Betrayal feels like a positive move forward for the BloodRayne series overall, but the game itself doesn't go far enough to buck with the game's middling past. The art and concept are brilliant, but the actual feel of the game and combat system do leave something to be desired.
+Side-scrolling is a great new direction for the series.
+The art is unique, and eye-catching.
+Shorter/Downloadable title seems a better place for BloodRayne.
-Ridiculous scoring system.
-Lack of tutorials/guidance.
-Very mediocre revamp of an already middling game-series.
A couple of weeks back saw the return of Bloodrayne. The good news is that it is a far departure from the previous games and movies (if you were a fan of either, I'm sorry for you). The bad news though is that it doesn't bring anything all that compelling on interesting to the table. The game can be summarized best as a grueling side-scrolling action/platformer in the vein of the later Mega Man games (specifically anything with Zero as a lead character), which works as an improvement for the series but doesn't go far enough to push the boundaries of the property to make it a truly worth-while game.
I feel the need to apologize in advance, I know that middling reviews are hard to write, and I've never enjoyed reading them myself either. Unfortunately Bloodrayne: Betrayal hugs the fence for dear life, and there's really not much I can do about that.
The concept of the game-play change is a bold one, and I appreciate the new art style. Moving the game from 3D down to 2D and making it a straight-forward hack-and-slash game-type for the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network Download was a flash of brilliance, and really the only way I could see to bring back a series that really no one cared about.
Pushing through the game's (rather short) 15 levels is fun enough, and there is that old-school arcade beat-'em-up mentality that's enough to keep you going. They've also incorporated a score-based system where completing the levels as quickly as possible, and maintaining as much health as possible will help you up your overall score while achieving higher 'letter-grade' scores for each level. The combat itself feels nice enough, the majority of the combos are just about mashing out the one attack button whilst altering the timing/direction stick throughout and graphically the game is a treat. The art-style they've gone for is kind of slick, and the animations are fluid enough that you get a real feel for the moment/flow of combat and character movement while you progress through the game.
I mentioned before the game is grueling, which I can get down with on occasion (generally speaking I prefer games that DON'T hate me), but I don't think the way that they made the game hard is very intelligent. Combat is one of those types that'll make you angry at random cheap-shots. There were occasions throughout the game where I'd be holding down a group of 15 zombies/vampires/monsters on one end of the screen, just to get a bullet in the dome from the opposite side of the screen. There's also the rather large issue of the game not doing so great with explaining what you are doing, or how to survive. You're pretty much thrown into the thick of things (tutorials popping up either way later in the game, or not at all) and you have to figure out how to keep your character alive.
One of the biggest examples was the detonation mechanic. Rayne has the ability to 'taunt' which for the first level or two of the game, I had assumed was completely useless (it didn't even provide points to the score). It wasn't until much later when the game had a road-block that I found out it detonated "infected" enemies (feeding from your enemies is a BIG part of the game, and if you stop early you 'infect' the enemies making them turn green and walk around ready to be blasted). Turns out, that's actually a great way to work crowd-control, and would have saved many, MANY, headaches early on in the game... But even after reading through the menu system (controls section) there wasn't really a clear idea of what "taunt/detonate" meant, how it was activated, or how it was to be incorporated into the gameplay.
The other big thing for me, which becomes a huge barrier for entry for new-comers, was the score system. As someone that's all about trying to get that highest rating playing through the game, and constantly looking to improve their score, it took a long while to understand why I couldn't get anything above an "F" rating. There are bonuses for completing the level in a set amount of time. There are bonuses for completing the level with additional health. However, the game doesn't really let you know that if you should die at any point during the level, you're forfeiting pretty much all your points and there's really no hope in hell of obtaining anything but the game's lowest letter grade.
You can argue that's something to push for replay, but honestly it just turned me off the game almost completely. Considering the number of ways that you can die (the random stray bullets, being swamped by dozens of enemies at once without a really useful AOE ability, random spikes outside of the screen during platforming that you'll hit because you couldn't see them, etc.) it's basically like the game is playing "You Lose" with you for at least your full first playthrough, regardless of how hard you try or what effort you put into learning the mechanics of the combat and platforming.
There are few games that I would say truly hate you as a player, and generally those at least provide a badge of honor for letting you feel like you accomplished something in your time with it. Bloodrayne is hard without a sense of pride, and tries to counter-balance it by giving you infinite lives/continues. You're either one of those people that wants the score, and will hate your first playthrough, or you're one of those people that don't care and wants to complete the game and just gets bummed out by the amount of times you have to respawn through the game.
I'm not exactly sure who the audience was meant to be for the game, but after my first playthrough I can pretty safely say that it's not likely that its either of my gaming personas (score/arcade fanatic or the video game experience enthusiast).