Stop us if you've heard this one before. A half-human, half-vampire antihero, along with a long-haired, trench coat-sporting associate, goes to war with the largely underground society of vampires who are looking to come up in the world and turn the human race into their slaves. No, they didn't make another lousy Blade game. It's BloodRayne, that other half-human, half-vampire hunter of bloodsuckers everywhere. Originally debuting in 2002 as the busty, redheaded alternative to Wesley Snipes' comic book-inspired vampire hunter, the original BloodRayne game put you in control of the title heroine Rayne, who hunted down Nazi's, vampires, and Nazi vampires in the 1930s. The game featured a fairly straightforward story and style of gameplay that, while not spectacular, proved to be a pretty entertaining experience for fans of comic book-style action games. BloodRayne 2, the suitably named sequel, punches up the stylish action of its predecessor, giving Rayne a whole new slew of enemies to chop up, as well as a whole host of new ways in which to do it. Regrettably, the game still suffers from being just a tad too straightforward for its own good, and it ultimately feels a little unrefined. However, this is still a fast and fun action game, regardless of its problems.
When we last left our vivacious, vampiric vixen Rayne, she had just put the squeeze on her evil vampire father, who had been working with the Nazis and doing all manner of evil deeds. At the beginning of this game, which is now set in modern times, Rayne is on the hunt for her siblings in her expansive family. It seems that Rayne's dad had been quite the rolling stone, fathering scads of both pure-blood and half-breed vampires all over the world. However, Rayne soon stumbles upon a reunion of sorts between her father's many children, who are conspiring to produce a "vampire apocalypse" of sorts, by unleashing an insidious new weapon called The Shroud. The Shroud is basically a blood-fueled blanket that covers the sky, allowing vampires to walk around in the daylight and essentially do as they please. Obviously, this aggression will not stand, and it's up to you, as Rayne, to quell this vampiric uprising and prevent humanity from becoming vampire cattle.
Rayne's basic gameplay focuses largely on style over substance, though it isn't necessarily shallow. Rayne comes equipped with a pair of arm-mounted blades as well as some rather nasty kicks, and both her slashes and kicks are assigned to specific controller buttons. Simply pressing one or the other in succession creates some basic combo attacks, but by holding down the left trigger button on the Xbox, or the L1 button on the PS2, Rayne will target a specific enemy and gain a whole new set of dodges and counterattacks, which come in especially handy against some of the quicker boss enemies. When distance is required, Rayne has a chain she can use to latch onto an enemy and simultaneously send him or her flying in any desired direction. Rayne also has access to a pair of blood-powered guns called the Carpathian Dragons. The Dragons require blood to work, and if you run out of ammo, they'll begin draining Rayne's blood supply. Thankfully, there are more than a few enemies scattered throughout the game who are willing to donate to the cause.
By enacting Rayne's "feed" attack, so long as an enemy is vulnerable (meaning it isn't holding a large weapon with which to smack her down), Rayne will pounce on the poor schmo and dive straight for the jugular. This is how Rayne gains health throughout each level, and in the process, she can also reload her blood guns by pressing the fire button while drinking up. Once you're done with your blood donor, you can either just toss that enemy aside, or kill him or her in spectacular fashion by using one of Rayne's execution moves. By performing one of a few different button combos, Rayne will do anything ranging from simple stabbings to out-and-out slicing and dicing of an enemy, sending limbs, torsos, and heads flying every which way. These moves are gruesome and hysterical, though unfortunately, there aren't a ton of them--only 12 in all--so they do get a little repetitive after a while.
Fortunately, this is not the only method of execution the game provides you, as Rayne has several contextual moves she can use to put the pain on the bad guys as well. For example, Rayne can slide down certain pipes and rails, and while she is sliding, you can make her extend her blades outward, thus sticking any enemies that might be standing along your slide path. Another example comes from Rayne's chain attack. Several puzzles in the game require an object--like a wood chipper or a garbage truck--that is blocking your path to be clogged or jammed in order to pass. How do you do this? By sticking a baddie with your chain and flinging him into the aforementioned object, resulting in a bloody mess. There are also all sorts of sharp objects you can fling enemies into outside of kill puzzles. Rayne is also a fairly nimble little minx, and she can hop, skip, and jump all over levels with Prince of Persia-like precision. Every single level in the game contains at least a few lengthy jump puzzles, which feature bars she can hang from, pipes she can climb up, and so on and so forth. From these bars, Rayne can angle herself in such a way so she can shoot enemies from her perched position, thus making her tough to shoot. Aiming this way is a little tricky at first, but it works well enough once you get used to it.
The remainder of Rayne's abilities comes in the form of special moves and powers that are tied into a meter below her health meter. These abilities include a special aura vision that lets her see enemies in other rooms as well as secret entrances; a time-shifting ability that lets you slow the action down into bullet-time, and even lets you speed up Rayne so she's significantly faster than the rest of what's onscreen; and special blood rage and fury abilities, which power up Rayne's attacks quite a bit and make her pretty much impervious to harm for as long as the bar stays powered up. These moves are all inherently useful, but unfortunately, they're too useful. None of the enemies in the game--save for some of the bosses--are tough enough to stand up to Rayne normally, let alone when her special abilities meter is at full strength. So really, all you need to do is save your blood rage mode until you're up against a particularly strong enemy, and most times you'll be able to slice right through that enemy in no time. Some boss enemies require specific attacks and patterns to beat, but many of them can be easily defeated with simple button mashing while the blood rage or fury is turned on.
In fact, BloodRayne 2 is actually a pretty easy game overall. No doubt, there are definitely some sections that will require multiple tries to beat, but this is usually only when you aren't immediately aware of how you're supposed to proceed. Most times, the game uses the magic of cutscenes to thoroughly explain to you how you're supposed to get through a section of a level, but occasionally, it just doesn't provide you with the right clues, and the intuitive response isn't always the right one. Aside from these occasional miscues, BloodRayne 2 is a very straightforward 10-hour game that doesn't require much exploration or thinking of any sort. It's pretty much just "kill all the bad guys, move to another room, solve a quick puzzle, and repeat." Of course, Rayne's myriad of stylish abilities and methods of killing off opponents certainly counterbalances the game's simplicity to a degree, but if you were hoping for a little more in the way of variety, it isn't here.
The only other serious complaint you can mount against BloodRayne 2 is that it just isn't a very polished game. Bugs are readily apparently on a semifrequent basis, though most are just annoying, rather than detrimental. Most of them fall under the animation category, specifically animations pertaining to enemies falling down or trying to get back up. The game uses sort of a pseudo-rag-doll physics system, so when enemies go down, they tend to go down in a heap. However, if an enemy is going to get back up, many times he or she will just pop up out of nowhere, with no transition animation in between, which looks disconcerting to say the least. Clipping problems are also pretty regular, and you'll often see enemies and even Rayne herself popping through doors, walls, and what have you. Once, Rayne even got stuck in a piece of scenery after getting knocked back by an explosion, and we had to restart the level since we couldn't get her out. We also hit a couple of random instant kill glitches, which just drained us of all life out of nowhere for no particularly obvious reason.
Outside of bugs, there are also some parts of the game that just seem a little unpredictable in design. Some of the game's jump puzzles seem somewhat haphazardly put together, and the route in which you have to take to get through them doesn't seem like the best one available. Other times, you can just seemingly bypass certain routes altogether by jumping between little cracks and other inconspicuous sections. There are also a couple of boss fights that are just plain weird, in that there seems to be a couple of different ways to beat them, but it's not entirely obvious which one you're actually supposed to be using. These weird bits don't ruin the game, but they do give it a slightly sloppy feeling when they pop up.
Apart from the animation and clipping problems, BloodRayne 2 is a pretty great-looking game. Rayne's model, and the models for many of the main characters and monsters, are all creatively designed and nicely detailed. Sure, most of the character designs are derivative of typical comic book antiheroes and villains, but that doesn't keep them from looking pretty cool overall. Though the game doesn't feature a ton of differing levels, the ones that it does provide are nicely put together, and they capture the sort of urban and gothic atmosphere the game tries to produce. Plus, every environment is littered with destructible objects and items, which add to the chaos of the action. The game's cutscenes are somewhat erratic, however. There are a couple of beautifully rendered CG scenes, but the rest, which are done in-engine, don't look even half as good. Unfortunately, some frame rate problems plague both the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game, mostly when several characters are onscreen at once. In fact, the only difference between the two versions is that the Xbox version is just a tad clearer, and other than that, they're right on par with one another.
Like all comic book heroes and heroines, Rayne is a chatty girl and loves to drop some witty one-liners on her eventual victims. Thankfully, the actress who voices her manages to do a serviceable job with the occasionally dumb but mostly entertaining quips that have been written for her. The remaining voice acting is similarly good, though not spectacular, and there are only a couple of characters that come off as a little silly. In-game, the various sounds of Rayne's battles with the vampiric hordes are very good, with plenty of blades scraping across each other and horribly squishy sounds of gushing blood. There's a lot of background ambience to appreciate too, such as the echoed shrieks of agony you'll hear from human victims as Rayne explores the factory that makes The Shroud. The soundtrack is also very good, though a little repetitious at times. There's really only a handful of tracks, but what's there is reminiscent of the sort of thing you'd hear in one of the Blade movies, featuring heavy electronic drums and distorted guitars.
In the end, BloodRayne 2 provides a viscerally enjoyable experience pretty much from beginning to end. The game certainly has its blemishes, and it's definitely not the deepest or headiest action title you'll ever experience, but underneath those problems is a stylish and gory action game with enough kills and thrills to keep you entertained. If you were a proponent of the original BloodRayne, or if you're even just a fan of good old-fashioned stylish action games, BloodRayne 2 is worth checking out.