Developer: Eurocom Entertainment
Release Date: August 27, 2003
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds was released three months after the television series ended its seven-year run. It can be seen as either extremely good timing or a stroke of marketing genius – or both – that the game was released between television seasons, while fans were still floundering at the thought of Buffy-less Tuesday nights.
The storyline is touted as a lost episode from season five, with Dawn at summer camp and Angel comfortably nested in Los Angeles. The writers have taken some liberties with the storyline, but it was done tastefully, so most fans won’t mind. Faith is broken out of jail specifically for this adventure, and she dons an outfit from Eliza Dushku's Maxim photo shoot. See? Told ya you wouldn’t mind.
The original BtVS was released solely on the Xbox to critical acclaim, so the biggest question is, will Eurocom Entertainment’s multiplatform sequel measure up?
You start off in the comfort of the Magic Box, and after you’ve learned the basics, you are sent off to tackle bigger and scarier monsters in a total of 12 levels, and some locations are creepy enough to make your skin crawl: a graveyard, blood factory, and worst of all, high school. The predominantly playable character is Buffy, but portions of the game require you to play as other figures like Willow, Xander, Spike, Faith or Sid the dummy, with the mission generally befitting the individual’s skill set.
As the game proceeds, an exciting story unravels, involving a dimensional bleed that has been enabled by The First Evil to consume all of humanity. Naturally, the Scooby gang must battle the baddies in order to stop this occurrence by punching, kicking, throwing enemies, and swinging weapons like there’s no tomorrow … because if you don’t succeed, there won’t be.
You don’t need to worry about the monotony of slaying vampire after vampire because there’s quite a selection of gory beasties, from leather-clad demons to winged monsters. The baddies look a little more cartoonish in this installment, but they’re also more detailed and less prone to jagged polygon edges. The zombies were my personal favorite, as they would continue to drag their legless torsos towards you after you had hacked off a few of their limbs.
Your vital statics can be monitored via two health bars in the upper left-hand corner: the purple, which indicates health, and the blue, which signifies energy power for special moves. As you defeat Hellmouth fiends, they yield purple and blue energy orbs which will help restore your health.
While battling through these levels, you will find stashed goodies which help you unlock extras, like playable characters and arenas in multiplayer mode. You’ll also uncover boosts such as medi-paks (first-aid kits), hellfire potions, holy water, and weapons such as flame guns, water guns, tranquilizer guns, various wooden weaponry, and of course, the trusty stake.
Judging from the available weapons, the game might sound like a huge slayfest, but it actually maintains a good balance between action and puzzles, which are fun, creative, and engage your noggin from time to time. There are checkpoints along each level, and you can continue to your heart’s content, but if you shut off the console, you cannot restart from the last checkpoint and must set out from the beginning of the level instead.
The controls are straightforward and easy to learn, but unfortunately, the execution is another kettle of fish altogether. Direction is controlled by the left thumbstick, camera angle is determined by the right thumbstick, and you select inventory items via the directional pad. My biggest gripe about the controls is that you have to shuffle through your inventory (which can be quite sizeable) and select the desired item WHILE you're fighting. You can’t pause the game, take a breather, and pick an item without three vampires beating you to a pulp. Sure, it's more true-to-life, but it's also a real pain (pun intended).
The camera angles are also a little frustrating, as they don’t rotate well in tiny spots. You can set the camera for a while so that you don’t need to fuss with it, at least until it doesn’t fit your situation anymore. The slight catch-22 is that you never know when that might be because you can’t see enemies until they’re close enough to cause physical harm.
As you battle enemies, their health bars also show up on the screen for monitoring. While this is certainly useful, it does not show up until the rival is close enough to hurt you, so expect a lot of sudden kicks to the head while you’re busy battling other monsters and demons. The AI is smart enough so that your opponent doesn’t remain static during battle, but if you’re still mashing buttons in its general direction, you’ll find yourself hacking into thin air. A major improvement would be the ability to stay locked onto a monster as you fight, not just whoever happens to stumble into the way. As it currently is, you need to back away from the current direction you’re punching or kicking in, pause for a second or two, and then renew your attack, which potentially causes health loss, especially when there’s a whole swarm of demons. I’m sure there’s a technique to master this, but between manning the camera angle, inventory, and fighting, I have yet to develop said technique. I simply lack the digits. A radar to detect enemies would have been useful so that they can’t sneak up on you as easily as they do, as well as a map for directionally-challenged people like yours truly.
The gameplay is very faithful to vampire lore, and you don’t always have to kill baddies with a wooden stake. You can also use vials of hellfire, holy water, flame guns, or you can even lure vampires in front of a sunny window, at which point they turn into pixie dust. However, you will find yourself staking quite a few vamps in their legs, abdomens (“Oh! NOT the heart.”), shoulders, heads, and yes, groins. Speaking of stakes, you are supplied with one when you start the game, but as the game progresses, you will begin levels unarmed. Since stakes aren’t always readily available, even in Sunnydale, you can demolish wooden crates, chairs, and benches to create stakes, or you could use the wooden end of a trusty pitchfork. Pick your poison!
Since the sequel is a multiplatform title, the graphics took a slight blow in the name of commerce. Textures are somewhat flatter than they could have been (had the game been solely an Xbox title), but for the most part, the graphics are solid and detailed. The locations are loyal to the set of the show, and the characters are generally recognizable, with Faith least resembling her real-life counterpart.
Character movement is quite good and pretty fluid, but it seemed that my walking slowed to a crawl when it was least needed. I initially suspected that it was because I was low on health, but it would sometimes occur when most of my health bar was intact. When you’re playing as either Buffy or Faith, one of the items in your inventory is the slayer handbook, which provides the button combos for more than 150 butt-kicking moves. I got tired just imagining the development time required to create such a vast array of motion so my hat’s off to Eurocom for accomplishing that feat! I was also extremely impressed with the imaginative dying process of various villains, from turning into skeletons for a split second before becoming dust, to simply spewing lots of green slime.
As with many other games, there are a few collision detection issues present, with foes’ upper bodies ending up behind walls and monsters that cannot be staked when they fall down in limbo-y places (i.e., along railings).
The voiceovers are generally good, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan absent. Buffy voiceover replacement, Giselle Loren, did an excellent job, and while the voice actress who did Willow’s voice was very noticeably a replacement, it was certainly a great effort by everyone involved.
The scribes managed to stay faithful to the show’s writing style, with clever lines that would be perfectly believable if inserted into a typical Buffy episode. None of the lines are out of character, and most of the one-liners – from both the Scoobies and enemies – are simply hilarious. For instance, Buffy is talking about a plethora of wooden stakes when she blurts out, “Just what a girl needs, a nice long shaft … wait, that didn’t come out right.” All in all, a great writing job by Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski, authors of Buffy and Angel books, among other supernatural fare.
The sound effects are as detailed as they are varied, and whether you’re assaulting a metal locker with your baseball bat or utilizing a mounted machine gun in the Initiative laboratory, you won’t be disappointed with the sheer quantity of sound effects that are present throughout the game. The only issue that I have with the sound is the noise that female vampires make when they die, as it sounds slightly pornographic, but apparently that’s just me.
Nerf Herder. Enough said.
The game sports four multiplayer modes: survival, in which you try to be the last one standing, domination, which is a king of the hill variant and you battle to dominate the pentagrams, bunny catcher, where you capture different-colored bunnies that will either award or subtract points from your score, and slayer challenge, where you try to attain the most number of kills.
Bunny catcher mode is definitely fan fodder; unless you’re six years old or love torturing Anya, I cannot see the mode being a barrelful of fun for more than five minutes. In domination mode, the referee voiceover was oddly out of place, like he had come straight over from recording Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or Soul Calibur. I think they should have had either Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder) or Joss Whedon doing that particular voiceover.
The multiplayer mode certainly adds to the game’s replay factor, as you have an added incentive to replay the game levels, uncover all of the secrets, and achieve a better ranking in order to unlock more playable characters. I’ve heard that you won’t be able to unlock Joss as a playable character until you achieve a “Slayer” ranking in all of the levels. Ahh, the things I’m willing to do in the name of gaming!
This game is packed with so many extras that it puts some DVDs to shame. Extras include interviews with creator and cast members, voiceover recording session footage, photo gallery, highlights, comic book, and outtakes!
I’m sure every Buffy-loving console owner has already run out and purchased this game. For you action/adventure fans who are still undecided, I would definitely recommend it, as it’s an engaging game with an exciting storyline, solid gameplay, replay value, multiplayer goodness, and extras galore. While the graphics are standard cross-platform issue, they are good enough that you will find yourself pleasantly surprised along the way. There are a few flaws with the gameplay, particularly the inventory system, but it will not severely detract from your enjoyment of the game.
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