Dhampirs are notoriously difficult to control. Born of the unholy union of vampire and human, these half-breeds drink the blood of the living, change into winged beasts, and live to a preposterously old age. They aren't exactly known for compromising, and in BloodRayne: Betrayal, this stubbornness manifests in the obstinate manner in which the main character moves. Rayne's unwillingness to perform the desired action at the specific moment you tap a button casts a shadow over the torrid bloodshed you perpetrate. Benign platforming portions become hellacious tests of luck, thanks to unresponsive inputs, and predictable bosses turn into all-powerful monstrosities because Rayne won't obey your anxious commands. Still, there are times when light breaks through the clouds and the deep combat system works as it should. Enemies fall like fleshy dominoes to the surly swings of your blade, and you pirouette around the screen like a crazed dancer. But those fleeting instances of greatness are not enough to extract the stake from BloodRayne: Betrayal's chest.
If you're curious about Rayne's genetic makeup, wonder no more. Her father is the vampire (which makes her mother a mere human), and he has certainly gotten on the wrong side of his fair daughter. Accompanied by a small army of less-than-able troops, Rayne storms her papa's palace to finish him off for good. The skimpy plot plays out in brief dialogue exchanges between the characters, and though it's good for an occasional chuckle, it lacks a memorable comedic punch. Likewise, the strong foundation of the visuals eventually shows copious cracks. Grotesque creature designs give personality to every being you meet (and beat) along the way. Rayne's model is nicely detailed and takes up a large portion of the screen, and it's a pleasure to watch her slice demons to shreds. But as good as the characters look, the backgrounds are just bland. They repeat continually throughout each level and enemies often blend in to their surroundings.
The 2D action blends combat and platforming, with an emphasis on the former. Rayne has a healthy range of moves that can be strung together in deadly combinations. Forward stabs, rising uppercuts, and calf-cutting sweeps make up your standard move set, though you need more than these individual attacks to quell the rush of enemies that swarm the screen. You have one very handy trick to keep your relentless attackers at bay. Hitting an enemy momentarily stuns him in place, and once frozen, you can lock your lips on his neck to create a makeshift bomb. After he's stricken, your sickly foe carries a green hue and lumbers across the screen. With the tap of a button, you can detonate this foul beast, taking out a gang of monsters in one seismic blast. Conjuring an explosion at a key moment is an undeniable rush, and once you master this technique, you blow through enemies as if they were living tissue paper. Rayne also regains lost health by drinking delicious blood from stunned attackers, has a handy dash that gives her temporary invincibility, and can fire a gun when things get particularly heated.
At its best, combat is fast and violent in Betrayal, though awkward controls often hinder your chance of unrepentant bloodletting. Rayne has stiff animations that make each of your attacks feel clunky. This herky-jerky rhythm means Betrayal lacks the smooth grace that the best games in the genre so effortlessly enact, but that's far from its biggest issue. Rayne's animations are uninterruptible, so if you try to jump out of the way of an imminent blow while you're still swinging away, you can't do anything to avoid getting hit. There are also times when one mistake can thrust you into a string of unavoidable attacks because enemies continually whale on you when you're vulnerable. Furthermore, Rayne doesn't always perform the proper move. When you strike enemies low, you chop off their legs, and they continue to drag their wretched carcasses toward you even though they can't do any damage. You may run toward a healthy, gun-toting enemy in an attempt to end his life, but when you try to hit him, you might stomp the crawling beast on the ground instead. Other times, you reach out to grab a stunned enemy only to come up empty-handed or snatch a non-stunned one nearby. This may sound like a small issue, but when enemies flood the screen and you need to use every trick to survive, it leads to more than a few unfair deaths. With practice, you can avoid these pitfalls, but you never feel as if you're totally in control.
When the action shifts from combat to platforming, new problems arise. Although Rayne is nimble, she is not particularly accurate in where she lands. You have little control once airborne, which makes landing on small ledges aggravating. To reach higher ground, you perform a backflip, but this is too clunky to make for satisfying jumping. It's far too easy to overshoot your mark, and repeatedly trying to land on the same platform quickly becomes tedious. During certain sequences, you need to run as fast as possible while performing midair dashes to maintain your speed, and it's clear that Betrayal's controls are not up to the task. In some levels, you turn into a bird, and though you have more freedom than when you're restricted to the ground, it isn't more fun. Tapping a button keeps you afloat, but you're unwieldy in this form, so it's too easy to fly into spikes or other traps when you're just trying to stay alive.
Despite problems in combat and platforming, Betrayal isn't particularly difficult for most of the game. However, though you can easily triumph in individual battles, poorly placed checkpoints force you to replay large portions if you should falter. Furthermore, there are a few difficulty spikes that ramp up the challenge to a frustrating degree. Certain platforming sequences are guilty of this problem, but it's the boss fights who pose the most annoying threats. In one, you have to survive a veritable gauntlet of enemies while an evil lord laughs at you from above. When you reach this point, this is the hardest battle you've yet encountered, so just surviving the string of enemies is an achievement. But after you finish them all off, the real boss fight begins, and if you die, you have to start from the beginning. If the controls were perfect, this wouldn't be a huge problem. But mistakes are almost a given in this stilted adventure, and fighting through the same wave over and over again until you figure out how to destroy the boss is a rage-inducing experience.
With practice and determination, you can come to grips with the cumbersome controls. And once you overcome the handicaps, Betrayal can be a lot of fun. Each of the 15 levels tracks your score, and though you can squeak by with an F rating your first time through, going back to raise that to a respectable level gives the game plenty of replay value. But it's just not worth sinking hours into Betrayal to uncloak that saving light. There's a deep and varied combat system under the surface that's struggling to be dug out, but there are just too many swollen corpses weighing BloodRayne: Betrayal down.