If you’ve been looking forward to a stylish, breezy 2D hack-and-slashing foray into the BloodRayne canon with Betrayal, the new XBLA/PSN release, get ready for a digital bitch-slap. BloodRayne: Betrayal is immensely difficult – so much so that I gave up trying to beat it, and I’ve beaten Hard Corp: Uprising and Demon’s Souls, so I don’t mind difficult games and I don’t give up easily. BB takes difficulty to unreasonable levels, but more than that it suffers from poor controls combined with absolutely cruel design choices, which means it stumbles into just being unfair instead of difficult. Difficulty alone is not a problem, but if you’re going to make a difficult game, you have to be extremely careful about balance, giving the player all the tools they need to succeed so that the challenge comes from the enemies and obstacles and not obtuse design and controls that leave player inputs inconsistent.
I was ready to love this game, too, because there are never enough 2D platformer/brawlers these days and the game looks gorgeous and has tons of stylish, nimble maneuvers to pull off. When everything goes well, you can look like a total vampire badass. For a tiny percentage of players, this will be the way of things during play of BB, but for the rest of us, we’ll be watching BloodRayne fail over and over in humiliating ways, and we’ll be cursing at the TV almost the entire time. If you choose to play this game after reading this review, you’ll think I’m full of crap at first, because Betrayal will lull you in with easy fights in the beginning. The difficulty takes a quick upward swing after the first couple of levels, though.
The gameplay concepts are good on paper: you need to dash to avoid damage, you have lots of cool combos, and you suck the blood of enemies to top up your health. You can also bite enemies and choose to infect them instead of sucking their blood, which turns them into a living bomb which you can then trigger with a special attack. As I said, when it works, it works well, but the game then throws so much ridiculous stuff at you, you have no time to properly learn all the techniques. That’s not really the problem with the game though. The big problem is a two-parter: the screen gets flooded with danger, but then the controls are imprecise.
I’ll give the best example in detail: there’s a sequence where you have to outrun a giant sawblade, jumping across platforms along the way. There is no way to outrun the saw unless you use the dash move constantly. This means you must use the dash in mid-air while jumping from platform to platform. The problem: the dash is inconsistent in the distance it covers in the air. You can sort of control the distance by letting go of the dash button, but it’s not precise. So you’ll over-shoot and under-shoot these dinky little platforms and fall to an instant death over, and over, and over. To make matters worse, BloodRayne tends to slide when she lands from a jump, so even if you manage to do these dash jumps perfectly, you might just slide to your death anyway. And then, the game has the nerve to present increasingly smaller platforms for you to land on with these sloppy controls, then moving versions of these dinky platforms, and then there’s one jump where you have to jump off the top of the screen, meaning you can’t see BloodRayne in order to judge your dash distance.
It probably took me forty tries to complete that sequence, and when I did beat it, it didn’t feel like some awesome victory over difficulty – it felt like luck, because of the aforementioned slippery jumping. That’s the main issue with BB: whenever I did finally surmount the odds, I didn’t feel triumphant, I just felt glad the exasperation was over. The game tries to alleviate your hundreds of deaths by giving you unlimited lives and fast respawns, but then it randomly has horrendous checkpoints, like one section where you have to fight literally fifty enemies in a room, and then in the next room you’re presented with a wall-jump where you have an inch of headroom to get it just right and if you don’t, the platform you thought you reached will actually allow you to fall through it because your feet didn’t quite make it. This means instant death, and fighting fifty enemies again before being able to try that one poorly designed jumping puzzle over again.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is for masochists, pure and simple. So is Demon’s Souls, but I loved that game – it was always fair and always made you feel like it was your own fault for dying. In BB, you’ll die because you slide randomly on the ground, or you can’t see what’s happening because enemies fill the screen, or because you got knocked on the ground and couldn’t get up before getting hit again, or that wall jump didn’t work even though it worked the last time you performed it the exact same way. If you absolutely love to be beaten into submission by a game, perhaps BB will serve as your cruel mistress, but you will have to wrestle with the controls. Anyone looking for simply some 2D action to pass the time should stay the heck away, unless you think you have a secret masochist inside.
Sep 7, 2011