It’s interesting how much gaming has changed throughout the last couple of decades. For someone like me, who grew up during the NES era, I kind of had to be a masochist in order to reap any of the enjoyment from many of the more popular titles such as Mega Man, Castlevania, and even Super Mario Brothers. All of these titles forced you to learn their finely tuned inputs in order to traverse a world set up with obstacles. These obstacles often acted more as a time barrier, masking the short length of the game. That learning curve was at many times physically and mentally painful, but once you got past the pain there was a most satisfying feeling of accomplishment akin to ecstasy. Like I said, masochist.
Way Forward’s newest downloadable title, Bloodrayne: Betrayal, takes the development and gameplay approach akin to those classic games, including the pain, while also injecting some life into a stagnant franchise that has more recently been known for its straight to DVD movies.
Many may not remember the once controversial Bloodrayne title that came out what seems like decades ago so I will summarize it very quickly: Bloodrayne is female vampire hybrid that was hired by the human run Brimstone organization to help take down the Nazis and evil vampires during World War 2. There are other subplots thrown in there that try to give an inch of credence to Bloodrayne’s motivations (like trying to find her vampire father), but deep down this franchise has been more about cashing in on the young male demographic with its sexualized heroine.
Each of the two titles that came before Bloodrayne: Betrayal created the perfect recipe for young and older heterosexual men’s desires: a young, attractive woman dressed like a prostitute, with the bust to fill out her leather dominatrix-esque ensemble, and a background suggesting a wild, libertine sexual creature. Even her initial approach to sucking the blood out of someone’s neck looks more like a kinky sex maneuver, in which Bloodrayne jumps at the victim, wrap her legs around their waist and bites down, all while giving us a series of long, orgasmic groans. I can’t recall a franchise that was more steeped in sexual innuendo as the Bloodrayne series and it paid off with a host of primetime media spots including a music video and a centerfold spread in Playboy. With this type of baggage it’s hard to look at Bloodrayne as a series that can be taken seriously, but Betrayal‘s reinvented gameplay and art direction do wonders.
All of the already mentioned baggage that Bloodrayne has carried with it was created by a company and development team that wanted to make a statement through the controlled perception of a character they were portraying. With the introduction of a new developer, Way Forward, Bloodrayne has undergone a makeover in both how we perceive her and the world around her.
The most dramatic way that Way Forward has reinvented Bloodrayne is through the elimination of a dimension, transforming her surroundings from a three dimensional world into a two dimensional plane. With that change also comes a new art direction where polygons are replaced with hand drawn animation. For a newcomer to the series, a Bloodrayne aficionado, or someone that just appreciates the detail of hand drawn art, the new direction is eye-catching to say the least. While there are only two settings to traverse, a castle and some foggy outdoors, each area, the enemies that inhabit those areas and Bloodrayne, are joys to watch. The reimagining of the series into a two dimensional plane also allowed Way Forward to rethink and tweak how Bloodrayne would interact in this new world.
Despite the changes, Way Forward is still making a Bloodrayne game, so certain elements needed to stay intact. Bloodrayne is still as sexual as ever, but one notable difference is her skimpy dress has been replaced with a more conservative two piece outfit that is contextually more understandable. Attacks stay somewhat the same, with Bloodrayne still having guns and the blades that rest under her arms, which are linked to one button, timed combos. And of course, she still can bite down on people’s necks in order to regain health. Little tweaks to Bloodrayne’s arsenal include the ability to blow up enemies that you don’t suck the whole life out of, a sunlight powered gun, a slide maneuver that allows you to miss enemies attacks and a bird transformation. Each of the additions as well as the already established elements create a very rounded avatar that is ready to deal with the evil world around her.
Remember when I said masochist? Yeah, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is not for the faint of heart. As games have matured so has their audience, as well as the volume of players, but with such an increase it’s hard to know what each demographic would consider difficult. As a result, most contemporary games have introduced the ability to tailor the difficulty. Bloodrayne: Betrayal is not one of those games. Instead, you are forced to play at the level the developer thinks you should. For the most part, if you have ever played any NES era titles you know what lies ahead. An example would include you attempting to have Bloodrayne jump onto a very small platform that eventually decays away, while avoiding lasers from the floor and ceiling, enemies flying over you, a screen filling saw chasing you and rockets coming off screen. These scenes will haunt you for hours, but they are achievable through painful repetition. And each of these brutal scenes will usually prepare you for what comes next.
The implemented leaderboard system also pushes the player toward perfection. Performance is graded on the combos you use, if those combos are broken by an enemy and how fast you can dispense of the enemies to earn a time bonus. While playing through can be painful at times, once you finish it, you start to see where the tools you learned can be applied throughout earlier levels, netting you a higher grade.
Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a beautiful reimagining of a series that has, for better or worse, long been forgotten. With a new developer and a new direction on the character, Way Forward have succeeded in elevating the franchise and creating a new look that will help reshape the negative perceptions created years ago.