BloodRayne 2

Year: 2004
Platform: Xbox, PlayStation2, PC
Developer: Terminal Reality
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 1/23/04
Rating: ***

Seventy years have passed since Agent Rayne tackled Nazi Germany, but thanks to her dhamphir blood, she hasn't aged a day. Her family situation is more dysfunctional than ever, and with the help of the Brimstone Society she's been spending her time tracking down and eliminating all of her siblings. But it's not an easy task. Taking a tip from "Highlander 2", the vampires have created an atmospheric blood shroud that ushers in the vampire apocalypse and allows vampires to walk around in daylight. Rayne's quest for personal vengeance soon turns into a desperate plight to save Mankind from annihilation, raising some very interesting questions for the future of the franchise.

"BloodRayne" (2002) was a solid, yet mediocre game, which is also true about the sequel. In addition to her trusty blades, Rayne's new arsenal consists of a pair of guns that use blood for ammunition, an enhanced harpoon for hurling objects around, and the ability to grind rails and climb poles. While these enhancements are nice, they don't improve gameplay that much. The biggest frustration with the original game was the control scheme, which utilized a chase camera and FPS mentality. In "BloodRayne 2", the controls have been completely revised to decouple the camera from character movement. While this offers a lot more freedom and ease of use, orienting the camera is a constant nuisance as enemies are constantly ambushing Rayne. Overall, though, I think it's a vast improvement. Like most sequels, even with all of its new features "BloodRayne 2" favors difficulty over innovation, and the game is often ridiculously hard to play. This is mostly due to the fussy camera and a combat system that requires a lot of finesse to use effectively. The first boss battle happens five minutes into the game and took me over an hour to defeat. Thank goodness the cheat mechanism from the first game is still in place, or I would have put the game away in disgust. Again, I applaud Terminal Reality for this ingenious and much appreciated feature. It allows you to actually ENJOY the game as a narrative experience instead of it being an exercise in frustration and humiliation. If more companies supported these options, they would open themselves to a much wider audience and we could eliminate the need for cheesy third party cheat devices.

Presentation wise, the game is very attractive and the levels are highly detailed. The environments are also extremely destructable, which is very satisfying. The characters are highly detailed, and Rayne has gotten a complete makeover. She looks great and moves very fluidly, but I would argue that her facial features are just a tad too cat-like, which is kind of creepy. For the most part, the voice acting is very good, despite the juvenile dialog. Laura Bailey once again provides a superb performance for Rayne, although the forced sexiness of some of her more ridiculous lines is awkward and not convincing. Rayne is much more effective as a serious assassin than as a slutty seductress, and Ms. Bailey's commanding performance proves it. The rest of the cast is quite good, with high marks going to the portrayals of Severin, Ephemera, and Ferrill. While Rayne's adolescent one-liners are often painful to listen to, at least they don't accompany EVERY adversary like they do in the increasingly irritating "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (2002). "BloodRayne 2" is also gratuitously gory, and it revels in its excessive bloodletting. Hapless foes are sliced apart with glee, blood is sprayed with reckless abandon, and environmental mutilation is often the key to progressing through the game. Much like the original, it's absurdly violent, with the emphasis on absurd. Since enemies are often the key to solving puzzles, they are often inexhaustible, which places an unnatural sense of urgency on the game. This is frustrating because it doesn't give you a chance to kick back and enjoy the scenery, since you're ALWAYS being attacked by someone. Ultimately, it's a run-and-gun action game, so there's no reason to stand still or explore.

Sadly, the developers forego all subtlety and really focus on Rayne's sensuality this time around, which spoils the tone of the game and makes her come across as trashy rather than serious and sophisticated. Apparently, being naturally sexy isn't enough these days. Now you have to be porn star sexy. This is evident in every aspect of the game, from the writing, to the acting, to the art direction, to the marketing messages. In addition to Rayne, bad girls Ephemera and Ferrill seethe with unbridled sexuality and exposed flesh. Rayne even appeared topless in "Playboy", in one of the lamest and most embarrassing marketing ploys I've ever seen (and the portrait was AWFUL, to boot). It also baffles me that the original "pretty" box art was replaced with the "trashy" box art.

Apart from the sometimes questionable art direction, what puzzles me the most is my overall impression of the game. As far as content and mechanics are concerned, "BloodRayne 2" is the perfect game. The protagonist is an attractive woman, with a serious attitude and a penchant for extreme violence. She's extremely agile and proficient with blades, guns, and martial arts. She also has an array of cool superhuman powers at her disposal to help with stubborn enemies. The stamina system is perfect in that nearly every opponent is also a source of health, so you don't have to worry about finding and hoarding first aid kits. Aura vision is the perfect help guide, as it locates hidden enemies, points you in the direction of your objective, and shows you items that you can interact with. Then of course there's the awesome cheat system that allows you to tune your gaming experience to match your specific gaming needs. So why didn't I like this game more? Is it the tastelessly sexed up presentation and juvenile dialog? Not enough cutscenes? Lack of emotional depth? Overly repetitive and tiresome combat? The challenging combat system? Perhaps a little bit of everything. While I enjoyed taking Rayne through this adventure, it never hit any of my sweet spots, either on a visceral or emotional level, which is a real shame. It certainly won't keep me away from "BloodRayne 3", though.