Terminal Reality has somehow made a boring game featuring a sexy vampire, buckets of blood, and Nazis. BloodRayne may feature the va-va-voomiest bloodsucker in gaming, George Romero-style gore that includes lots of decapitations, and everyone's favorite goose-stepping bad guys, but gameplay is so predictable that you'll be stifling yawns even as you tear open jugulars.
The story isn't going to win any awards for originality, either. You play as Rayne, a half-vampire (otherwise known as a dhampir) working in the 1930s for the secretive Brimstone Society. It has taken the sultry young lady under its wing and turned her into agent BloodRayne, a warrior helping the organization protect humanity from creepy things that go bump in the night. She's also got a bone to pick with evil Nazis searching for arcane artifacts and with her long-lost vampire father, who started her not-so-happy family.
Sound familiar? Rayne is really just a female version of Blade, the Marvel Comics vampire hunter popularized in the movie series starring Wesley Snipes. The Brimstone Society angle varies only slightly from Terminal Reality's 1999 effort, Nocturne, which was also set in the pre-World War II era and featured a US government agency of paranormal investigators called Spookhouse. The antiquity-hunting Nazis have been borrowed from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And Rayne herself is the stereotypical game babe, complete with a heaving bosom and buns of steel that would cause Lara Croft to throw an envious look her way.
Of course, you don't need an original story to make a great game. But, unfortunately, the gameplay in BloodRayne is every bit as derivative as the plot. This is a stock action adventure game, with a strong emphasis on action and lots of jumping challenges involving Rayne's deadliest foe, water. Levels are of the "kill these enemies, then kill those" variety where you plug away from point A to point B, with an occasional series of leaps to point C. Puzzles involve little more than finding the occasional object or figuring out that you have to knock down a wall in order to move forward.
The settings are equally uninspired. You visit just three places over the course of your Nazi smashing--the Louisiana bayou, rural Argentina, and rustic Germany. Each comes with just a few different levels, so you can wrap up play in well under 10 hours (there is no multiplayer mode). Your investigations take you to a castle, a swamp, a temple, a laboratory, and even a military barracks. The only thing that's missing is a sewer. Nothing really stands out, though little touches like the moon shimmering over water and lightning flashing in the background leave everything feeling somewhat creepy.
Showers of bloody gore are all that really make BloodRayne stand out from mundane action adventure games like the more recent releases in the Tomb Raider series. Rayne butchers her way through the opposition, employing more than two dozen weapons to slice and dice her mutant, mutant spider, Nazi, demon, cultist, and vampire foes. The in-game armory includes precision pistols, shotguns that can make ne'er-do-wells explode in a gooey mess, and more intimate devices like Rayne's harpoon (which can pull victims to her much like Scorpion's spear in the Mortal Kombat series) and her huge wrist blades. Get going with the latter duo and you can flat-out shred enemies, going so far as to cut off limbs and heads.
Yet all this carnage isn't very interesting. The limited novelty in being a killing machine wears off after you discover that there is little to do aside from plowing ahead and clicking buttons. And the control system is awkward with either a mouse-and-keyboard combo or with a gamepad, particularly because the camera never seems to give a good angle on the action. Jumping puzzle sequences can be absolutely maddening, as you can never quite nail your landings.
Combat involves just a few standard attacks and a limited number of combos. New attack options are featured when Rayne goes into blood rage mode--a berserker option available when you kill enough enemies with blade attacks to max out the bloodlust meter--but these appear to be nothing but speeded-up variants on the regular attacks. Many similar console-oriented action games, such as Devil May Cry and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, handle combat better and use more special moves to keep play from becoming repetitive.
Terminal Reality does include some promising ideas that liven things up, but the developers never go far enough to rescue the gameplay from mediocrity. Rayne indulges her vampiric nature by feeding on defeated enemies. This allows her to both regain health and apparently get a few jollies. Orgasmic moans are uttered every time she digs into a human snack, and she even goes so far as to mount victims lying on the ground and wrap her legs around those who are standing. No points for subtlety, although the developers have to be given some credit for really earning that Mature rating.
Rayne also possesses a number of interesting special skills as a half-vampire, most notably, "dilated perception." This is a take on Max Payne's bullet time, where Rayne slows everything down to better evade enemy fists and bullets. It isn't as well realized, however, as after a few levels she can turn it on pretty much at will for as long as desired. You can sail through entire levels with the game set on slo-mo, which takes away from its special nature. Other skills, such as the aura sense that allows Rayne to detect enemy health, and the extruded view that lets her gaze into the distance as if she were looking through binoculars, aren't very useful at all. You can complete the game barely ever using the former, and the latter is only helpful in specific instances.
Another strike against BloodRayne is its outrageous system demands. Terminal Reality apparently took the lazy way out with this console port and didn't bother properly optimizing the code for the PC. So the recommended system requirements include a Pentium 4 2.53GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and a GeForce4 Ti 4600--pretty steep considering that the game looked good and ran well on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube when released for those platforms earlier this year. You need every bit of this power to keep frame rates chugging along, too. If you really want to play BloodRayne, and you don't have a state-of-the-art gaming rig, you'd be best off sticking with one of the console versions.
But at least you do get some fairly attractive pictures for your troubles. Terminal Reality has always put together impressive-looking games, and BloodRayne is no exception. Rayne herself is stunning, in a goth hooker way with lots of skintight leather topped by Kool-Aid-red hair. Most of the locales are quite atmospheric even though the sites have been seen many times before in many other games. The opening bayou cemetery and the much later German castle have the potential to send a chill up your spine.
Animations, however, are atrocious. Rayne's movements are terribly jerky, to the point where it's hard to keep her under control. Audio quality isn't any better. Character dialogue is absurd B-movie pap filled with unnecessary expletives. It's also very hard to follow. All conversations have been treated with an echo effect that makes every line sound like it was recorded in a bathroom. Many of these lines don't match up. Characters seem to be talking past one another, leaving you to wonder if the voice actors were reading from the same script. And finally, sentences frequently overlap each other. If not for captions, at times it would be impossible to understand what is being said.
There just isn't anything here that causes BloodRayne to rise above the crop of third-person action adventure games currently competing for space on your hard drive. While the blending of sex and over-the-top violence is initially intriguing for those who like their games on the spicy side, annoyances like the complete absence of originality and depth and the frustrating control system mean that there isn't much here to hold anyone's interest for long.