Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: July 3, 2007
Every so often, there comes a game that has amazing potential and should, just by concept alone, be excellent. For some reason, though, whether it be the limitations of the console, developer apathy or a rushed release date, these games are sent to the market without living up to their potential. Vampire Rain is one of those games that not only fails at living up to its promise, but it somehow also manages to turn itself into an almost unplayable game.
The idea behind Vampire Rain is simple. Set in an alternate version of modern-day America, Vampire Rain assumes a world embroiled in an invisible war. Vampires, or "Nightwalkers," stalk the night, feeding on humans and increasing their numbers with every passing day. They have, in fact, conquered whole cities and are developing so quickly that they will outnumber humans within three years. You play as John Lloyd, a member of an elite squad of special commandos that is sent into one of the vampire-infested cities to find and kill a Prime Walker, one of the lead Vampires. When a Prime Walker is killed, every vampire he has helped create will also die with him.
For such a simple plot, Vampire Rain manages to turn itself into something convoluted and nonsensical. The characters act in bizarre and irrational ways, none of the plot threads have satisfying resolutions, and the game frequently contradicts itself on how the world setting works. By the end, I was clutching my head in frustration, attempting to piece together the incoherent plot without any luck. Unfortunately, Vampire Rain's gameplay is so poor that it does nothing to make up for the unintelligible plot.
The Nightwalkers have the potential to be interesting foes because they're are significantly more dangerous and deadly than enemies found in other stealth action games. Nightwalkers are indistinguishable from humans before they detect you, but once they do, they transform into their incredibly fast and incredibly strong vampire form, a decaying mess of a being. In this form, they can soak up entire clips of machine gun ammo without flinching and can end your character's life with a single blow. Killing them is possible: Enough ammunition, a headshot from a high-powered sniper rifle before they transform, or a healthy dose of ultraviolet radiation can end their un-lives in a snap. They can even leap up to the rooftops of buildings in a single bound, so distance is little protection against their fangs. Unfortunately, Vampire Rain makes very poor use for what should be extremely threatening foes.
At heart, Vampire Rain is a stealth game. Clearly inspired by Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, it encourages the player to avoid, not confront, the Nightwalkers. Early in the game, you have no way to deal with them; the default pistol is useless, and the Neolight rifle only works at long distances against single foes. If you attract a Nightwalker's attention, the game is over. They can follow you anywhere, the game prevents you from opening any doors, and unlike Metal Gear Solid, your enemies don't leave Alert mode until either of you are dead. Considering how powerful they are, it is almost always you. This alone would be frustrating, since even the smallest mistake would send you unavoidably back to the last checkpoint, but to make matters worse, the Nightwalkers are extremely perceptive. The game gives you access to a Metal Gear Solid-inspired radar that shows you nearby enemies and their cone of view — but that cone of view is completely inaccurate. Enemies can see you quite easily from significantly longer distances, and finding the one route through their defenses is less intuitive and more a matter of repeated trial and error.
One of the worst aspects of trying to judge safe passage is the incredible number of red herrings the game throws at you. Despite taking place in wide-open environments with a number of areas to explore, Vampire Rain doesn't reward clever thinking. Each area has a single predetermined path through it, and should you try anything else, you'll be met by a dead end or a surprise Nightwalker. This becomes especially infuriating when the path you are taking seems sensible. More times than I can count, I had killed or evaded a group of Nightwalkers and was heading down what looked to be an open area, only to be stopped by an invisible barrier and told to not leave the mission area. There are even a number of platforms and ladders that seem to be a sensible path through Nightwalkers, but they too lead to useless pistol ammunition supplies or nowhere at all.
Midway through the game, your character gets access to anti-walker weaponry. This upgraded arsenal includes shotguns, high-powered sniper rifles and knives capable of emitting ultraviolet radiation. Each of these weapons is capable of defeating a Nightwalker with a single shot — and that is where the problem comes into play. Once you have these weapons, the Nightwalkers cease to be actual threats. Their AI isn't smart enough to deal with enemies equipped with weapons, so they mindlessly run toward you and get blown away without effort. There is no reason to conserve your ammo in Vampire Rain, either because if you need a weapon for an area, the game will provide it. Even worse, every bit of ammo you get is taken away from you at the end of every stage, so any excess shotgun shells simply vanish into the ether. This becomes extremely frustrating as you end a stage with a wide variety of ammo and the plot dictates that in the next stage, you are inexplicably out of supplies for your weaponry.
Shortly after you get access to the better weaponry, Vampire Rain begins to throw boss fights at you. Each of these boss fights occurs with a Prime Walker, a superior vampire who is supposed to be faster, stronger and more deadly. In an amusing twist of poor game design, each of the Prime Walkers instead manages to be slower and less deadly than their more average brethren. Since you fight these Prime Walkers instead of sneaking past them, they somehow forget about most of their vampire abilities. They do bizarre things like use guns instead of their deadly claws and slowly walk toward you instead of running. They can be stunned with weapon fire, and perhaps the most bizarre twist comes from the fact that you can survive multiple attacks from any one of these foes — something that can't be said about the very weakest Nightwalker.
One of the last bosses in the game doesn't even attack you for the first two phases of the fight, and in the third, he uses slow and easy-to-dodge attacks, rendering him only slightly more of a threat. Considering the aggravation that occurs when fighting regular foes, it seems completely illogical and confusing that the enemies who should be the greatest threats are instead the least threatening adversaries you'll face in the entire game. The bosses themselves are not even creative gimmicks. Each one of them feels cribbed directly from Metal Gear Solid and its sequels, and if there is one thing Vampire Rain should not be doing, it is reminding the player of better and more interesting stealth games.
Gunplay in Vampire Rain is rather awkward. Moving and aiming is done using the analog sticks, and firing is done with the trigger buttons, a fairly standard setup. However, the controls all feel sluggish and unwieldy, even compared to other games in the stealth genre. Aside from the slow and awkward cursor, Lloyd is unable to do the basic actions that are necessary for combat. Aiming from behind cover is an awkward chore at the very best. Lloyd himself isn't very swift or agile, so moving from cover to cover is almost certainly going to get you shot full of holes during gun combat.
For the first half of the game, this isn't a worry because you are only engaged in slow and precise gun battles, but in the second half, a new breed of enemy shows up that uses guns instead of claws, and this is where the trouble begins. These enemies are much weaker than Nightwalkers, but they are very accurate with their guns; trying to quickly fire at them is nearly impossible, and you will almost always be smacked with a number of bullets simply as a matter of normal combat. It becomes infuriating when trying to guard NPCs against these gun-wielding antagonists. The NPCs rush right into the gunfire and you must struggle to keep them alive, cursing your crosshair as it seems to inch across the screen while you watch the NPC's health drop to 0.
Once you've finished Vampire Rain's single-player mode, the only things available to you from the stage selection screen are a few trial missions and an online multiplayer mode. The trial missions are simply shorter extra levels, so unless you really enjoy the gameplay, there is no reason to even touch these, except to maybe build up points for Achievements. The online mode isn't much better, and quite honestly feels rather tacked on. Players take control of either humans or Nightwalkers in one of a few different game types, such as Capture the Flag or Deathmatch. While the online mode is the best part of the game, that is faint praise at best. Most of the online modes are cliché and boring at best and frustratingly unbalanced at the worst. When playing something simple, like Capture the Flag, you can't help but feel you'd rather be playing one of the many games available on the Xbox 360 that does this exact same type of gameplay better. Even at its very best, all Vampire Rain can manage to do is remind you of other, far better games.
Vampire Rain doesn't look like an Xbox 360 title. To be perfectly honest, it is less impressive-looking than a number of PlayStation 2 titles. The level designs are bland and boring. The buildings that make up 90% of the game's environments are comprised of bland, flat textures that are repeated endlessly — even the buildings repeat. A number of the game's red herrings come from the fact that the developer reused a building without changing it at all, so a platform that leads to a path in one area is pointless in another. The character models suffer just as badly, with awkward jerky animations and overall ugly design. The rain effect that gives the title its name is slightly impressive. The falling water bounces off the characters with fairly solid realism, but it isn't any more impressive than the same effects we saw back in last generation's Metal Gear Solid 2. Even on the Xbox, this game would have been graphically unimpressive. On the Xbox 360, it is simply shameful.
The audio presentation in Vampire Rain almost makes the graphics look good. The voice-acting is atrocious; it is Z-movie quality trash where the actors seem to change tones and moods in the middle of a sentence, and frequently sound laughable during what are supposed to be dramatic moments. There are a few good moments, but they are few and far between and come from minor characters. Other than the voice-acting and the endless sound of rain, the game is oddly silent. Occasionally, a few songs start up during particularly eventful scenes, but they end as quickly as they start and often in the middle of a scene, so their inclusion is rather pointless.
Vampire Rain is one of those titles that should have been great. Take the stealth aspects of Splinter Cell, and combine it with incredibly threatening supernatural enemies in a wide-open city environment. Yet somehow, it failed in every aspect. The gameplay is frustrating and tedious, the graphics are bland and boring and the plotline is simply incoherent. Even as a budget title, Vampire Rain would be something to pass up. At the full price of $59.99, there is no reason to go for this game over any of the better titles available on the Xbox 360.
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