRayne's half-humanness means it only scolds her. So the developer has used this as an excuse to employ difficult to access flooded buildings full of nasties in-between bouts of racing along telephone lines (which miraculously hold her weight) and sending survivors to the gravedigger's reinforced sanctuary.
It's just over an hour before you're faced with the culmination of this boring section - a massive spider boss that seems almost impervious to gunfire and kills you in a flick of its many wrists. It's only once you've wrestled your way past this monstrosity - brought to life, it seems, by the hands of the Nazis - that you head off to an installation carved into a mountain somewhere and the adventure becomes interesting. This is certainly a pain in the arse, and it's plain to see that TR knew this as well as anyone - why else was the PC demo based on the second phase?
Hop, flip and jump
Fortunately the game does perk up to a certain extent here, and you start to get a better grip on your abilities. For a start, your basic attacks have begun levelling up - a process which will eventually lead to some startlingly gratuitous violence - allowing you to perform interesting combos with the left trigger and jump buttons, and your Bloodlust and subsequent Bloodrage abilities will allow you to become even more psychotic, as the screen goes red and the action slows. You'll also unlock more "Dhampir" abilities to complement your aura vision (night vision for vampires), like constant slow motion, fast motion and zoom view, and you have more fun with the game's blood-sucking health mechanism, which lets you hop onto a poorly placed victim and suck 'em dry - whilst still turning with either stick and even firing your weapon over his or her shoulder.
The competition starts to hot up here, too, with armoured "special op" Nazi guards who can block your blood-sucking, forcing you to catch them off-guard or flank them speedily, and mini-bosses like a Ku Klux-looking dark priest chap with a massive great machine gun in a chapel. The graphics improve, too - with fluttering banners that fold and crumple like a bead doorway as you run beneath them, and environments that suffer as much as the Third Reich. Walkways fall, Panzer Faust shells whistle past your ear (in glorious 5.1 surround sound), and interiors shatter as they take fire - like the chapel interior in the aforementioned boss fight, which starts to resemble the lobby scene in The Matrix.
Even little miss BloodRayne's previously odd look seems to fit better here - with minute details like the swishing of her arms and the way she bends and flips all conspiring happily. Her leather seems more studded than before, her hair flops around and - as the camera seems to enjoy emphasizing - her boobs wobble.
What's more, the level design becomes a lot less linear (which is a good thing), and we've a lot of respect for the compass-style route finder, which points in the right direction and indicates the floor to be on, without giving you waypoints or anything like that, but these elements also combine to frustrate you - almost constantly. The first section of the Nazi stronghold has you darting between sections of one big level, trying to kill individual members of the Nazi's occult faction, but the level design is so obscure that you often find yourself having to go in totally the wrong direction to get to what the arrow wants. Is it any wonder this War Machine of theirs went sour if all their installations were so badly designed? Then again, if they'd had BloodRayne's respawning Nazis, which turn up in droves anew, particularly if you've witnessed some scripted event since you last saw them, then perhaps things would have been different.
The combat too is actually a lot less clever than it thinks it is. You can swap between weapons in light, medium, heavy and special categories, with a few grenades to boot, but you won't really favour any because you run along, shoot for a while, then dump the spent rifle and loot the nearest carcass for the next. Whatever you use makes little difference - and you'll quickly give up on them for the most part, and certainly stop worrying about "picking the right one". In any event, you do better and have more fun by favouring blood-sucking, bloodlust, bloodrage and slash attacks. But even these feel too quick to be controlled adequately, and ironically the slow motion ability is too lethargic to be entertaining in anything more than short bursts. You can save some health by using it to plunder a section, but do you really want to fight people in a vat of treacle?
Silly and ignorant!
BloodRayne can be forgiven on a lot of levels because it's so silly it's fun, but for everything it does which is endearing, there's something to frustrate, bore or alienate the player. Why the first section? Why the misplaced love of guns? Why such confusing level design? And why oh why does BloodRayne swear so much? If it wouldn't kill her, we'd wash her dirty little mouth out with soap.
We'd love to recommend BloodRayne, because there's enough fun to be had here to keep you pampered from one end to the other, but it isn't particularly long, there's no multiplayer, and on the whole it doesn't look, sound or feel good enough to warrant £40 - particularly on Xbox, where its visuals look positively archaic from time to time. One to rent, or rummage through a bargain bin for in a couple of months' time, but unless you really do like absurdly jiggly breasts and B-movies, this is decidedly middle of the road for the action genre.