BloodRayne, the franchise, was founded on two core assumptions about gamers: their love for hyper-sexualized heroines and killing Nazis. With two games and three Uwe Boll films to the franchise’s credit, BloodRayne was quite reasonably presumed dead. However, in thanks to her dubious history, Rayne remains a recognizable character, and thus a franchise still ripe for exploiting.
Ditching the series’ substantial baggage and stigma, developer WayForward has made Betrayal a reboot, one which wisely bears almost no resemblance to the series prior. Trading in a view of Rayne’s polygonal posterior for a hardcore sidescrolling action game, Betrayal is both sadistic and elegant. The new Rayne is a young woman of subtle beauty, a woman whose sex appeal is conveyed by the grace of her movement, rather than her cup size. But, of course, being a BloodRayne title, the elegance of her animations usually lead to severed heads, exploding enemies and the occasional fountain of blood.
Betrayal’s first order of business is killing, and often in brutal fashion. Rayne possesses the normal assortment of combos and launchers as most games in the modern style do. What separates it is its reliance on dashing and overall maneuverability during fights. While dashing, Rayne is invulnerable, which means it doubles as a defensive dodging tactic and an offensive move used to close distance. To balance this ability, when Rayne comes out of her dash there’s a moment of recovery necessary, meaning it can’t be spammed recklessly. Healing is handled in a similar manner as well, requiring players to suck blood from enemies. While doing so, Rayne is rendered momentarily invincible, making it a dual purpose move with high risk and reward.
Enemies in Betrayal will often spawn on both sides of the screen, surrounding you. Getting hit will knock you into hit stun, leaving you wide open to subsequent attacks from other nearby foes. Generally speaking, enemies hit hard, so keeping the majority of your opposition to one side is wise. To facilitate crowd control, Rayne has several moves that can improve her spacing by killing ranged enemies or moving opponents. Mixing and matching tactics to keep your desired distance is a necessity at all times.
Learning how to fight effectively boils down to knowing Rayne’s moves and knowing specifically what they do, especially in relation to the distance she travels. The sadistic side of the game crops up when you realize the precision the game expects of you, which means button mashers should expect to die frequently. An accidental nudge of the analog stick can change a neutral standing combo into a dashing finisher. The attack might look sweet, especially when it nets a juicy decapitation bonus, but the smile won’t last, as the length of the dash could easily drop you in an acid pit or lead you face-first into a glorious environmental death.
The other portion of Betrayal’s sadistic nature is the platforming. Rather than give Rayne an ordinary double jump, WayForward has devised their own specific high jump which requires three separate inputs be made in quick succession and, the real kicker, you have no air control over Rayne until after she crests the apex of her back flip. Now, combine that with disappearing platforms, bottomless pits, grisly environmental hazards and entire sections that rely solely on chained head stomps and air dashes and you might begin to conceive the horrors. Just like the precision required during combat, Betrayal demands a lot of the player when platforming, but never unfairly.
Playing Betrayal reminded me of a sidescrolling variant of the overlooked Shinobi, for the PlayStation 2. Like the ninja actioner, Betrayal forces players to constantly remain on the move, whether in combat or platforming, and sometimes a combination of both. Certain actions in both titles reset the tools available to the player in mid-air, allowing their protagonists to remain airborne for significant periods and cross chasms of vast lengths. They also share the ability to induce moments of exasperation, but what saves each is the ability to see exactly how you screwed up, which makes repeated retries more palatable.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of smaller issues that can hamper the experience. First up, when an enemy is grounded or maimed, Rayne can attack them on the ground using a spiked heel. The brutal, curb stomp-like action is a truly horrific delight, but a grounded enemy will always take attack precedence over a standing one. Since downed enemies can’t attack it makes no sense that Rayne automatically targets them, which can lead to free damage from other foes. Another issue is the size of some of the enemies, specifically when they’re combined with the silhouetted sections of the game. Most of the time these sections work fine, as WayForward’s character designs standout in stark black, but the crowd mentality of combat and the hulking size of some of the later enemies can make it nearly impossible to see Rayne. And, on the rarest of occasions, the HUD itself can block her out.
Despite those small issues, BloodRayne: Betrayal works, and works wonderfully. WayForward has done an admirable job dusting off the BloodRayne franchise and resurrecting the red haired dhampir. In the process they did the unthinkable, finding a way to inject a welcome dose of class into the comically trashy franchise. If you like your sidescrollers beautiful but brutal, look no further.