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 a 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. The original BloodRayne game debuted in 2002. You controlled the heroine, Rayne--a busty, redheaded alternative to Wesley Snipes' comic book-inspired vampire hunter--as she hunted down Nazis, 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. BloodRayne 2 hit the Xbox and PS2 late last year to reasonable acclaim, and now, 10 months later, the game has come to the PC. Why it took this long becomes apparent as you play this halfhearted console port--the developer was evidently unable to get the controls to work quite right on the PC. Couple this with the fact that none of the problems from the console game have really been fixed here, and what you've got is a pretty unappealing product.
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 among 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 a blood-fueled blanket that covers the sky, allowing vampires to walk around in the daylight and essentially do as they please. It's up to you, as Rayne, to quell this vampiric uprising and prevent humanity from becoming vampire cattle.
Rayne's 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 keys. Simply pressing one or the other in succession creates some basic combo attacks, but by holding down the target button while attacking, Rayne will target a specific enemy and gain a whole new set of dodges and counterattacks, which come in handy against some of the quicker boss enemies. When distance is required, Rayne has a chain she can use to latch onto enemies and send them 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 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, because 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 her slide path. Another example involves Rayne's chain attack. Several puzzles in the game require you to clog or jam an object--such as a wood chipper or a garbage truck--that is blocking your path 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 a 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. From these bars, Rayne can angle herself in such a way that 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 come 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 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. You'll need to use specific attacks and patterns to beat some boss enemies, 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 an easy game overall. No doubt there are sections that will require multiple tries to beat, but this is usually 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 how you're supposed to get through a section of a level, but occasionally, it 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. 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 thing that adds any level of difficulty to the PC version of the game is the off-kilter feel of the controls. The game simply doesn't feel right when you're using a mouse and keyboard; targeting becomes too much of a hassle, and it's hard to focus your attacks while trying to balance camera control and hit the various attack buttons. A gamepad is required, though even the gamepad controls are problematic. For starters, the only camera-movement access you're granted is up and down. If you want to move the camera back behind Rayne, you have to snap it back behind her by pressing a button, rather than manually moving it with an analog stick. That's annoying. Similarly, there seems to be a degree of delay between when you hit an attack and when the animation stops, making Rayne tough to get a handle on at times. Considering that some of the acrobatic moves, chain attacks, and such require fairly precise controls, the problems with them in the PC version hinder the game quite a bit.
The other serious complaint you can mount against BloodRayne 2 is that it isn't as refined a game as it could be. Bugs are readily apparent 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 a sort of 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. We also hit a couple of random instant-kill glitches, which drained us of all life for no obvious reason.
Besides bugs, there are parts of the game that seem a little unpredictable in design. Some of the game's jump puzzles seem haphazardly put together, and the route you have to take to get through them doesn't seem like the best one available. Other times, you can 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 is more than one way to beat them, but it's not obvious which method you're supposed to be using--nor is it obvious from the beginning what you're even supposed to do. These weird bits don't ruin the game, but they do give it a sloppy feeling when they pop up.
Apart from the animation and clipping problems, BloodRayne 2 is a good-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 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. When the resolution and all graphical touches are turned the entire way up, BloodRayne 2 can look impressive. But if you go even a step or two down from that, aliasing and muddy textures start popping up--not to mention that a couple of resolutions that would look fine on a normal monitor seemed to squish everything onscreen, as if it were set to widescreen.
Like all comic book heroes and heroines, Rayne is chatty 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 are 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.
BloodRayne 2 was perfectly fine on consoles, despite the game's problems, but a significant amount of time has passed, and the notion of the exact same game from last year coming out--now on the PC, with serious control issues and graphical hangups--is kind of an offensive one. You can get either of the console versions of BloodRayne 2 right now for around $25, slightly less than what you'd pay for the PC version at full price. We think it's obvious what the better choice is, in this case.