I had a discussion a while ago about the idea of the “favorite 6/10”: games that you have a strange affection for despite, or maybe because of, their obvious flaws. I could write you a small book on mine by now, and if I did, BloodRayne might be one of the first chapters. It’s not great, but you play as a bondage model who eats Nazis. I find that hard to hate.
Revisiting it now with Ziggurat Interactive’s ported BloodRayne: ReVamped, however, it’s funny to see how BloodRayne has aged. If you wanted to show someone what early-2000s American pop culture was like, you could just hand them this game and be done with it.
It’s a violent horror hack-and-slasher set during World War II, with a snarky post-Buffy protagonist whose emotional range runs the gamut from “detached sarcasm” to “low-key murderous anger,” dressed in entirely period-inappropriate black leather and stiletto heels. It can’t get much more 2000s without Sum 41 on the soundtrack.
Mechanically, BloodRayne features bullet time, dual-wielding, throw-away guns, human shields, an actual harpoon, and a “blood rage” super mode that lets you occasionally turn a roomful of Nazis into paint. It’s got a little bit of everything that was going on in games in the early 2000s, and manages to juggle it all reasonably well.
That doesn’t mean BloodRayne, ReVamped or not, is an entirely good game, but it might be more interesting now. In 2021, it’s a fascinating window into a very specific period in Western game design.
Blade? Who the Hell Is Blade?
Rayne is a dhampir: half-human and half-vampire. She ended up with the mixed combo platter of supernatural powers, where she’s faster and stronger than any human and can drink blood to heal her wounds, but has almost none of a vampire’s traditional weaknesses. The only exception is running water, which affects her like acid.
In 1933, a young Rayne goes out to kill some vampires, as one does, and does well enough that a shadowy group called the Brimstone Society invites her to join the monster-hunting pro leagues. Five years later, Brimstone sends Rayne to Argentina to disrupt an archeological dig run by the Nazi-aligned occultist group the Thule Society. It starts as a simple series of assassinations, but ends up being a potential apocalypse.
Back in the day, the biggest problem BloodRayne had, and still has, is that its opening level is also the worst part of the game. It sells you on being a fun Nazi-hunting safari, but before you get there, you have to wade through this too-long-by-half mission set in rural Louisiana. It ends up making the Brimstone Society look real stupid because it sent the agent who’s harmed by running water to investigate a flooded-out swamp village.
Once you get to the part where you’re up against the Nazis, which does not come a moment too soon, BloodRayne opens up. It runs off that weird post-Max Payne, pre-Resident Evil 4 style of action where every opponent with a gun is content to stand still and hose lead into the closest target, which lets you run right up to them and smear them all over the walls.
If BloodRayne has one thing going for it in 2021, it’s the gore effects. Dead Nazis don’t simply collapse or ragdoll but fly apart in showers of blood and partially severed limbs. Shoot a Nazi with a high-powered rifle and there’s a pretty good chance his entire head will fly off like his torso had a really good idea. You can also leap onto human(oid) enemies and bite into their neck, which heals Rayne while also letting her use her current meal as a shield.
It’s entertaining for a while, but right as it feels like the whole game might be corridors filled with rampant Nazi slaughter, BloodRayne has the sense to switch things up with monsters, new weapons, and some light platforming. It could stand to be a little more inventive, but it’s got a decent flow to it.
Even the coolest combat system loses its edge if you just end up doing the same thing a hundred times in a row, which was a real problem with third-party action games in the PS2/Xbox era. Whatever other criticisms you can level at BloodRayne, it does not do that.
It’d be nice if the guns did a little more damage, as everything in the game is a bullet sponge, and the melee system is in dire need of a little more depth. BloodRayne is generally rough around the edges, with a lot of clipping issues, cheap hits, and unclear objectives. It feels like it might’ve been rushed out the door a month or two before it was really ready.
The same goes for ReVamped, sadly. This is just an upscaled port of the original console version, modified to run on modern TVs, but at least on a stock PlayStation 4, it’s weirdly unstable. ReVamped on PS4 stutters dangerously every time you try to save the game, and I had two random hard crashes over the course of my first five hours.
The Girl Least Likely To
I beat BloodRayne back in the day, although playing it now, I was surprised by how little of it I actually remembered.
A few things had stuck with me, like how some of the later levels treat unarmed, screaming Nazis as hidden health packs, but all in all, there was a lot that I’d completely forgotten.
BloodRayne has some crazy visuals near its end, particularly a stage that’s set in what’s essentially a demonic beehive, but too much of its overall running time is set in darkened gray industrial locations, whether it’s a bunker, a mineshaft, a fortress, or a garage.
That might be the general issue with BloodRayne; aside from Rayne herself, much of it feels slightly generic. It’s a vehicle for Rayne to do things and say one-liners. While it just about manages to hold the player’s attention, due in no small part to Laura Bailey’s vocal performance as Rayne, it’s a character showcase first and a video game second.
In retrospect, BloodRayne’s original developer, Terminal Reality, always seemed a lot more interested in selling Rayne the character than BloodRayne the game. It tried very hard to make Rayne a big name in gaming in the 2000s; Rayne is the first video game character to pose for Playboy, and starred in a series of indie comics of varying quality throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. It came off like what Terminal Reality was trying to do was make the horror equivalent of Lara Croft, and it did not work.
That may be part of what fascinates me about BloodRayne: ReVamped. The original game hasn’t aged that well, and this isn’t a great port, but it has its moments and its flaws are interesting. Rayne absolutely could hold up her end of a character action game like Devil May Cry, especially if Bailey came back to voice her, but the actual game part would need to be a lot better than this.
[Ziggurat provided a PlayStation 4 code for BloodRayne: ReVamped for the purposes of this review.]