Vampire Rain, the very aptly named shooter about hunting vampires in the rain, is the first Xbox 360 title from Blinx developer Artoon. Remember how Blinx had a cool concept but wasn’t very fun? That is kind of how Vampire Rain is, except it isn’t nearly as ambitious and is far, far worse.
The idea of being part of a secret ops group that hunts vampires isn’t unappealing. In fact, had Vampire Rain been done with a smidge of concern for the player’s enjoyment, I think this could have turned out really well. Unfortunately, it is one of the most mean-spirited and boring games on either the Xboxes. Take all of the cool thoughts of shimmying across a rooftop and sneaking out from the shadows to take down some vicious vampires and replace them with running through a barren city, dotted with vampires at the most inopportune places, and going up and down twenty ladders and forty pipes to get to a checkpoint. Enjoy.
It’s a weird criticism to call a game mean-spirited, I know that, but I think in the case of Vampire Rain it is well deserved. Everything about the game errs on the side of the computer: I imagine this is what it would be like to play Dungeons and Dragons with a dick for a Dungeon Master. Every game stacks a little of the deck against the player to create an appropriate challenge, but few games outright screw the player over as Vampire Rain does. Take the game’s earliest weapons, the pistol and the assault rifle. Normally the pistol is expected to be little more than a starter weapon, but an assault rifle is supposed to be one of those beefy weapons that becomes the de facto standard due to the fact that it fires tons of high-powered rounds into unfortunate targets. Not here. Both the pistol and the assault rifle are absolutely worthless as vampires can leap to the player – if they don’t get hung up silly things like walls, pipes, or anything in their way, really – in a few bounds and take out a full life meter with two swings. The aggravating part about the two-sing death is that the first swing takes off a majority of life and knocks our hero John (Lloyd) down, with the second swing knocking him out of his daze and into the afterlife. Then, as if they are sprinkling salt in the wound, the developers make players sit and watch a cutscene of the victorious vampire chomping away at John’s bloody body. Considering how many times death occurs in just one level, that is a lot – a whole lot – of wasted time. The weak pistol and assault rifle wouldn’t be as noticeable had it not been for the fact that other weapons aren’t attained until hours into the game, and the one-hit-one-kill UV knife limited in usage, meaning that the first few hours are literally spent scouring about a city, being not so much the super secret badass but the whimpering coward.
The trial-and-error design and vampire placement only exacerbate the pain. Despite the fact that there is an entire city to explore, John is limited within mission a boundary that restricts his movements to a handful of options. There is only one option though, and following any of the others will result in backtracking or death. The one way can often be spotted by the presence of vampires or humans, both of which give away the player’s position and will alert nearby vampires. In their good grace, the good people are Artoon decided to place vampires at key chokepoints. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that out of 5 city blocks the 15 vampires and 3 humans would be at the exact spots that John needs to pass through – that’s not weird at all.
So with that in mind, let me run through the first few hours of play: John starts off being told to go to a waypoint. A ladder is seen, with nothing else around, the player decides it’s the best route. So up the ladder, and success! A ledge! So over the ledge, across a rooftop, shimmy down a pipe and … oh wait … a fenced-in alleyway. Okay, so back up the pipe, back across the ledge, and back down the lad- Crap! The controller is shaking and eyes are flashing on the screen! I’ve been spot—hell. Dead. Repeat that sequence a few more times, insert some painfully random checkpoints, a few attempts to actually kill vampires with your Nerf weapons, and some hilarious dialogue and continuity problems to wrap up the first hours – hours – of the game.
At least some chuckles will be had at the conversations between the vampires: “Go away! Leave me alone!” “… Hey!” “Go away! Leave me alone!” “… Hey!” “Go away! Leave me alone!” “… Hey!” Okay, so that one is an endless cycle of a couple fighting (how fun!), but this one is certainly a gem: ‘Humans leave the city when vampires come, but then they come back … with spouses … and kids.’
By the time a gun worth a lick is obtained, patience is gone, as is any concern about progressing. It’s certainly satisfying to finally be able to rock a few vampires with a shogun, shooting off chunks at a time and seeing them die Blade style, complete with a fading scream. It’s a shame that the guns are almost immediately taken away and only sparingly given back. Not to mention that the gun that was used to open a locked door before can’t seem to open the same door now. Obviously some doors were made out of some super reinforced materials that vampires love to use whenever the urge hits them. I really can’t imagine that this game was hard to design and develop, considering how nonchalantly things were done in terms of convenience of design rather than actually making the game something people would want to play.
Depending on how the vampires’ senses are that moment, the guns might not even be needed. The constant rain that pours dulls their sense of smell, which is supposed to make it easier for humans to run about undetected. That’s fine, I’ll go with that, but why don’t the vampires notice me killing their friend five feet from their left … in the exact direction they are looking. I’m pretty sure I’m not that quiet. Although I guess I should be thankful that their aloofness saved me from having to repeat the previous section. That is more of a silver lining situation, I think.
And for those that love achievements, I have bad news: achievements are multiplayer-centric. Good luck finding players though, because every time I tried I got a lovely message indicating that there were none available. Maybe Lobby Adventures is a mini game and I just didn’t realize it.
I do wish the vampire designs wouldn’t have been wasted here, though. Ignoring the cliché vampire bosses in leather bit, they look a bit more like zombies than a typical vampire, which is genuinely interesting and frightening. Their spurts of speed can also cause a few tense moments initiated by a jump out of a chair or off a sofa. Shimmying over pipes, guarding the rear when the AI squad mates actually do something, and auto grabbing a ladder after leaping off a van is all good fun, but the horrible AI, bright template-like HUD, emphasis on (poor) stealth despite being labeled a shooter, and mind-bogglingly bad design decisions are not.
The tedious tutorial is pretty much the entire game condensed in a handy level to give the player fair warning about what they’re getting themselves in to. The tutorial alone should kill any interest in the game, but if the idea of being Sam Fisher in a world populated with vampires is too cool to pass up, then prepare to be severely disappointed. The trial-and-error level design mixed with the shoddy AI, useless weapons, horrible dialogue, and general “I hate you” message from the developers all make for a painful and forgettable experience.