Not much at stake.
Every Gygax-fearing geek loves vampires, and I'm no exception. Creepy vampires, vampires with cool hair, vampires with terrible hair, weird vampires, jive turkey vampires, even a whole goddamn planet crawling with vampires - hell, throw some false teeth on a zombie and I'm in.
I also love video games. I love them so much, in fact, that I don't watch as much TV as I should, which might account for my total neglect of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV phenomenon. It had cool vampires and hot chicks, two of the things I look for in anything, yet somehow I missed out on the magic.
It turns out that everyone else at GR missed the Buffy boat, too, a fact I discovered when trying to ensure that the right reviewer covered Vivendi's new Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds.
Before any Buffy fanatics send in the preemptive hate mail, let me reiterate two facts: I love vampires and I love video games. So while I might not know much about the show, keep in mind that this is, after all, a video game about vampires. Besides, you hardcore fans already bought the game, so don't get pissy.
The rest of you, however, will certainly be a little pissed if you pay full price for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds. While it isn't as bad as most TV licensed games, it's a step backwards from the first Buffy game and a monotonous, self-loving ride through Buffy creator Joss Whedon's sarcastic imagination.
The game is set up as a lost Buffy episode from the fifth season. Vampires are attacking Sunnydale, the Scooby Gang (pet name for Buffy and pals) is fighting off vamps, and The First (the first and therefore most pure evil presence in the universe) is up to no good.
The main single-player game lets you play as different members of the Gang over the course of 11 long levels. You'll fight as Buffy and counterpart slayer Faith, cast spells as Willow, look cool as Spike, somehow get the job done as Xander and even whack some ankles as the talking dummy Sid. You don't get to choose, however; you must play as whomever the game decides for each level.
At least all of them can fight, which is mostly what you do in Chaos Bleeds. Each character has a decent set of moves (though Faith and Buffy share one list), and while it's not anywhere near what you'd find in a fighting game, it's deeper than most Final Fight style action hack n' slash games.
But after about an hour, you'll still be bored stiffer than a stake because you don't really need complex combos to beat up the bad guys. You just need a strong thumb, and if you don't have one now, you sure as hell will after some time with Chaos Bleeds. Mash, mash, mash until daddy takes the vampires away.
You'll also have access to some weapons like a shovel, baseball bat or a pool cue, but you still just swing like crazy. Vampires do need to be staked, which is accomplished at the press of a button after knocking down their health a bit. Despite the multi-characters, it's just a bland, redundant experience.
The shoddy camera doesn't help, either. It often gets stuck on solid objects and has a hard time properly rotating behind the character, even when using the auto-relocate button. Couple that with fairly loose control and the lack of an actual targeting system and you'll find yourself striking at thin air far too often.
Despite the multi-character approach, most of the levels follow the same formula of fighting some vampire-types, figuring out how to open a door, then fighting more vampire-types. The puzzles are mostly glorified item hunts: find the key, find the lighter to throw into the gas line to blow open a wall, interact with the one interact-able item, etc. The linearity is such that there is only one solution to each problem, which kills off the replay value and makes the puzzles more tedious than mind-bending.
Some of the levels are big and will take over an hour to complete, but you cannot save in the middle of one. Instead, you get 'continue points' that will simply let you respawn there if you die. Turn off the machine and you'll have to start the whole level over again. Sure, there's a solid Buffy story here, but this is not a Buffy episode, guys. This is a Buffy game, and an authentic story does not make up for mediocre design.
Fortunately, Chaos Bleeds does include four multiplayer games. Unfortunately, they kinda suck. You pretty much just punch and kick each other endlessly, though one mode has you collecting bunnies for points. It's not much fun, but damn, those are cute bunnies.
Chaos Bleeds looks okay thanks to a fairly smooth framerate and accurate character models. The beasties are creepy and come in plenty of shapes and sizes. The best effect is the 'dusting' of vamps after staking them, a nice sort of grainy disappearing act. As with most multi-platform releases these days, the Xbox version is slightly crisper than the other two; otherwise, the games are pretty much identical. This definitely isn't a technical powerhouse, but it gets the job done.
The sound is a little less thrilling since a few key members of the Scooby Gang are MIA; namely, Buffy and Willow. The girl who does the impression of Willow sounds more like Allyson Hannigan's band camp irritant in American Pie than her Buffy character, which is a letdown, though for the most part the voiceover work is fine.
While the game stumbles along the line of mediocrity in its gameplay, it does a good job with its extras. Fans will love the unlockable movies and pictures, including interviews with cast members and voice-over sessions. I find it hard to listen to self-indulgent actors riff awkwardly about video games, but I suppose Buffy fans will eat it up.
The rest of the world, though, should probably pass on Chaos Bleeds. It's simply not as good as the first Buffy game and suffers from loose control and repetitive gameplay. I guess hot chicks and vampires don't automatically make things awesome.