The BloodRayne franchise is one of those semi-obscure series that existed but never had huge mainstream success. The first two titles were met somewhat positively, but the closest it came to mainstream recognition was Uwe Boll's abominable movie adaptation. The announcement of a new BloodRayne game came as a surprise, but BloodRayne: Betrayal is actually shaping up to be a hit. Developed by WayForward, makers of such excellent games as Contra 4 and A Boy and his Blob, it's an unusual way to reboot the languishing franchise, but there is a lot of potential.
In a departure from the previous BloodRayne titles, BloodRayne: Betrayal is a side-scrolling action/platformer. While that may come as a disappointment to fans of the original game, Betrayal is shaping up to be quite interesting. Rayne has two main attacks, the first of which is her sword. It can be swung repeatedly to carve enemies or used sparingly to stun an enemy for a follow-up move. She can knock enemies into the air, juggle them around, and make their lives a living hell. Rayne's second main attack is a magnum handgun, which can shoot enemies from across the stage. The trick is that her magnum is powerful, but has limited ammo. You can replenish ammunition, but it has to be used sparingly or you'll be out of bullets when you need them the most. There's a fair amount of variety to the combat. It may seem button-mashy, but simply pounding the attack button is one of the least effective ways to get through the stage.
The most interesting gameplay feature is Rayne's vampiric bite. After stunning an enemy with a sword slash, you can choose to grab and bite him. If you hold the bite long enough, Rayne will suck the blood from her enemy, restoring some of her health and instantly killing the enemy. You can also choose to do a quick bite and let go. This doesn't kill the enemy, but the unlucky foe is "infected," so he turns green and little poison bubbles appear above his head. At any time, Rayne can choose to make an infected enemy explode in a gigantic shower of death and gore. This is effective when surrounded by large groups of enemies because it can cause a powerful chain reaction that can clear the area of enemies. It's also useful because it takes less time than sucking the enemy dry. You can even infect multiple enemies at once for a more effective death chain. The only catch is that this attack can only be used on foes that have blood. If you encounter something that doesn't bleed, then Rayne can't drain or infect it, and you'll have to settle for cutting it to ribbons or shooting it to pieces.
There isn't really an RPG element to BloodRayne: Betrayal like many recent games. Rayne begins with her entire arsenal unlocked, so you won't have to unlock any moves or weapons. There are collectibles, but they serve to upgrade the number of bullets you can carry and the amount of health you have. This has the potential to be either a plus or a minus, depending on how the game shapes up. Having access to all your moves from the outset of the game means you won't have to wait to do cool things. You're at full power from the start and can develop your skills instead of waiting to find the +5 Sword of Bloodletting. On the other hand, it also leaves the very real potential that the game might wear out its welcome early on. However, the game isn't all about combat, and that may be what keeps it fresh.
While Rayne can certainly tear apart enemies, she's also got quite a few acrobatic moves at her disposable. The most commonly used one is the dash. Inspired by Mega Man X, the dash allows you to move around quickly and gives you invincibly frames. This is fairly crucial for surviving attacks from enemies. Dodge at the right time, and you can avoid attacks while closing in on enemies. You can't really spam the dodge because there's a slight delay between, and mistiming your dodge leaves you vulnerable to enemy attack. Rayne can also perform huge jumps, wall bounces and a gravity-defying backflip that lets her get higher into the air. While the level we saw only made a token use of these moves, we were told that later stages would have a greater emphasis on platforming instead of focusing on combat.
BloodRayne: Betrayal looks absolutely mind-blowing. Everything in the game is hand-drawn, so it doesn't consist of simple Flash animations, and it makes the game look phenomenal. The characters are huge and unbelievably detailed. Rayne is made up of over 4,000 frames of animation. To give an example of how ridiculous that is, WayForward's previous game, A Boy and his Blob for the Wii, had about 1,500 frames of animation for both of the main characters combined. The result is that BloodRayne: Betrayal is unbelievably smooth, fluid looking and has a ridiculous amount of detail. It also helps that a lot of work was put into the art design. The stages are mostly grays, reds and blacks, which help making everything in the game really "pop," especially when other colors show up. Light and shadow are used for both gameplay and simple visual style. There's a sequence in the demo where Rayne has to fight enemies in a pitch-black area. Both Rayne and the enemies are simple black silhouettes, and the only warning you have when an enemy attacks is a brief muzzle flash from their gun, which serves as a warning to use Rayne's dodge ability.
BloodRayne: Betrayal was one of the big surprises of E3 2011. The art style and visuals are absolutely stunning in a way that eclipses Wayforward's phenomenal-looking previous efforts. Looks are not all that BloodRayne: Betrayal has going for it. From what we saw, the gameplay is solid and easy to pick up. There are some concerns about repetitiveness, but strong level design could easily overcome that. BloodRayne Betrayal has all the makings of an extremely solid side-scroller, and games like Contra 4 and Shantae: Risky's Revenge have shown that WayForward is more than capable of pulling off excellent side-scrolling adventures. BloodRayne: Betrayal is due out Q3 2011 for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
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