Based on Wesley Snipes' filmic "destroy all vampires" romp from last year, Activision's Blade first appeared to be a more action-oriented take on horror-themed games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. In actuality, it's turned out to be more similar to beat- and shoot-'em-ups like Eidos' Fighting Force series and Sega's Zombie Revenge. Preliminary expectations aside, it's still a disappointment.
You play as the game's namesake, a human born with the powers of a vampire without the weaknesses or the need to drink blood. You and your partner Whistler have vowed to destroy the vampire menace, one at a time if necessary (and of course it is necessary). To aid you in doing so, you have an impressive arsenal with which to deal with the zombies, vampires, and possessed humans that oppose you. Besides your fists, you have a samurai sword, a handgun, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a machine gun. Some of these work better against certain enemies than others. For instance, the handgun is generally useless against the vampires, but your sword works very well when you're confronted with one. Likewise, the zombies are pretty impervious to your sword, but a few shots from your shotgun will dispatch them. While this juggling of weapons in the face of adversaries might sound like an interesting gameplay element, it's very frustrating when you enter a room that has, for example, two vampires and two gun-toting humans in it. Go to shoot the humans, and the vampires will block your shots. Go to attack the vampires with your sword, and the humans will shoot at you. Even under regular circumstances, having to constantly switch between weapons becomes tiresome quickly.
The same game engine that drove Shadow Master and Quake II for the PlayStation powers Blade, but it's now beginning to show its age. The engine worked well with first-person shooters, but third-person action games require more than it's willing to do. The game's platform jumping segments are played either from the standard behind-the-back view or from a fixed camera position. Neither works well, as it's hard to judge distance using the former and it's difficult to perceive the direction your character is facing using the latter.
In general, the game looks like an unsavory fusion of Probe's Die Hard Trilogy and Neversoft's Apocalypse. It's very dark, but not dark enough to hide its drab textures and frequent warping or the fact that its seams show from time to time. The environments seem to have been designed small to avoid instances of pop-up, but this shrinking also gives the game a claustrophobic feel that results in your character getting shot by enemies lurking around its many corners because you just don't have the space to get out of the way.
If it's possible that music, too, can fail to give you headroom, the concept is pioneered here. A good techno soundtrack can add a lot to an action game, so it's a shame that Blade doesn't have one. Instead, the game dishes out repetitive spin-cycle beats that never build with the action because they're already caught up in a state of perpetual fugue. The game's sound effects - which are made up of generic sound-library grade grunts, groans, and gunshots - are equally unimpressive.
Activision has enjoyed a pretty strong track record when it comes to translating comic books and movies into game form, but it's failed on both accounts here. Blade lacks the energy of the film, the feel of the comic, and the standards set by other games in its genre. Fans of third-person shooters are much better off looking up the original Syphon Filter or even one of n-Space's two Duke Nukem games.