Publisher: AQ Interactive
Release Date: September 2, 2008
After playing Vampire Rain: Altered Species, I decided that karma must be real. To make up for the stories with fantastic stealth gameplay like Splinter Cell, we must have … this. For every stealth game that tries to tell a rich and complex story, such as the Metal Gear series, there must an affront to storytelling such as this. There is so little that this game does right that it's a wonder the original title ever made it to the market on the Xbox 360, and it's mind-boggling that a PS3 port was given the go-ahead. Even at the budget price of $40, there is no reason to purchase this game.
The problems become evident as soon as you boot up Altered Species. As with many PlayStation 3 titles, there's an installation process the first time you play the game. The 3.8GB install that took 27 minutes, which didn't seem to help matters, as there was still plenty of loading that occurred during the game.
Altered Species is not a good-looking game and could almost pass for a PS2 offering. The streets look OK, but the rest of it looks awful for a next-gen title. The main characters look thoroughly mediocre and the enemies look abysmal, but the environment gets the brunt of the ugly stick. Most of the time, you'll be wandering around in a reasonably large environment consisting of a few city blocks. This would be fine if the buildings weren't some of the most bland and uninteresting things I've ever seen on the PlayStation 3. They often look like little more than cubes with bland textures thrown on top of them. The only graphics highlight can be found in the game's title: There's some pretty awesome-looking rain in Vampire Rain: Altered Species. The main characters all have set animations when they're in the rain to simulate how the precipitation would look on their bodies, and it looks really nice. Unfortunately, that's the best animation I saw in the game; the rest ranges from utilitarian to clunky and cheap-looking.
As you enter the world of Altered Species, you're given an interesting concept. Vampires, or Nightwalkers, are the reason that thousands of people vanish every year: They either die or become a Nightwalker. Eventually, the Nightwalkers become almost as numerous as the humans (908 days until there are more of them than us!). As part of a special ops squad, you're supposed to go take out the head honcho vampi — sorry, Nightwalkers, and that'll kill off all of their underlings, thus saving humanity. It almost sounds like Splinter Cell with a supernatural enemy. On paper, that doesn't really sound like that bad an idea, but in execution, the game gets everything wrong.
For one thing, the story often tries to go for the extreme gore scare tactics, but it always manages to miss the mark because of the awful voice acting. The actors ham it up far too much, often changing moods from line to line, and they were given an awful script. It certainly doesn't help that Altered Species' story is an incoherent mess, which is unfortunate because in the right hands, the idea could have resulted in a very good title. Even more disappointing is the side stories that you unlock as you progress. When I began to unlock them, I was giddy in thinking that I had unearthed some new side missions that might feature some decent gameplay. Unfortunately, all these turned out to be were five-minute reads that fleshed out some background for the various characters in the game. Some of these would've made awesome levels too, especially the one for the game's main character, John Lloyd.
All the characters in Altered Species are completely one-dimensional and do nothing outside of their stereotypical roles. Lloyd is the silent cool type, the leader likes to bark out orders, the girl is the good sniper, and the tech guy is always nervous. Such original thinking! It's really difficult to care what happens to these people when they're so uninteresting in the first place.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, you'll spend most of your time sneaking around the city and taking care of sabotage work. You may find something and possibly kill someone, but it doesn't really matter. Generally, the mission consists of getting from point A to point B, doing something at B, moving on to point C, etc. Since the game places you in a fairly large world, you'd think this could be awesome.
It quickly becomes apparent that there's only one way to get through each mission. Usually, this means that you must take the route with the most ladders to climb and rooftops to run across. This is because Altered Species loves to throw invisible walls at you. You might find yourself heading in what you think is the right direction when the game suddenly tells you, "Did you forget the mission, soldier?" and doesn't let you go further in that direction. Other directions that you think might be a good idea result in a Nightwalker guarding the path. The Nightwalkers will stand around until they see you, at which point you'll be warned by a flashing pair of eyes on the screen. If they see you long enough to realize you're not a hallucination, they'll mindlessly charge you, knock you down, and kill you. If you're spotted by one of these guys, chances are that you'll die. As a result, the title feels like an extremely cheap case of trial and error, and I often feel like I'm playing a platforming game with vampires who instantly kill me at every wrong turn.
It is possible to kill the Nightwalkers, but it can be extremely difficult to do so. At the start of the game, all you have is a machine gun and a pistol. The pistol is completely useless — although Altered Species loves to default to it after every single cut scene — and it takes an entire machine gun clip to bring down a Nightwalker. Unfortunately, once an enemy sees you, it's a fight to the death. The Nightwalker will not let up until one of you is dead, and when you have the basic weapons loadout, it's going to be you. Eventually, you gain access to weapons that actually allow you to defend yourself — a knife, shotgun and sniper rifle — at which point enemies are no longer threats. They still mindlessly charge you, but you can take them out at your leisure. The only annoyance is the knife actually has ammo statistics. I suppose this makes sense because it releases UV light when you use it, but it still seems silly.
Altered Species' boss fights will probably make you do a double take, as they move around slowly and use guns instead of charging at you at the speed of sound and instantly clawing you to death. As a result, you can actually take a hit and survive, often making the bosses easier to deal with than the normal enemies.
Once you've finished (or given up on) the horrendous single-player portion, you can try to take the game online. The key word here is try. Every time I tried to play online, I did not find a single game in the United States. I found a couple of people playing the demo that's out in Japan, and I tried to join them. The game never connected to these people. Instead, I was booted out to the menu about 30 seconds after I selected which match I wanted to join.
Vampire Rain: Altered Species is a neat idea with some of the worst execution I've seen on the PlayStation 3. The title has an incoherent story, bad graphics, bad voice acting, bad level design, extremely linear gameplay for a stealth title, and a level of difficulty that seems more dumb than difficult. Looking at the box, it's clear that Vampire Rain on the PlayStation 3 was meant to trick people. Artoon knows that they have a bad game, so they made the "Altered Species" portion of the title much larger than "Vampire Rain," perhaps in hopes of tricking people into thinking that this is a new and shiny sequel. It's not. This is the same garbage that was available on the 360 last year, and it should also be avoided on the PS3.
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