E3 2011: BloodRayne: Betrayal hands-on

A beautiful new blood 'em-up from the modern maestros of 2D

When it comes to classic videogame characters, it%26rsquo;s hard to imagine the vamped-out BloodRayne ranking high on anyone%26rsquo;s %26ldquo;best of%26rdquo; list. In fact, her biggest claims to fame aren%26rsquo;t game-related at all, but rather two mediocre movies and a topless renderthat appeared in Playboy Magazine. So, years after whatever luster she once had has faded away, why should you be interested in a brand new outing? Because it%26rsquo;s a brand new take on the character with thousands of hand-drawn frames of animation and gallons upon gallons of gushing gore.

Developer WayForward is known for its 2D prowess; Contra IV, Shantae and A Boy and His Blob are some of its well-received gems that continue the proud tradition of sprite-based games in an age of Unreal engines and massive online multiplayer. For all their beauty, however, WayForward%26rsquo;s existing games are all displayed in standard definition %26ndash; that makes BloodRayne the company%26rsquo;s first HD title, and a showcase of how captivating 2D games can be when given today%26rsquo;s processing power.

Underneath the stunning animation %26ndash; which includes 4000 frames for BloodRayne alone %26ndash; lies a game firmly rooted in the %26lsquo;90s. Run to the right, slash the crap out of enemies and ultimately face down a towering boss. There are 15 linear levels to shred through, so while the trailer may have given some of us a Symphony of the Night/Shadow Complex vibe, Betrayal is in fact a more straightforward affair. But what it lacks in backtracking and other RPG-like traits, it makes up for with tons of blood, combos aplenty and decapitations that cause blood to soar to the top of the screen.


Above: The camera pulls in close for some fights, then falls back for others

BloodRayne begins the game with all her moves and abilities unlocked. On one hand, that%26rsquo;s a cool way to immediately get us into the action, launching enemies into the air, juggling them with extra hits and then kicking their limp bodies across the screen. The sizable move list is ready to use from the moment you start the game. On the other hand, with no branching move lists or additional combos to learn, we fear the action could peak early and never progress beyond the initial awesomeness. Could it peter out halfway through? That%26rsquo;s something we%26rsquo;re keeping in mind for its August release.

That said, her move list is pretty substantial from the start. Paradoxically, her biggest weapon is actually her only defense %26ndash; a dash move that whisks her through enemy bullets for an up-close attack. Once next to a baddie, she can bite and feed off them for extra health; another option is to bite and quickly let go, which turns them into poisonous walking grenades you can detonate with the push of a button. Time it right and you%26rsquo;ll start a bloodbath chain reaction that kills everything with screen-shaking violence.

The first level was entirely action based, with non-stop slashing and dashing. Publisher Majesco said later levels will mix in platforming elements that require precise use of BloodRayne%26rsquo;s wall jumps, backflips and mid-air dash. I didn%26rsquo;t see much of that in this first area, but the essentials are all in place for a thoroughly enjoyable mix.

Fun aside: BloodRayne Betrayal is somehow slated for a %26ldquo;T%26rdquo; rating from the ESRB. Apparently new proceduresmake it possible for games like BloodRayne, which feature animated (and therefore not %26ldquo;realistic%26rdquo;) violence, to skate by with a %26ldquo;T%26rdquo; rating. So, even though you see the %26ldquo;T,%26rdquo; realize that this is filled to the top with the red stuff.

I know this won%26rsquo;t matter to many of you, but it%26rsquo;s worth noting the music is performed by Jake %26ldquo;Virt%26rdquo; Kaufman, who scored Contra IV and Shantae, among others. The BloodRayne soundtrack is full-on rock with a slight Castlevania flavor added for a bit of gothic flair. Even cooler is a post-game award that unlocks the full soundtrack in MIDI form %26ndash; as a game music fan, I can%26rsquo;t wait to hear the full thing.

It%26rsquo;s possible fans of the original two games may balk at this new direction for the series, but if you%26rsquo;re mainly after cool kills and flashy attacks, this still looks like it%26rsquo;ll satisfy. We%26rsquo;ll know for sure in August.

Jun 10, 2011

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