Full Review: Where's Ian Malcolm with his chaos theory when you need him?
Last year's Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Xbox was hailed everyone as being "surprisingly good." Surprising not just because it was a good game based on a TV show, but moreso because it was a good game based on Buffy the TV show. Critics are notorious for giving Buffy little credit and this game was no exception. But I love Buffy and even though the show has finally ended, it lives on in the Scooby Gang's first PS2 (and multi-console) game: Chaos Bleeds.
Chaos Bleeds fits into the Buffyverse as a lost episode from season five that takes place just after Buffy's mom dies. Ethan Rayne, the Chaos worshipping warlock last seen being hauled off to prison, has made a deal with The First Evil to provide himself ultimate powers. The deal comes in the form of a game: Ethan chooses five warriors and The First chooses five warriors. Whoever is left standing at the end wins. Naturally Ethan has picked the Scooby Gang and busted their old friend Faith (another vampire slayer) out of jail to be his warriors.
OK, the story is a bit complex, but that's the way Buffy is. But the story is not really important once you get into the game anyway. Chaos Bleeds is easily summed up as your basic beat 'em up with a few Resident Evil-style puzzles. Except in this case finding obscure mystical items to unlock doors makes complete sense. It's not that I think finding chess pieces to unlock a door is unrealistic. It's just that when you say "find the two parts of the Mergoth liquid to destroy the living plant blocking the door", it just makes more sense in the context of a Buffy game.
Naturally, when any piece of the Resident Evil games are used in your game there's going to be a little frustration. And that's exactly what happens with this puzzles. It's rare, but sometimes they get so obscure you can't help but cry for a strategy guide. This is why it's for the best that the game's main focus is on the fighting, and it's the fighting that it does well.
Buffy's fighting style is captured perfectly with tons of kicks, punches, throws and combos. After dusting vamps, they leave behind Slayer energy that Buffy (and any of the playable characters) can use to perform combos or moves that pack a little more oomph behind them. And if you don't want to use Buffy's fighting style the whole game, fear not, because Chaos Bleeds features a total of six playable characters, all with their own moves (more or less). Buffy, Faith, and good vampire Spike all use their super strength and speed in much the same way. But Willow is a witch, so while she is no good at hand to hand fighting, her hands are good for shooting fireballs. Xander, being the regular guy of the group, has to rely on weapons if he wants to survive. And Sid the Dummy is... well he's a living ventriloquist's dummy that fights vampires at about knee high.
With all of these characters, and the Buffyverse's love of all things pointy, having weapons littered throughout the game is a no brainer. And here's where they pulled out all the stops. The game features no less than twenty weapons that range from stakes to pool cues to swords to super soakers filled with holy water. When you're blasting vampires with holy water from a super soaker everything is just right with the world. The quick stake option (R1) also keeps the fighting fast and the stab move (Triangle) definitely changes the game when you have a weapon like a sword to slay the undead hordes. The game also brings back the original Buffy's style of featuring shovel, rakes, staffs and other long wooden weapons that will eventually break into smaller wooden weapons which will eventually break down into stakes.
While the fighting is really good, there are a few things that have to be addressed about it. If your character gets turned around in the middle of a combo it's almost impossible to turn back around and your back is stuck facing the vampires. So cheap shots abound when that happens. Much like the Bond games (which are also developed by Eurocom), switching items in your inventory is done during the game with the control pad. This makes it really hard to move and change weapons at the same time. And with so many weapons to cycle through it gets almost impossible, especially during the fight with Anyanka.
The game's "protection" sections also get on my nerves when you are forced to protect another character. The character just stands there as vampires make lunch out of them and fighting off all of the vampires in that section is frustrating. I'm convinced the characters that need protecting don't fight back just to make the game artificially harder and that's not cool. Finally, and this is true of all beat 'em ups, the game gets repetitive after playing it awhile. But these beefs are mostly minor and doesn't change the fact that Buffy: Chaos Bleeds is a very good brawler overall.
For any small faults with the fighting system, the presentation of the game gets everything right. The character models for the people we know and love in real life are spot on representations. And the vampires and monsters that were created just for this game look equally as impressive. And to top it all off, the vampire dusting effect and sound are included exactly as they are on the show. While the levels don't feature as much detail as the characters, everything still looks very nice. Everything's appropriately dark and foreboding and you're never sure what's lurking in the shadows. Places that we've seen on the show, like The Magic Box and Sunnydale High School, look they've been recreated exactly from the show's sets. But who cares about slightly less detail when the levels are huge.
Eurocom even (probably inadvertently) included the show's little quirk that strength of the vampires changes depending on who they're fighting. Vampires against Xander and Willow are much less powerful than they are against Buffy, Faith or Spike. Most would see this as a problem, and when you get your ass handed to you as Buffy but Xander can wipe the floor with the same vampires, sometimes it is. But it's actually just like the show and it's kind of fun.
The sound is also high on the list of things done right as most of the actors from the show lend their pipes to this game. The only no shows are Sarah Michelle Gellar, Emma Caulfield (who won't do voice work) and Alyson Hannigan (who was off filming American Wedding). Buffy's replacement does a great job, and why shouldn't she, as she did a great job on the Xbox original. Alyson Hannigan's replacement, however, does not. It's just painful to listen to and even if she did a better job, the writing for Willow is not up to snuff in this game. Her dialogue is just plain bad. And if you stop listening to the voice acting long enough to hear the music you'll hear that it fits in perfect with the Buffy soundtrack.
Finally, as a Buffy fanboy, I have to take issue with the game's "lost episode" feel. It's just not there for me. I realize the game was created with the help of Joss Whedon himself (and the Buffy humor included in the game proves this), but the story doesn't fly. The First and Faith were included to tie this game to season seven, but neither of these events are ever mentioned during season seven. In the show all of the characters seem pretty convinced it's the first time they've seen Faith or The First since the last time they were on the show. The game was meant to be very epic, but season seven contradicts nearly everything here. Unless the game's climatic scene is a memory wipe it just doesn't fit.