I hit a switch, causing the barrier in front of me to lower and the giant saw blade behind me to give chase. I quickly leaping between platforms that lie atop giant pools of acid lest I get laid to waste. Then the platforms moving and eventually getting smaller, but finally, I reach the end of the level. And I’m greeted by the screen that informs me that I got an F for the level; I’m Worm Chow. But Worm Chow became a badge of honor for my friend and I as we took turns making our way through this brutal game, even if we really had no clue how the game was scoring us.
This kind of scenario is run of the mill (pun intended; it’s always intended) in Bloodrayne: Betrayal. And while there are thrills in that final, perfectly executed run there are a lot of expletives in the dozens of failed attempts that resulted in Rayne being sawed in half or melted alive. Challenge can be terrific, but sadly clunky controls often result in an undue challenge.
This comes in many shapes and forms. Rayne does not get enough invincibility frames when she is knocked down, which often results in her getting hit by enemies multiple times in a row. Rayne’s dash combo causes her to fly into obstacles strewn about the combat arenas. The game also loves to target the wrong enemy. For example, there are 2 enemies standing in front of Rayne: one is a small man around your size, the other is a large hulking tick monster. You can suck the blood of the former, but the latter will merely shrug you off. 50% of the time Rayne will try to grab the larger foe regardless. There is also the curb stomp. Contextually performed with the attack button, curb stomping kills enemies that are already functionally dead. This often results in you stomping a helpless foe instead of slashing the one that is literally about to attack you. Bullets don’t hit foes that are close to you for some reason, leaving you vulnerable to follow-up attacks. The camera was also an issue, as some battles had it zooming way too far in or out (during the final boss battle Rayne is obscured by the Boss’ health bar) and screen shake was abundant. And worst of all is the fact that the game pits you against Megaman-esque platforming challenges while not providing the needed precision. Jumps that were easy in Megaman could be 50/50 in this game just because of the fact that jumping feels too floaty. All of this is eased by infinite lives and mostly well-placed checkpoints. But dying because the game is so unpolished isn’t fun. And the few places where checkpoints are too infrequent cause absurd difficulty spikes because of this.
That being said, there were sections of this game I greatly enjoyed. I often found myself saying,”Holy crap, that was awesome!”, like when I narrowly backflipped over a boss’ homing energy ball. And that is something I rarely find myself doing anymore. And some of the base mechanics felt great. For instance, when you absorb foes’ blood you can either suck them dry for max HP, or you can let go of them causing them to be poisoned. You can then detonate them, which will set off a chain reaction if it kills any other enemies. Moreover, the basic revolver felt great to use, as it satisfyingly pierced through foes with a thud, knocking them down in the process. But enjoying some parts of the game only served to reinforce the fact that the game was so unpolished.
The story was largely incoherent babble and the hand drawn art looks ugly, especially close-up, which was on full display on the main menu. Where the game lacked detail in their designs– something that is odd considering the strong art present in the comics– they made up for with good animation. I loved the way Rayne would hunch her shoulders over in a brooding manner, pose as she blew up corrupted enemies, or backflipped through the air.
At the end of the day, this game makes me think of another game that did a similar type of action platforming much better: Guacamelee. In Guacamelee, your moves acted as a way to both fight foes and navigate levels. Your uppercut could launch enemies and act as a double jump. There wasn’t a separate dash maneuver and combo, like in Bloodrayne: Betrayal, they were packed together.
At its best, Bloodrayne: Betrayal asks the player to participate in a satisfyingly difficult experience that constantly tests your understanding of Rayne’s abilities, like how many invincibility frames are associated with dashing, or the fact that you get lower to the ground while dashing. At its worst, Bloodrayne: Betrayal devolves into an experience that needlessly beats you over the head with its own shortcomings. Dying 10 times because Rayne’s jump is hard to control mid-air, or because you get barraged by enemies while trying to get up only served to shove this game’s own weaknesses in your face, like someone saying,”I don’t like drama,” four times on a first date. And that’s never a good sign.