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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:   The Collective
Publisher:   EA / Fox Interactive
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Action
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Unit
Date Posted:  

1-14-03

Tomb Raider meets L.A. bimbo. Bimbo beats the living crap out of Croft. See details inside.

You know, you really have to wonder what made some clown in Hollywood think that making a movie, much less a subsequent TV series, about a cheerleader who turns into a hardcore badass nemesis to vampires would be a good idea. But despite my initial disbelief, first on release of said cinematic excursion, and even moreso on its translation into the televised medium, I have to say, I’m glad it happened. The few times I’ve seen it on TV, I’ve actually enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and I’m glad to announce that the video game version more than does the show justice. Electronic Arts’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Xbox sets a new standard for licensed games, proving that more can be done with a license than just slapping its pretty face on a pile of shit.

As you might expect, this is essentially an action platformer masquerading itself in the trappings of survival horror. But merely beating up the bad guys just isn’t enough for a dedicated young vampire slayer. You’ll have to take them out the old fashioned way, by driving a stake through their hearts, splashing them with holy water, knocking them into sunlight or fires. Unfortunately, staking vamps isn’t as straightforward as it seems, since an inordinate percentage of them appear to have mastered the fine art of blocking. And this doesn’t even take into account the various bosses of the game, who can’t be staked at all (and therefore need to be destroyed by other means). Some of these are particularly irritating (those goddamned hellhounds and the snake lady stand out pronouncedly in my mind) and overly difficult to kill. What tends to happen in this sort of situation (which occurs all too often, I’m sorry to say), is that you will be beating on the boss (or hellhound, which seem to be rather too ubiquitous to qualify as "bosses") for several minutes, with their health meter registering at zero…but they won’t die. In fact, some even regain their health! And of course, the second you let up even a little to re-strategize your approach…well, good bye last half hour of playing time (In an irritating throwback to the days of 2D platformers, saves occur solely at the end of each level). And the weird part is, this sort of encounter tends to appear from a relatively early point in the game, when you don’t exactly have the experience to deal with this sort of threat (ahem–hellhounds-ahem).

Through the course of gameplay, you’ll encounter most of the supporting cast from the TV series. Giles will be there to offer advice, teach you moves (by giving you readable instructions, of course – did you really expect him to get up and start kicking ass?) and provide hints on what to do next. Xander supplies more advanced weapons like the watergun that gets filled with either holy water or hellfire. Willow can increase your health meter and slayer power bar (however slightly) when you bring her crystals scattered in various non-essential hiding places throughout the levels. And, of course, Cordelia is just there to annoy you.

Buffy offers a pleasant variety of settings in the course of its storyline. Some levels should be familiar to fans of the series (such as Sunnydale High School and Angel’s mansion). Backgrounds tend to be quite well done, offering just the right atmosphere. Unfortunately, a few levels tend to be painted with overly dark hues, forcing the average non-carrot eating gamer to adjust the brightness control so one can actually see what one is walking into. That said, it was quite impressive to note how the game moves seamlessly from a nightclub setting to the sewers and back alleys of town to a graveyard and back again, keeping boredom at bay through the sheer immensity of its framework and frequent scene changes.

The voice acting in Buffy is very well done, offering a pretty fair approximation of the TV show, capturing the bubble-headed L.A. teen/valley girl style perfectly - no words containing more than 4 syllables here. That said, it is rather obvious at times we’re not actually listening to the voice of the "real" Buffy, though they did manage to get the participation of Alyson ("Willow") Hannigan, David ("Angel") Borenanz, Anthony Michael Head ("Giles"), Michael ("Xander") Brandon and Charisma ("Cordelia") Carpenter; or in other words, essentially the entire cast. I guess Gellar was too busy delivering cinematic masterpieces like Scooby Doo or Cruel Intentions (then again, maybe we were better off without her participation, considering…).

Fashion buffs should note that Buffy goes through more costume changes than a Cher concert during the course of gameplay. At a bare minimum, Buffy seems to get a new costume for each new level ("and for her excursion into the graveyard, Buffy will be wearing a delightfully stunning number by Christian Dior, with accessories by Gucci and Yves St. Laurent…"). Unfortunately, this would appear to be at the expense of creativity in other, ostensibly more important (or at least less frivolous, in anything but a purely aesthetic sense) areas. I mean, would it have killed the developers to give us more than 5 vampire flunkies to fight over and over and over again…it’s like The Clonus Horror here, or at least another throwback to the days of SNES platformers like the infamous The Tick, with its "night of 100,000 ninjas"? At least they could have come up with some new lines for them to spout. If you’re looking for where the Collective cut corners in its development budget, look no further than this…

The controls in Buffy, while relatively succinct in the early stages, can get a bit overcomplicated as you progress further into the game. To wit, you start out the game with a stake. As you progress through the game’s storyline, you pick up more and more weapons (crossbow, holy water, "reaper blade", etc.) – which makes grabbing the one you’re looking for (generally the stake) in a fight situation extremely difficult. While it’s no problem to switch between two weapons quickly during a combat scenario, try doing that with 6 or more…particularly when the vamps have a penchant for knocking stakes out of your hand as soon as you pull one out. The standard pattern of the fights in Buffy is this: you enter an area, and hear one of the same 10 tacky clichéd threats the Collective has populated the baddies with for the course of the entire game. Sometime in the next 5 seconds, vampire #1 runs into view. You start beating the hell out of him, but just when you’re set to stake him, vampire #2 suddenly arrives and knocks the stake out of your hand. As you turn to face the new threat, #1 gets up, with zero health, mind you, and resumes his attack like nothing happened. Whenever you get a second’s breathing room, you either attempt to pick up the fallen stake or madly scroll through your upwards-of-half-a-dozen weapons to select another from your inventory. Assuming you manage to actually get one of the stakes before getting hit by one of the vampires, one of the two (or, as you progress into the game, vampire #3 or 4) invariably knocks that hard-won stake right back out of your hand. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat, until you want to puke, or shut the game off out of sheer boredom and disgust. Thankfully, this sort of fight is hardly the raison d'être of the Buffy experience; but it does occur all too frequently for any rational person’s taste.

Beyond that sort of cheap-shot programming, the controls in Buffy tend to be both smooth and easy to manipulate. Powerful combos can be strung together with a simple combination of kicks and punches. Special slayer moves cause much more damage and tend to keep opponents down for longer periods, which provides you with that precious opportunity to drive that damn stake through their hearts. Quickly. Before you wind up in the scenario described above.

Highs:

  • Probably the best use of a license ever; faithful to the TV series and (generally speaking) very professionally done
  • Diverse and wide-ranging selection of levels to play through
  • Nice graphics, detailed backgrounds, few if any programming glitches

Lows:

  • A few of the character models aren’t all that well done; some characters don’t really resemble their television counterparts
  • Hellhounds, hellhounds, hellhounds
  • Overfilling the weapons menu with seldom used junk (the water gun, the holy water, the crossbow), resulting in that irritating fight scenario I mentioned earlier…

Final Verdict: 

I have to admit I picked up Buffy the Vampire Slayer solely as a joke. I didn’t actually anticipate any level of competence or excitement, but more of a Spice World/VIP/Scorpion King sort of camp appeal thing. I also have no problem admitting that, as in my preview’s mockery of the GameCube's Eternal Darkness, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Buffy is an excellent 3D-action platformer, far superior to any entry in the Tomb Raider series to date. I found, much to my surprise and delight that the game was both and monopolizing my time over the games that spurred me into purchasing a Xbox in the first place. The bottom line is, if you enjoy the TV series and are in the market for a damn good action adventure game pleasantly embellished with the trappings of survival horror, then Buffy The Vampire Slayer is your must purchase for the season.

Overall Score: 8.5

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