Ah, the trial of growing up. Remember what it was (or is) like as a teenager: Consistent pressure to fit in with your peers, fighting with parents and the headaches of homework could easily make this time hell. Well, just imagine if you had to live these years in Buffy Summers’ shoes. See, Buffy’s town of Sunnydale, CA, is situated on a Hellmouth, a portal that spews forth (as well as attracts) numerous forms of evil. To make matters worse, Buffy happens to be a Slayer, a unique hero chosen from her generation to combat the forces of darkness. Not an easy task. Amongst her adventures, Buffy killed countless demons, lost friends and family members, and was murdered (and resurrected) a few times. Well, while the show may have gone off the air this past season, fans of the show can get their slaying fix with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds.
Chaos Bleeds is set during the fifth season as a “lost episode.” The basic premise for the game seems a bit like a greatest villains reunion show. While I won’t spoil the entire plot, which is crafted just like the show, here’s the basic gist, one which fans will completely eat up. Ethan Rayne, an ex-friend of Giles and nemesis of the Slayer, and The First, a primordial form of evil, are locked in a massive extra-dimensional test of wits. Of course, the unwitting pawns within this supernatural mindgame happen to be Buffy and the Scooby Gang, forcing The Slayer to once again repel the forces of darkness attracted to her town.
Fortunately, Buffy doesn’t have to face the undead alone. While Giles, Tara and Anya have decided to sit this fight out (providing advice or playing up the sidekick in distress part by getting kidnapped), the rest of the Scooby gang helps the Slayer in dusting some creatures of the night. Exploiting their skills, Willow uses her budding Wiccan powers to cast spells, while Xander uses his wit and any available weapons to take out threats. These three are also joined by Spike, Buffy’s object of love/hatred, Faith, a fallen slayer that’s fought against Buffy as many times as she’s fought with her, and Sid the Dummy, a demon hunter locked in the body of a ventriloquist’s puppet. While not selectable, the game selects the appropriate character for each section of the plot, placing them in familiar locations such as The Magic Box, Cemetery and the most cursed place of them all, Sunnydale High.
Aside from a number of puzzle elements that many stages will feature, each level will host a ton of combat. Ranged weaponry includes items like super soakers filled with holy water and crossbows, while hand to hand weapons can be anything from a sword to a rake. Don’t laugh about that last item; in fact, just about anything with a wooden shaft will eventually break if used enough times, yielding a number of stakes that can be used to send a creature to the afterlife. Thankfully, you won’t have to go hunting through your inventory for these items. One quick press of the L1 button and your character whips out a fresh point waiting to be driven into a vamp’s chest. Aside from the single-player story, there are also a number of multiplayer modes, including the typical survival and king of the hill matches. The Slayer challenge allows one player to be a Slayer while the other players control monsters trying to kill her. Creatively, the final mode, Bunny Hunt, is a clever pun on Anya’s rabid phobia of the furry creatures, forcing players to chase multi-colored bunnies that have different point values or modifiers attached to them.
Capturing the dynamic of a hit TV show isn’t easy, but Chaos Bleeds does an admirable job of technically embodying the feel of the series. The character models are relatively close to their human counterparts, with minor exceptions. James Marsters’ Spike model sometimes looks like its stuck mid-vamp out mode, and the Buffy model isn’t as close as the other characters (Giles is just scarily accurate), but on the whole, its nicely done. The more impressive facet of the game is the animation for both enemies and main characters, which fluidly moves from motion to motion with very little chop. You’ll still notice a few moments of slowdown with large numbers of enemies on screen no matter what version you play, although for the most part, the game looks good on all three platforms. The largest problem is the camera, which can focus on some truly horrendous camera angles or winds up getting caught on corners which can really suck when you’re getting swarmed.
Sound within the game is very well done, with a seemingly perfect translation of the shows soundtrack and ambient musical pieces that convey a dark, creepy atmosphere for a number of stages. The standout for Chaos Bleeds, however, are the vocal performances delivered by the actors of the show, many of whom contributed their talent to their characters. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan are the only two castmates that don’t join in, and from the looks of the video outtakes, they missed a hell of a good time. While there are some moments when their doubles give a weaker performance, for the most part their contributions are solid.
While the gameplay is relatively engaging, there are a few issues that hold it back from being stellar. First off all, the lack of selection for some characters is a little restrictive. It would’ve been awesome to be able to adventure through the game solely as Willow, Xander or another one of the playable characters, but this is a relatively minor issue. What did need to be addressed, however, is the length of use for some characters in the game. Sid the Dummy is probably the most immediate. Not only is the character a fan favorite from the show, but he’s also a hilarious addition and a ton of fun to play. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough levels that he’s used in, which is extremely disappointing.
There’s also a major issue with enemy A.I., which can be extremely light and not particularly challenging, resulting in a relatively easy gameplay experience. In fact, most players will have no problem dusting any vamp, undead, or other creature that comes in their way, which almost raises the question: just what doesn’t explode into flame and dust if it gets staked? Some of these things shouldn’t necessarily go down the same way as a vamp, yet they go Poof just the same. Even odder is the fact that it seems a little too easy to stake these guys…Granted, some bloodsuckers will block, but still others will go down after a fast combo ending with the stake. You’d hope there was a little more fight in these guys since they’re going against the Slayer, but apparently some are just vampire fodder.
Overall, though, Chaos Bleeds does the TV series justice, with an original adventure taking fans through a number of familiar locales with their favorite vampire hunters. While the A.I. could’ve been stronger and there could’ve been more with the playable characters, Chaos Bleeds does a great job of appealing to fans and newcomers to the show alike. Adventure fans should look at sinking their teeth into this game.