Buffy the Vampire Slayer updated preview

We visit the Collective and spend some quality time with Buffy.

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We had the opportunity to visit the Collective this week and spend some time with a nearly complete build of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Xbox. In development for some time now, the game has improved noticeably each time we've checked it out. Despite the rough edges in the build we played in our 524512last look at it, there was definitely a lot to appreciate even then. And the most recent build we played at the Collective had been tightened up considerably and was generally more polished. We were able to get a better feel for what Buffy the Vampire Slayer will have to offer, and it left us looking forward to the game's release.

You'll be able to send the undead back from whence they came with a whole lot of style in Buffy.
You'll be able to send the undead back from whence they came with a whole lot of style in Buffy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's most obvious asset is its savvy use of everything the license has to offer. The game's opening credits are a pitch-perfect re-creation of the television show's, weaving scenes of gameplay into a montage over the theme music. Along the same lines, the game's detailed character models will be voiced by their real-life counterparts--with the notable exception of the Buffy lead, Sarah Michelle Gellar. You'll also come across a variety of items and locations that fans will recognize from the show.

Buffy's gameplay is a mix of third-person action game conventions and a fighting engine that works very well. The game's linear plot drives you through the various levels in the game. You'll find that basic puzzle solving and key retrieval will be the order of the day in Buffy. While the setup is about as user-friendly as it gets for gamers and should be accessible to just about anyone, the Collective hasn't abandoned seasoned gamers. Inquisitive players will discover that a bit of exploration is likely to result in some helpful rewards. Crystals that will enhance Buffy's life meter and other such useful things are sprinkled throughout the game, waiting to be discovered.

The relatively low-key exploration elements in the game are balanced out by the combat, thanks to the surprisingly deep fighting system. At the beginning of the game, while you're getting a handle on the control setup, you'll likely stick to a handful of combos easily performed with a dose of button mashing. However, once you have gotten into the swing of things, you'll discover the game's sick combo system. Buffy's flexible combat engine will let you perform a boatload of different attack combinations, both armed and unarmed, for some truly spectacular-looking fights that wouldn't be out of place on the show.

As usual, trouble is brewing at Sunnydale High, and it's up to Buffy to save the day.
As usual, trouble is brewing at Sunnydale High, and it's up to Buffy to save the day.

Once you've gotten comfortable with that aspect of the combat engine, you'll probably find there's still some sweet-looking stuff to be learned. In our meeting with James Goddard, the game's co-lead designer for combat design and scripting, we were able to see combos that juggled an enemy vampire in the air and ended with Buffy pitching a stake at him for a dusty kill right before the body hit the ground.

Finally, once you've gotten all that down, you'll be able to start paying attention to your environment in a fight and find some rather unique ways to take out the undead. For example, you'll find objects around you that are just begging to have a vampire impaled on them. In addition, you'll be able to throw vampires into patches of sunlight when fighting in shadowy areas during the day to finish the fight quickly, or throw your vampiric foes through boarded-up windows into direct sunlight, a personal favorite of ours. In addition, you can get creative and use items to affect the environment, which results in some very cool effects. For instance, you'll find pools of water throughout various levels. The pools aren't anything special by themselves, but a few sprinkles of holy water turn them into big trouble for any undead you happen to toss into them. The multifaceted ass-kicking is made possible thanks to a very intuitive control scheme and a battle setup that lets you fight in a 360-degree arc around Buffy. Besides controlling very well, the fighting in the game looks right thanks to extensive motion capture with the Buffy stunt team and some creative tweaking in the motion scripts. The only blemish on the proceedings is the occasional weird camera angle, but it doesn't look as though it will cripple anything.

As you go through the game, you'll encounter enemies who will require a bit more effort to kill than the average vampire.
As you go through the game, you'll encounter enemies who will require a bit more effort to kill than the average vampire.

Graphically, the game has come together well. The environments are quite large and feature an excellent amount of detail. Most of the locations are straight out of the television show and are almost exact replicas of such well-known Buffy haunts as the high school and the Bronze nightclub. To accommodate the needs of an action game, there have been a few tweaks and additions such as a bit more space in places to allow for battle. Also, Buffy and the Scooby gang are very detailed and very close to the their real-life counterparts. Buffy is especially well done, and she can be seen with a wide array of facial expressions that capture her personality. In terms of the enemies you'll encounter in your slaying adventures, you'll find some familiar faces such as Spike mixed in with your garden-variety vampire baddies, as well as new creatures created specifically for the game. While not quite as detailed as Buffy and company, the rogues' gallery is suitably menacing and looks good. The graphics engine handles the load pretty well overall, though we noticed a few frame rate hitches in places. But nothing that bad. For the most part, the game cruises along at a zippy 30 frames per second.

Buffy prepares to put her stake to good use.
Buffy prepares to put her stake to good use.

The graphics engine certainly gets the look of the show down, and the game's sound does an excellent job of pulling you into Buffy's world. The expected audio stuff, such as the show's theme, the voice actors, and sound effects, is all on hand and well done. However, what really sells the game is its dynamic soundtrack, which mixes a myriad of themes on the fly to reflect the onscreen action. You'll notice the base ambient noise for a given area is always present in the background and often punctuated by some creepy sound samples such as the Master's taunting voice, which crops up from time to time. For the actual score of the game, composer Steve von Kampen drew from the music from the series, as well as from a wide array of inspirations that ranged from Jerry Goldsmith's work to the opening music of the movie Seven from NIN. While that may sound a bit odd on paper, it seems to be working out pretty well in practice. The in-game tunes feature a good mix of styles, very much in the spirit of the show.

We had a blast during our time with this build of Buffy, and it really showed off how far the game has come. Initial looks at the game over the course of its development had us a little worried about how it was going to end up. Fortunately, the game looks to be coming together very well. Fans of the series and gamers looking for a nice brawler to sink their teeth into should keep their eye out for it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer ships next month for the Xbox. For more on Buffy the Vampire Slayer check out our 524512Q&A and 524512in-depth developer interview .

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