Buffy the Vampire Slayer: does Chaos really Bleed?
Vampire hunting isn’t a profession that’s limited to the Belmont family: Buffy has been blessed—or cursed—with being the “chosen one”, in the series also known as the Slayer. The sometimes cheesy and mostly teeny TV series aired for the first time in 1997 and concluded in 2003, around the same time that Eurocom blessed—or cursed—us with their Chaos Bleeds PS2/GameCube release, where the player could go roundhouse-kicking vampires while controlling one of the gang. The story of this game is set during the fifth season of the TV series, where the struggle with the First is explored in more detail. This was actually the fourth Buffy video game adaptation: the GBC, Xbox, and GBA were treated first. The question that remains is: does Chaos indeed Bleed—in a bloody, vampire-sucking, ass-kicking good way—or is it just that: entropy?
Most video games based on movies or TV series aren’t very good. Unfortunately, that statement is applicable on Chaos Bleeds as well. That said, my wife & I had a lot of fun laughing at how bad it was, and for the die-hard fans, I suppose there’s a decent fighting mechanic to explore as well. Yet, for the largest chunk of the nine hour long misadventure, you’ll be stumbling around in the dark, fighting endless hordes of irritatingly dumb respawns that just won’t stop cloning themselves. The life of a Slayer can be hard, it seems.
Let’s try to put the game into perspective by considering the context in which it was released: the early 2000s, when shaky 3D cameras, dizzying controls, and mundane gameplay was still all the rage. I wonder: is this statement true? In 1996, Super Mario 64 set the bar for 3D platforming, and while it’s arguably hard to go back to, seven years later, you’d think they figured out how these mechanics should work. It’s not a complete disaster here, but a lock-on feature is absent and
C-stick camera maneuvering caused my head to spin as well. And you can’t afford your camera to decide for itself where to focus on, or the end result is this:
It’s not uncommon to have yet another pack of vampires come running towards you, dishing out a few punches, while you’re struggling to get the enemies in view. Oh hey, I’m lying down, whoops, I guess that’s too late? My strategy was to simply keep on pressing the right shoulder button to block those invisible incoming attacks.
Once everything’s properly in view, and the stream of vampires can be controlled, the action itself is actually quite satisfying. The Slayer has a “Slayer Handbook” where combos can be looked up—certain combinations and quick successions of
B button presses. It takes a while to master as the combat is quite stiff, reminiscent of Tekken games compared to the much more fluent fighting sequences in typical 3D Zelda games.
Buffy can handle herself, but so can Xander, especially after picking up a shovel left behind by a careless graveyard digger. It doubles as a stake: after vampires are grounded (or their health bar reaches zero), you’ll have to do the honors with a wooden pointy object. Objects like stakes and poles have a durability and you can only pick up five, but there’s always a wooden chair to be kicked into pieces if the need arises. Sections with Willow as your primary character will require a less aggressive melee stance, but she’ll gradually learn more powerful spells.
Another fun part of Buffy: Chaos Bleeds is—perhaps surprisingly—the frequent puzzle elements present in the levels. Some are as simple as fetching a key card to unlock a door, but most are a bit more intricate: find another way in, combine this with that to record something that does another thing, hack a computer to reveal a hint, etc. The actual level design was quite sound.
It’s only too bad that we didn’t enjoy the levels at all, because of two things:
- Enemies respawn, again and again and again and … you get the point.
- The game is dark. I mean, dark dark, as in: we can’t see shit!
More often than not, I found myself being completely clueless as to where to go next: not because I didn’t know what to do, but because the Sunnydale high school interior looks very much the same if the brightness is all the way turned down. I know it’s supposed to be a spooky genre and all, but this is just ridiculous. The screenshots I took here are exceptions to the rule, but sometimes, I couldn’t even find the door to exit a damn classroom, even though it’s the same one as I used to enter the room! Combine that with frustrating and completely pointless enemy respawns and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.
A map would have solved a lot of things. Locations are glued together via checkpoints, and some require backtracking, but the lack of a map combined with the overly dark palette makes navigation very difficult—and frustrating. For a 2000s 3D action game, the lack of a map is baffling to me. It doesn’t even have to be displayed at all times, but please, just let me look up where the hell I’m stuck, and where I’m supposed to fetch that demon killing artifact.
I have no idea why Gamespot concludes their review with:
Chaos Bleeds is an excellent, well-put-together action adventure game that most fans of the genre should be able to enjoy and any Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan will love.
Perhaps it was my mistake to play the GameCube version:
The GameCube version is a close second [visual winner], looking only slightly darker than the Xbox version.
So the Xbox version isn’t as dark? Great…
The musical score then. It’s on-par with your typical Buffy series tracks. Ominous with a faint hint of whispering spirits when things are dark (as they are) and quiet that is traded for a more aggressive bass when enemies approach. It’s okay but very repetitive, as the originality of both tunes wear off after a few levels. The required teenage punky title track is of course present as well.
In conclusion, I don’t suppose it’s a bad game, and I’m sure the die-hard Buffy fan will enjoy it. However, the stumbling around in the dark mode combined with ridiculous respawn rates made for a fairly frustrating experience. In addition, you can’t save anywhere you’d like, and some checkpoints are spread very thin. If you’re still sharpening your wooden stakes after reading this, be prepared to play for at least half an hour before reaching a checkpoint, and on average about an hour before finishing a level.