It is hard to imagine how a game based on a scantily-clad, half-vampire woman who battles Nazi’ could fail,but ,somehow, Bloodrayne managed to be a rather mediocre series. When the license was handed over to Uwe “I have a grudge against all gamers” Boll to be mangled and humiliated, it was all but certain that the proverbial wooden stake had been shoved through Rayne’s heart. However, Bloodrayne has clawed its way back thanks to Way Forward Technologies. With a new veneer and focus on inventive combat, this 2D, side-scrolling Bloodrayne manages to reinvigorate the series and give it a new lease on life.
While the original Bloodrayne games were hardly serious affairs, Way Forward took the very deliberate step of making Betrayal’s story campy. The game makes a point not to take itself too seriously, initiating new players with a brief introduction, merely a few sentences long, before thrusting you into battle. It takes elements from its progenitor, but sheds story for pure gameplay.
Where the story is simply silly and largely irrelevant, the combat is exciting, frustrating and invigorating. Every element of every stage is designed to highlight the immense versatility in Rayne’s skills. There is never a shortage of Victorian-era villains to dismember as you quickly learn how to master crowd control and survival.
Combat is heavily combo based, and learning how to dash from enemy to enemy, while interrupting attacks and draining their blood to regain health, leads to combat that is as sleek as the presentation. As you progress through the seemingly endless castle, new techniques are presented, some of which combine with the platforming elements to hamper or assist your way to the next area. Your poison bite allows you to explode enemies, dispatch mobs or break down barriers. Jumping onto the blond head of the effeminate vampires that populate the castle allow you to launch further in the air, making your ascent up the various passages and chambers possible.
Climbing and leaping also take up a great deal of your time. Much of the level design harkens back to the classic Castlevania and Mega Man games. Mastering jumps and mid-air dashes open up hidden rooms and clever routes to bypass danger. The environment also becomes an essential part of the combat, allowing you to avoid enemies, lure them to their death or get the drop on them before they attack. Transitioning between scaling and striking is fluid, satisfying, and deadly.
Betrayal needs to come with a warning however. The new art direction may look cartoonish and you will be brutalized at every turn. No punches are pulled and, without quick mastery, the game can feel cheap. Damage is still taken when you’re knocked down, there is no grace given on jumps or leaps, and even the sides of spiked ledges can throw you back, often into more danger. Many people will quit Betrayal in frustration, as I contemplated numerous times. Yet, it is possible to become so comfortable with the tricks and overcome every obstacle, which is what makes the game so much fun to replay. Going back through levels to increase your score and test yourself was almost more fun than the initial run through the game.
In the midst of the cursing and storming away from the TV, I found ha uge amount of satisfaction playing through Bloodrayne. Much like how beating old NES games without cheats was a badge of honor, so is conquering Betrayal. With eye-popping art that delivers hit after visual hit, elegant combat and creative 2D platforming, Bloodrayne Betrayal might be the start of a whole new series, and it is easily one of the best downloadable games to appear this summer.