BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
BY HILARY GOLDSTEIN – If you don’t have a television, never read magazines, and live in your mother’s basement, you may not have heard about this little show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Based on a rather weak movie, Buffy was redesigned for television and became a big hit. Now enterting its seventh season, Buffy and her cohorts have managed to enlist millions of diehard fans. A show about a valley girl turned vampire slayer seems a natural fit for a video game. Buffy Summers has finally made her way to Xbox with a game worthy of the series. Fans will love it and those who’ve never seen the show may even find themselves converts after playing a few hours of this slay-a-thon.
- Thirteen big levels to explore
- The original cast (minus Sarah Michelle Gellar) provide the voices
- Deep combat system
- A variety of slaying weapons
- The return of The Master
The story so far…
If you’ve never seen the show, fear not Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes a short intro explaining everything. And really, all you need to know is that it’s about a girl who kicks the crap out of vampires. Fans of the show, however, will be happy to see some of their favorute old characters return. The game was written as a lost episode and fits in as an early episode in season three of Buffy. If you’ve never seen the show, here’s a quick rundown: Buffy Summers is the chosen one, who is selected by fate to battle the forces of evil and protect mankind. She lives in Sunnydale, a quiet little town located on a Hellmouth (a mystical crakc in the ethereal plain that attracts lots of nasty things).
Her worst enemy, a vampire pompously called The Master, met his end in the first season of Buffy yet manages to keep showing back up. And so it is with this lost episode as The Master mysteriously reapperas. Joining Buffy in her battle against the forces of evil is her vampire beau Angel, prissy girl Cordelia, lecherous Xander, bookworm Willow, and Buffy’s Watcher, Giles.
While the story may interest fans of the show, it’s really only a minor part of the game. There are a couple of moments where you talk to your buddies in the library (the Slayer’s unoffical HQ), but most of the game is spent kicking, punching, and staking vampires and demons. The story itself is pretty good and there are a lot of little things Buffy fans will notice, including several references to past episodes.
There aren’t a lot of puzzles (no complex ones, anyway) in Buffy, leaving the bulk of the game’s weight on the shoulders of the fighting engine. Fortunately, the fighting engine is up to the task. Had the combat system been basic or limited Buffy would have quickly become mundane. But the fights are fantastic.
Buffy has a slew of combos at hand and special Slayer moves are unlocked throughout the game. Though, at first, Buffy fights single vampires allowing gamers to get used to the controls, she is soon set upon by teams of baddies. It never gets more than about a half-dozen, but that is plenty. It’s not strictly vampires either as skeletons, zombies, and demons also accost the petite valley girl. The best is when, around the third or fourth level, vamps begin picking up fighting weapons Buffy drops. It’s quite humiliating to have your face cracked with a shovel.
As you’d expect, Buffy can punch, kick, and throw enemies around. But you can also add a little extra juice to any combo by holding down the last button in a combo. This creates a bright blue glow aroud Buffy’s fist or foot and the last blow is devastating. The environments, while not too interactive, are set up to assist Buffy. Toss a vampire into a fireplace and watch them burn. Better yet, throw them into an omcoming train. Lots of wooden planks and other spiked instruments appear in the environments, good for when you’re without a stake and need to find something to pin a vamp to.
The Slayer moves are pretty cool, though you don’t get too many of them in the game. These are done with directional and button combinations and unleash powerful attacks that drain your Slayer power. Health and Slayer power are regained by killing enemies. And there are plenty of those, so fear not faithful Slayer.
To kill a vampire (and some demons) Buffy must jab a stake through their heart. This can be a hit or miss proposition. If you catch a vampire off guard, you can actually stake them right off the bat. Other times you will need to battle them, widdeling down their health. Vampires quickly regain their health though, so you must always press the attack. Even when weakened, there’s no guarantee you will nail them with your stake. Sometimes Buffy will get them in the gut, or shoulder, or they will even block the blow.
Each jab with a stake reduces its durability and eventually it will break. What’s great about this is that if you have a rake, for example, it will break into a large stake. Then that large stake will break into a smaller stake. And if in need of a staking item, just break a chair or table.
Attacks change when you use a two-handed weapon like a rake or shovel. Things like a spinning punch will suddenly be turned into a rather awesome twirling shovel attack. It’s great to see the fighting dynamic flexible enough to change for those instances. And it’s clear The Collective spent a lot of time thinking about the fighting aspects because you can do just about everything you’d want. You can even throw stakes at vamps.
I can’t stress enough that the vampire fighting is a great dynamic. You can pummel a vamp all you want, but if you can’t stake their heart or cut off their head, you’re gonna be fat out of luck. This is especially important when fighting multiple enemies. The faster you can stake one vampire (and therefore get them off your back) the easier the battle will be.
Just as you must stake a vampire to finish them off, enemies must do more than fully reduce Buffy’s health to ace her. Enemies have their own finishing moves. Vampires will grab and suck your blood and demons will gnaw on your flesh. If your health is gone, you can’t fight the off and will die. One of the big bruiser vamps (think Paul Bunyan) can either throttle you and snap your neck or will actually stomp on your delicate nape and snuff you out like one might a cigarette. Every death comes with a shrieking cry from Buffy.
Most zombies and demons don’t require a stake to the heart, though. They just need to be destroyed through physiscal force. These battles aren’t nearly as challenging as the vampire battles, but they are a lot of fun. It’s the button-mash portion of the game. The problem with this is that it unbalances the game. Fighting vamps is a lot toughyer than skeletons. You spend the first few levels doing nothing but fighting vamps (and the occasional hellhound). Then you are thrown into a mausoleum where you tear through endless zombies and skeletons. So the levels feel almost like an inverse bell curve. They start out hard, get very easy, and then get hard again. This flux continues thorughout the game. And there are some parts that seem ridiculously unfair.
One unfair moment occures during an early fight with Spike, a British blondie vamp with a special hate for Buffy. You start the section fighting Spike and once defeated you must continue on fighting a variety of other vamps. But should you die (which isn’t too hard when vamps are throwing Molotov cocktails at you) you have to begin the level again. Boss fights need to be separate encounters or at the end of a level, not at the start.
Aside from the customary stakes, Buffy also gets to take hold of a crossbow, a double-edged blade (gotta love decapitating vamps), and a super soaker that can shoot flames or holy water. The super soaker seems a bit of a cheat, because you can save it for boss enemies and quickly take them out with a full tank of flames. It’s not too tough taking care of the minor baddies and so it’s easut to hold off on using the major weapons until they are needed.
It sees the standard these days that 3D actions games have wonky cameras and Buffy is no exception. The camera is often pretty good, but there are spits where it will wonk out on your and you’ll need to steer it around with the right thumbstick. This is most detrimental in small areas where you must run around a lot (to be read as: During a boss fight).
The camers isn’t that annoying, but the stupid deaths sure are. There are a few areas where you learn Buffy can’t swim. One step in the deep water and you’re dead. Dropping off a pier into an ocean I can accept, but falling into a pool and drowning seems ridiculous. In one warehouse you have to jup across a series of floating crates to get across a small pool of water. The jumping isn’t precise so it’s very easy to overshoot a crate, hit the water, and instantly die. This is after having fought a good portion of bad guys.
Speaking of bad guys, you can expect them to run some simple routes. The AI is spotty, because at times vamps will react to you and change their behaviour, but at other times they will simply ignore you. This is especially true when sniping vamps with the crossbow. Nail a vamp as he’s walking and he may stop and look around a moment, but then he continues on doing his same predictable routine. With a fighting engine this solid, the AI has no excuse for being lackluster. On the flip side, enemies do a good job of working together to take on Buffy. This AI unevenness mirrors the uneven game balance.
Buffy can be finished in under ten hours and there really isn’t much reason to go back. It’s a solid fighting engine and there’s certanly a lot to enjoy here, but the length is a bit of a problem.
Buffy looks great and all the characaters with the exception of poor Willow look like their TV counterpartss Giles has his tweed jacket and Cordelia has her big bazoombas and Buffy is delicious. There are some good particle effects and some interesting level design.
The lighting is a weird mixed bag. The environmental lighting is great, but sometimes the lighting on characters looks off, creating unusal shadows. This is easily forgotten once you witness the smooth fighting animations and interesting creature designs. A solid example of how to translate a TV show into a video game. The atmosphere and look compliment the show perfectly.
But not everything is sunny in Sunnydale. There are occasional moments where the game will briefly pause, there’s some noticable clipping, and there are jaggies everywhere. If the jaggies could have been held in check, this could have been a much more stunning game.
Every Buffy regular features the voice of the actual actor, with the exception of Buffy. You will not miss the absence of Sarah Michelle Gellar, however, because the voice double sounds so similar that it’s hard to believe it isn’t the real deal. In fact, Buffy sounds most like the show counterpart than any of the other characters. An oddity indeed, but a testament to the great job the voice double did.
The dialogue seems authentic to the show, with plenty of punch and humor. Buffy has plenty of quios, but they come too often and quickly get used up. She says something every time she picks up a stake, for example. Unless she has picking-up-stakes comments, they are gonna get repetitive fast The nice thing is that there are a few new lines added as the game progresses. You’ll get to, say, level six and a vamp will come up with a new taunt. It’s not much, but it’s noticable and a nice touch.
The score is good and sufficiently creepy and the surround sound is decent if not well-impleneted. The voiceovers are the shining light here.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a perfect game, but then we don’t live in a perfect world. The game’s certainly a must for Buffy fans, but those who don’t know much about the series will be able to enjoy it as well, though not on the same level. The combat can be tough, but is also solid. If only the game were better balaced. Despite the flaws and the questionable AI, Buffy is still a solid action title that would do nicely on any fans shelf.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Releases August 19, 2002
Original article at IGN