And while some licensed games are destined to that same failure, it’s safe to say that on a whole, the games are getting better. While not a current license, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still popular (evidenced by the ratings its spinoff show Angel get from week to week) – at least, popular enough to warrant a game almost a year after the show’s cancellation.
The story of Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds is set up sometime in the fifth season – a fact that means nothing to people (such as myself) who’ve never seen more then a few episodes of the show. Regardless, despite a few references that’ll go over the head of non-fans, the story is compelling enough to make you want to keep playing through the end. Telling the story of a rip in chaos that resurrects a few old enemies and sets the stage for a great evil to take over the real world, Chaos Bleeds certainly offers plenty to both fans of the show and fans of a solid beat-em-up.
Gameplay – The bulk of the gameplay is centered around fighting, and here’s where a solid game could’ve been infinitely better. You are indeed allowed control of six vampire slayers, although it’s fair to say that you could’ve effectively lost some of them without losing anything from the gameplay. Playing as Buffy, Xander, Faith or Spike, the game is a straightforward beat-em-up with weapon pick-ups, some special moves, and the all-important stakes.
The only variation you get to that formula is the ability to use magic as Willow, and the sheer hilarity of running around as Sid, the ventriloquist’s dummy – the problem here is that throughout twelve (very long) levels, you get the chance to use the latter two characters a grand total of four times. And although it makes sense in terms of the story continuity for Chaos Bleeds not to let you select your character at the beginning of the level, there isn’t much eloquence to playing as the first four characters, as of the many available combos, only a few are really effective when surrounded by enemies. That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun without the variety, and there are plenty of unique weapons and items to use that, for sheer visual flair alone are worthwhile. (Ever “dusted” four vampires at once by chucking a bottle of holy water into a crowd?) But the basic fighting engine, unlike that of Chaos Bleeds’ predecessor, isn’t strong enough on its own merits to stay interesting throughout the game.
One of the flaws with the fighting system comes about when dealing with multiple enemies. Without any form of a targeting system, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the characters die as they punch the air, while two or three enemies behind them are pulling off their attacks. It’s a bit more then a mild frustration, and as any semblance of enemy A.I. is usually replaced by these constant gang-up attacks, the game becomes a lot more of a chore to complete then it should be. Add to that some minor issues with control responsiveness, and it becomes a wonder that you completed the game at all without having to invest in a new controller. There is also a multiplayer mode that seems like an afterthought, and while the number of modes and game types seem like they could provide a good amount of entertainment, in practice they aren’t anything particularly worthwhile.
The fighting system, for all its myriad strengths and weaknesses, isn’t the only aspect of the game, however. A few none-too-complex puzzles are scattered about the levels, and while these aren’t anything of great brilliance, they manage to avoid the backtrack/fetch-quest genre cliché, for the most part. The level designs are also quite well done, and the path of the game is set up in such a way that backtracking is (mercifully) minimized. At least some things get done right.
Graphics – With a license, the graphical emphasis tends to be on making the digitized versions of characters as close to the real-life actors as possible, and it’s fair to say that Chaos Bleeds succeeds in this attempt. The facial textures in particular look quite good, and even those unfamiliar enough with the show to want to skip the cutscenes may end up watching them to see some of these excellent facial textures. Unfortunately, the animation is almost a polar opposite. The jumping is floaty, almost every movement looks far more robotic then it should, and there are some collision detection issues that hamper a smooth experience. At least slowdown isn’t a problem, although the aforementioned issues with control can make it feel as though the game is plodding along.
Sound – Without a doubt the game’s most high-quality feature, the audio presentation is nothing if not well done. A good amount of the series actors signed on to do voice acting for their parts in the game, and even the characters who aren’t voiced by their original actors (Buffy and Willow, for example) are faithfully recreated by some damn fine imitators. The dialogue is reasonably snappy as well, packed with tons of quality sexual innuendos - although the few comments made by the characters (whenever they pick up a certain type of item or weapon, for example) get repetitive after just a few levels. The music and sound effects are also top-notch, particularly Ian Livingstone’s score.
Overall Value - With tons of unlockable secrets, including various interviews with cast members and with the series creator, and hidden characters for the multiplayer modes, plus a remarkable dedication to the series’ mythology, Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds will probably stand as a definitive game for franchise fans. But despite the solid length and some decent gameplay ideas, the game never reaches it’s full potential – whether it be in terms of the lackluster multiplayer, the cheap A.I. or the less-then-brilliant fighting system. And it’s not that the game is outright bad, it’s just that various factors about the game make it a chore to complete – well, a bit more of a chore then making it through this review without a single suck-pun.