I barely remember the BloodRayne Betrayal I played back on the PlayStation 3. When I heard that there was going to be a remaster of it, just two things came to mind: firstly that it was brutally difficult and that it was one of the most beautiful efforts by the 2D specialists at WayForward. I went back and re-read my review from 2011, and reminded myself that I loved the game, but I still couldn’t remember much more about it. Now, after playing Fresh Bites, I find that my enthusiasm for the game comes with some significant caveats.
See, one thing that’s worth remembering about BloodRayne Betrayal is that it came at a very different time in video games. Back then, digital download platforms were still relatively new. Steam had been kicking around for a while, but otherwise, the Apple App store was only three years old, and the PlayStation Store had been launched five years prior, but the vast majority of big games were not being released through digital distribution. I actually started DigitallyDownloaded.net because I wanted to give those games that were released digitally coverage, because at the time most publications were still focused almost exclusively on the stuff being released into stores. That is actually where this website got its name from, as redundant as it seems now.
Back then, smaller developers like WayForward were just starting to enjoy the opportunities that the digital-only platforms were affording them. Suddenly they didn’t need to deal with physical store distribution networks and beg publishers to give them a chance. Smaller and more creative ideas, such as BloodRayne Betrayal, which would never have worked if sold exclusively at retail, had an opportunity. It’s hard to imagine today, because we get so many little creative projects, but there was a time where BloodRayne Betrayal was something stridently different and fundamentally interesting as a consequence.
Fast forward to 2021, however, and things are different, and that’s the important context here. BloodRayne Betrayal is still a very good game in some ways, but in the interim we’ve had the beauty and intellectual depth of the Ori duo, the robust difficulty of stuff like Cuphead, and successes as wide-ranging as Limbo through to Hollow Knight that all come together to eat away at how distinct and fresh BloodRayne Betrayal is.
There are things in BloodRayne Betrayal that are absolutely baffling now. Instead of a double-jump, to navigate past really big obstacles, you need to do a backflip, which involves running in one direction, and then simultaneously turning direction and pressing the jump button at the same time. It’s difficult to time, execute, and offers none of the precision that a simple double-jump would offer, and it amazes me that WayForward wouldn’t think to simply change this for the remaster. Likewise, there are moments where enemies or objects can obscure line-of-sight, there are threats that pop up so late they’re almost impossible to avoid, and enemy patterns and behaviours that feel almost unfair. Most critically, there isn’t a counter-attack command, which has become absolutely essential to modern action games and the absence of it is difficult to mentally unwind from today. Throughout the entire thing I was itching to do a counter. BloodRayne Betrayal is a difficult game in a very old-school way, and that is to say that the difficulty feels artificial and arbitrary, rather than something baked into the experience in such a way that is ultimately there to reward the player.
In recognising that the modern player isn’t really up for this particular flavour of challenge, WayForward has implemented a more accessible difficulty setting this time around, which makes the combat encounters easier (though not easy), but unfortunately it doesn’t touch the real issues, which is the arbitrary trap placement and the obnoxious platforming. Towards the end of the game’s 15-level run through I started to get some muscle memory back and found myself back in the groove with Fresh Bites. That’s the point I was reminded of why I found the original so utterly enjoyable. It was just a lot of work to get there this time around, and I’m not sure a slightly easier combat system is going to help new players.
BloodRayne Betrayal remains a beautiful game though, with impeccable animation, gorgeous, cel-shaded boldness, and distinctive gothic environments. WayForward has always been the master of colour and animation in 2D games, and we see this in full flight with this game. Additionally Laura Bailey and Troy Baker contribute to the voice talent and so, while there’s barely a whiff of a narrative worth following in BloodRayne Betrayal, what is there is handled with great professionalism.
Elsewhere on DigitallyDownloaded.net, I’m doing a series on games that I’m still playing ten years later. In that series, I highlight games that I don’t necessarily think are the greatest works of art of all time, but I’m still coming back to them for having a rare quality that makes them endure. BloodRayne Betrayal is in some ways the opposite. While it was never one of the greatest games of all time, back when it was new it was a standout example of what would become the future; the ability for mid-tier and independent video games to flourish, free of the absolute reliance on the retail system. Ten years on, however, the game is no longer a standout, and while it is still absolutely beautiful, there are now dozens of games vying for the same headspace as BloodRayne, and it’s not going to win over anyone. There’s still a game in there that can delight, but it is a lot of work to align yourself with the vision now.
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