BloodRayne: Betrayal
Released 2009
Platform: PS3, XBox 360, PC Genre: 2D Action Platformer Single Player. Rated: M
Eight Bit Soundtrack: At the Stage Select screen, press and hold all four shoulder buttons, both analog sticks, and the Start and Back (Select) buttons.
I love the little warm up animation of Rayne sitting there with her legs crossed, enjoying a glass of blood before getting up to kick ass.

Review by Jay Wilson

BloodRayne has always been the perfect premise for a video game that sadly yielded one unbaked product (BloodRayne 1) and one half-baked product (BloodRayne II). A sassy sexy half-vampire protagonist on a quest to slaughters her full-blooded kin, and there in one sentence fragment you have both an excuse to make Rayne super powerful and an excuse to use those powers. Let her go to town with some simple yet satisfying combat mechanics, throw in a few engaging platforming complications, and this series makes itself. But somehow, that never happened until now.

Games like this are fundamentally about control. The player controls Rayne, of course, but I’m talking about Rayne’s ability to control the escalating conflict she insists on taking on single-handedly. In an empty area, our antiheroine naturally has free reign; she can move, dash, jump, attack, taunt, or stand idle as she pleases. But as soon as an enemy comes into frame, its ability to attack threatens Rayne’s control. She can’t loiter around forever anymore, nor can she pace back and forth at her leisure. However, if Rayne lands an attack, her enemy will be temporarily stunned—not very long, mind you; just for a few frames—just long enough to allow combos and follow-ups which places the player, through Rayne, firmly in control. A good game will make maintaining that control difficult through multiple enemies, varying attacks, and environmental hazards. And a great game will balance this struggle with seemingly impossible odds, giving the player just enough power to carve out a small bubble of stability amidst the screen-wide chaos that becomes beatable only with skill, patience, and practice.

Not only does this kick knock enemies clear across the screen and into other enemies, but it relaunches Rayne which means between it and her dash she can kill the teleporting ghosts without landing.

So what can Rayne do to keep her foes in check when they gang up on her? Well, first she has a God-like dash that goes through pretty much anything, allowing her to position herself wherever she wants to launch her offensive. If you don’t want to dash, Rayne can engage one set of enemies, uppercut them, kick them in midair, and springboard off them to the other side of the screen where she can start comboing a second group even before she’s landed. Rayne can jump straight up and slam the ground, sending all enemies flying into the air where she can then whip out a pistol and shoot the bastards purely for style points. Or she can bite one enemy, infect him, then detonate him like a human bomb which will set off a chain reaction of explosions leaving even Michael Bay breathless. In other words, Rayne is always in control ... to a fault.

The enemies are no match for Rayne. None of them. Not even in groups. Most only have one or two ways of attacking and roughly half can’t do anything to Rayne when she’s airborne. Some enemies, she can bounce on their head infinitely, and they have no means of retaliation nor escape. Another enemy—one of the three with an aerial projectile—might temporarily prevent Rayne from stomping the others to a pulp; however, with her dash, Rayne can bypass Armageddon, take out the ranged enemy, and resume her perpetual hop of death. Once in a blue moon an environmental hazard will linger overhead and discourage such cheesy tactics, but if memory serves me correctly that happens an entirety of twice. It is nice that they let Rayne rampage with her abilities and slaughter fodder with impunity—nothing sucks more than having your powers rendered useless by arbitrary design—but that’s what early levels are for. The final chapters of the game should escalate to, “yes, Rayne has awesome powers. Now use them or die.”

Rayne can perform only one dash per jump; however, she has two kicks that spring and/or bounce off from enemies and count as a new jump, allowing Rayne to theoretically stay airborne forever.
Betrayal offers a scoring system so gamers can challenge themselves, but seriously, who the hell cares about high scores anymore?
See the yellow thing behind the blood-bubble? That’s a slow moving fireball which should be hitting Rayne, but she’s too busy to be bothered with petty things like taking damage.
I’ve shown mostly combat with almost all the non-boss enemies, but a solid third of the game is platforming with non-killable environmental dangers ... and then there’s the raven sequences.

And I haven’t even mentioned how she gets health back. Like the title implies, Rayne feasts upon blood. After an attack has stunned an enemy, one of the available follow-ups is a grab/bite. Hold the button down and our half-vampire protagonist drains her prey and heals herself while invincible. Yes, invincible. Even if you don’t need the health, you can still bite enemies just to avoid taking damage because the handful of things the dash can’t evade? The bite can. Now this is an interesting mechanic inherited from the original BloodRayne titles—I like the idea of feeding off enemies for health—however, there are two problems: one, the bite is a self-healing God mode death attack ... so purely in terms of efficacy, why bother with anything else? And two, how do you make the fights challenging when each enemy gives Rayne more life back than what they’re capable of taking away? I can literally play reckless as all hell—and I love playing reckless—experimenting and trying complicated combinations just to see what kind of crazy juggles I can put together just for the hell of it. Because even if they get me down to a sliver of health, who cares? I can chow down on foes one after another and get all the way back up to maximum health before the end of the very same fight.

Alternatively, I can finish off the multiple waves of bad guys and just walk past one of the eighteen bajillion checkpoints within sneezing distance of each other and refill my health that way. Indeed, a game with defacto infinite health and defacto infinite invincibility also has a generous distribution of life-regenerating checkpoints in levels that take ten-to-twenty minutes to beat which, by the way, includes searching for and collecting all the red skulls, picking the reward said skulls yield, sitting through unskippable dialogue/animation, and dying a few times. And, no, I’m not making up those numbers; I played BloodRayne: Betrayal from beginning to end and captured the entire playthrough so it wasn’t difficult looking up my completion times in Adobe Premiere.

Only the platforming sections approach anything resembling a challenge, and I’ll admit, first time through I got stuck on individual sequences for fifteen or twenty frustrating minutes at a time. And to this day after multiple playthroughs, I still cannot effortlessly and deathlessly whip through the later chapters where Rayne has to hop on a series of flying insects’ heads while dashing through lasers and spinning sawblades where one mistimed dash or misaligned stomp spells certain death, but as dire as that sounds, even these sequence are more about finding the correct rhythm and timing and not so much a test of dexterity or split second decision making. And since the execution, itself, is never that difficult, once the player figures out the all important when even the most frustrating controller-breaking challenge becomes a minor delay, a mere speed bump, to the inevitable completion.

It doesn’t help that the level design is modular at best and uninspiring at worst with a series of spawn points connected by stretches of linear platforming and next to no overlap. Rayne fights wave after wave of enemies in an open room with a flat floor after which she’ll jump over pits and dash through sun lamps until she reaches the next open room with a flat floor where the next set of enemy waves will materialize and die. Sure, there’s isolated exceptions. Occasionally a rogue enemy is stationed in the middle of saw blade central, and every now and again a battle will happen over spikes, acid, and there’s even a few barriers that require an obvious trick to pass (they’re fancy locks, and one of Rayne’s powers is the key; thus, I refuse to call them puzzles). But there’s not enough integration of fighting and platforming to sustain long term interest the way a classic like Super Mario Bros. does. That game is still fun today because there are koopa troopas and goombas up in the trees over bottomless pits while a regular burst of bullet bills fly into frame every few seconds. And good God, after thirty years the levels with the flying cheep cheeps are still an intense adrenal sprint that still manages to infuriate because it absolutely has to kill you at least once just to ruin your perfect playthrough and piss you off.

Every few chapters, you’ll run across a silhouette sequence; most of which make it hard to tell where Rayne is because of other shadow patterns cluttering the frame, but this one works out well.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the red skulls are hidden, but they’re there, and there’s forty to be collected across the fifteen levels.
Every five or so grants another bullet or a slightly longer life bar.
You can’t tell in the small still shot, but when emphasis is needed in the dialogue the developers make the letters oscillate. It’s even stupider and more annoying than it sounds.
I actually forget about the pistol half the time, and the other half of the time I waste bullets because I tend to hit the button too soon ... except you can’t hit the button too soon. The gunshots always come out.

But that’s not to suggest BloodRayne: Betrayal is bad. Nor am I saying I don’t enjoy kicking the ever living crap out of vampires and monsters, then moving on to dodge spikes and ride geysers of acid on makeshift rafts of melted skeletons. I do like it. Very much so. The combat is extremely satisfying with Rayne’s ability to affect multiple enemies simultaneously, a feature sorely lacking in the original two titles. I particularly love how Rayne can send enemies tumbling into each other—grouping them together—then finish them all off with a single bullet or slow motion detonation. However, I think I would like Betrayal even better if it demanded more of me. Lord knows Rayne is capable of handling a ton more than what the game throws at her. Look how much Mario got through, and all he could do back then was run, jump, and occasionally shoot fireballs.

On the genuine down side, a few levels in Betrayal pause from its fast paced gravity-defying action for slow boring and uneventful raven sequences which suck because there’s only two things Rayne can’t control—environmental hazards and gravity—and the raven sequences take away one of those. And, you know, without the constraint of a constant gravitational force, environmental hazards really aren’t that hazardous. What’s the point of dodging obstacles when you can freely fly in any direction and hover indefinitely? These sequences mostly consist of waiting for said obstacle to pass and then flying forward and waiting again for the next obstacle with, needless to say, no real threat of dying. Towards the end of the game Rayne, herself, acquires the ability to take raven form, and they almost immediately start deny its usage with an untouchable object that resides in the background and zaps any and all avian creatures. In other words, “raven form will make this area too easy, so you can’t use it because I said so, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If you’re going to do that, then don’t put raven form in the game at all. Don’t dictate where and when I can use it. And considering Rayne is so good at staying airborne with multiple ways of relaunching herself, attacks that increase her altitude, mid-air dashes, and the ability to slide down walls, she can almost—not quite—but almost tackle the raven sequences without raven form anyway.

Once upon a time, video games had lives and continues. If you died, you returned to the last checkpoint to try again. If you lost all your lives, you went back to the start of the level. This made games more interesting because dying meant something. Getting to the Grim Reaper on full health on your last life in Castlevania is one of the most nerve racking experiences because you know he’s hard as hell, you know this is your best chance to beat him, and even though you have infinite continues you know you will not be using them because if (when) you die (again)—screw it—you’re not replaying those three God damn stages because there’s no way in hell you’re getting back here on full life a second time. And it’s no coincidence that Castlevania provides one of the most thrilling and satisfying “hell yes!” moments when you do get to the Grim Reaper on your last life with full health and get hit by two sickles right off the bat ... but you come back, just barely managing to dodge the bladed onslaught while chipping away his health with the boomerang and whip, and you finally manage to eek out a victory on the verge of certain death. Oh yes, my friend, you have managed to accomplished something.

The sun gun, a reference to BloodRayne II, is used to open doors and fight bosses whose soft spots linger out of melee range.
Strangely enough, it seems to freeze regular enemies in place while cooking them.

BloodRayne: Betrayal does not have that moment. On top of being easy to begin with, it offers infinite retries with no downside, drawback, or penalty pretty much at the exact point you died. Anyone can beat BloodRayne: Betrayal. And that’s why twenty years from now, I won’t be playing it the same way I’m playing Super Mario Bros. and Castlevania today, twenty years later.

However, it is a blast to play here and now, and that counts for a lot.