As discomforting as BloodRayne 2's depiction of women as both hypersexualized and grotesque is, it's rather surprising to realize that the whole affair is actually pretty underwhelming.
Multimedia: Bloodrayne 2
Platforms: Xbox (also on PlayStation 2)
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Terminal Reality
US release date: 2007-07
When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold / And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss -- behold, / There at my side was nothing but a hideous / Putrescent thing, all faceless and exuding pus.
-- Charles Baudelaire, "Metamorphoses of the Vampire"
At the beginning of BloodRayne 2, Rayne warns her advisor, Severin, that she expects "a number of horrible deaths tonight." Ever ready with a quip, he replies, "I'm guessing that dress will cause a few of them." That exchange lays out the premise of the game pretty simply: Rayne kicks ass and looks good doing it. Once the sheen of spectacle wears off, though, there is little of substance left to engage the player.
At first glance, Rayne has the sexy superhero act down pat. Her outsized curves accentuated by the requisite skin-tight outfit, she runs and jumps confidently through the game's various spaces. Her wrist-mounted blades and twin pistols offer a variety of means by which she can slice and dice opponents. Despite her supernatural looks and abilities, however, Rayne is seen in many ways as lacking. Naturally, there's the blood-sucking thing, the need to feed in order to stay alive. On top of that, Rayne is a dhampir, or half-vampire: the product of a human mother raped by a vampire. Throughout the course of the game, Rayne is subjected to contemptuous taunts about her mixed heritage by her foes.
While the game's main plot revolves around Rayne's efforts to thwart a scheme to bring permanent night to the world (making it a 24-hour playground for vampires), her real motivation is revenge against Kagan, the vampire who sired her. Rayne's single-minded desire for vengeance is countered by the cool, calm, and collected Severin; as if he were her therapist or guru, he continually lectures Rayne, warning that her anger distracts her from her mission to protect society. Ever the antihero, however, Rayne isn't particularly concerned about protecting anyone: her only goal is to hurt her enemies as badly as possible, and if humanity is saved in the process, that's no big whoop. Combined with the game's over-the-top action, Rayne's single-minded desire for revenge makes the whole affair seem like a blood-and-guts manifestation of a child's temper tantrum.
Rayne lashes out with more than just her blades. Most action games offer the player the ability to restore his or her health, typically via some sort of item that gets picked up and used. Since the main character in BloodRayne 2 is a vampire, restorative items here take the form of people -- specifically, Rayne's many enemies. Despite her strength and armaments, it turns out that her most effective weapons are her teeth. Instead of cutting combatants up with her blades or pumping them full of lead, she can grab onto them and sink her fangs into their necks to drain them of blood.
Oddly enough, the image of Rayne wrapping herself around an opponent and gnawing on his (or her) throat is one of the less bloody sights. Instead, Rayne and her victim writhe against each other, making faint grunting and moaning sounds. Just when you're about to tell them to get a room, though, Rayne finishes her snack and kicks her victim's limp body away -- or cuts it to pieces with a Fatality move. Even more than the skimpy clothing and spurting blood that litter BloodRayne 2, the highly sexualized devouring of Rayne's enemies instill in the player a sense of both desire and horror.
Rayne is not the only female character in the game that acts as the object of both fear and fetish; most of the villains in the game are women as well. The megalomaniacal Ferril wears nothing but a set of strategically-placed tattoos. Her sister, Ephemera, sneaks around in bondage gear while hatching schemes behind the backs of her superiors. The Kestrel are a flock of vampire ninjas that speak with grating faux-Asian accents. The most ridiculous figure, though, is the gigantic breeding demon Slezz. Fighting this grotesque mother/monster involves throwing bombs at her to blow open her womb while dodging globs of acid that she shoots from her breasts. (Now there's a sentence I never expected to type.)
Male antagonists, on the other hand, are few and unmemorable. Xerx is a by-the-numbers mad scientist, a coward that hides behind an array of machinery and patchwork behemoths. Kagan, the vampire patriarch and Rayne's illegitimate father, hardly seems worthy of the ire he's inspired. Compared to the outrageously exaggerated (in both form and character) women in the game, these men shrink into the background, making way for the exhibitionist antics of the ladies.
As discomforting as BloodRayne 2's depiction of women as both hypersexualized and grotesque is, it's rather surprising to realize after a few hours of playing that the whole affair is actually pretty underwhelming. Rayne has a variety of moves and combos at her disposal, but there's little difference between them in either their look or their effect, and they require little skill to execute, making gameplay mostly a matter of monotonous button-mashing. The first time Rayne performs a fancy maneuver that slices off the leg of an assailant, you'll either gasp or guffaw depending on how you feel about that sort of thing. The 500th time she does the same thing, though, it will hardly elicit any reaction at all. Even feeding off of enemies becomes tedious after a while, draining the horror out of an otherwise gruesome act through sheer repetition.
The game's level design fares little better. While the different environments in the game are nicely rendered, progression through them is strictly linear, leaving no room for exploration; while not every game needs to (or should) have Grand Theft Auto-like open-endedness, it's a little irritating while walking through a hallway full of doors to realize that only one of them actually opens and that the rest are just painted onto the walls. Some of the more vertically oriented areas are fun to move through, until you mistakenly fall to the bottom; while a four-story fall doesn't hurt Rayne, it does lead to a lot of very tedious backtracking.
While the gameplay isn't good enough to be exciting, it's also not bad enough to be frustrating. Instead, the game falls into a groove of pure mediocrity, which is a shame. With its B-movie dialogue (apparently there is indeed a film adaptation in production) and absurdly drawn figures (how many video game characters have posed for Playboy?), BloodRayne 2 comes perilously close to camp; the imagery of femininity in the game is so grotesquely exaggerated that it inspires more laughter than horror. Unfortunately, the game is never quite able to let itself in on the joke, giving the player the impression that the humor is unintentional, and that rather than problematizing or subverting stereotypes, it's simply wallowing in them. And where's the fun in that?