Hands-OnBuffy the Vampire Slayer

We check out the latest build of Buffy's Xbox adventure.

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We had a chance to sit down with the latest build of the Collective's upcoming Buffy Xbox game at EA today. Based on the popular TV series, the third-person brawler has been in the works for some time and has seen a rather bumpy road in its previous playable appearances. The roughly 70-percent-complete version of the game let us take a peek at all the game's levels and get a feel for how things were progressing. Despite the unpolished state it's been seen in before, Buffy is actually coming together pretty well. Although the game is still a little rough around the edges, there's quite a bit of promise on display.

The game's presentation is a workable blend of the standard third-person platformer in the Tomb Raider vein and the show's quirky sensibilities. The game's plot is laid out like a Buffy episode and finds the Slayer dealing with the menace of The Old Ones, ancient demons driven to hell, which are looking for some revenge. Attempting to build a bridge between hell and Earth to lead their armies into the living world and take over, the Old Ones revive the Master, Buffy's nemesis. Fans of the series will be pleased by the vast assortment of familiar faces that pop up as they play through the game. In addition to the Master, Buffy encounters Spike and Drusilla along with assorted zombies, vampires, and supernatural creatures. The side of good is represented by Buffy pals Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, and Buffy's tortured love interest Angel.

The first level of the game is set in an old Spanish mission and serves to teach you the basics of being Buffy. You'll move with the left analog stick, with Buffy automatically pulling herself up on low ledges and catching on to higher ones during a jump. The X button lets you punch, A lets you kick, and B jump. The Y button serves as an all-purpose button that lets you pick up items, open doors, and interact with a variety of switches and levers you'll encounter in the game. The right trigger blocks attacks and also lets you focus on the enemy you're currently facing in battle. You'll be able to grab and throw your opponent by pressing the X and A button together. The white button calls up your inventory screen, which is broken up into three sections--quest items, supplies, and weapons. While you'll be able to equip weapons on the inventory screen, you'll also be able to select and equip them on the fly in the game by using the D pad. Pressing right on the pad will call up a quick weapon select. Pushing up will select a weapon, while pushing down will unequip whatever you have on hand. You'll be able to control the camera with the right stick and reset it with the left trigger. Holding down the left trigger will switch to a first-person look mode that doubles as a sniper mode when you're holding a ranged weapon, like a crossbow. When you're in sniper mode, the right trigger lets you zoom in on a target, and the X button lets you fire the weapon.

The control setup works quite well, especially during the many fights you'll find yourself in. Buffy has an impressive array of normal fighting moves that stay true to what's been seen in the TV series. You'll be able to perform a wide variety of punch-and-kick combos that chain together nicely. In addition, you'll be able to perform "Slayer charged" attacks that draw on Buffy's store of Slayer energy, which is tracked by a meter that sits above her health meter onscreen. The moves offer a flashy touch of Matrix action to the proceedings, complete with slow-motion and lighting effects.

In addition to Buffy's wide array of moves, you'll be able to use an assortment of weapons. In addition to the expected wooden stakes, you'll find a decent arsenal to draw on during your battles with the undead. Push brooms, shovels, and rakes serve double duty as staff weapons and break up into wooden stakes when they've taken too much damage. Vials of holy water and hellfire serve as "grenade type" weapons, while crossbows, water guns, and an ice ray (as seen in the TV show) serve as ranged weapons that can be used in sniper mode.

The levels in the game range from High School, Cemetery, the Bronze Nightclub, Mausoleum, Sunken Church, Angel's Mansion, Sunnydale Docks, and Foundry, as well as a supernatural maze. Gameplay is fairly straightforward: beat up everything you see, collect items as needed to progress, and solve puzzles, with the emphasis obviously being on combat. Your goals on each level are made clear via cutscenes using the game engine.

Graphically, the game is solid overall, although many elements run the gamut from very good to iffy--and will hopefully be polished before the game ships. For example, Buffy's character model is very nicely done and features a very well-animated face, while her enemies are far less attractive--and not just because they're undead. Most of the vampires we encountered animate stiffly and don't feature as much detail as Buffy does. On the plus side, the environments are pleasantly big and feature quite a bit of detail and suitably dramatic lighting effects.

Sound in the game is very good: the game's dynamic soundtrack features a nice assortment of classical-style music with some rock thrown in, much like the show's theme song. Voice acting features almost the entire cast, each playing his or her virtual selves, with one notable exception. Sadly, Sarah Michelle Gellar is missing in action, although the game's sound-alike replacement works out just fine. Collision effects during battles sound suitably crunchy, and little touches--like the sound of your stakes hitting the ground when they've been knocked out of your hand--are nice to hear.

We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw of Buffy. The game has really been pulled together from the last times it has been shown and offers a very fun experience. There are still some rough spots, most notably the game's camera, but there's nothing so broken in the game that it can't be polished up. Hopefully, the Collective can tighten things up for the game's July release, because as it stands now, Buffy is showing quite a bit of promise. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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