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Review: Vampire Rain

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At its heart, Vampire Rain from Artoon/AQ Interactive attempts to fuse two successful genres: Stealth Action and Survival Horror. The idea is certainly valid and not without potential; sadly, its execution is unforgivably poor.

The core storyline of Rain could be straight out of a B horror flick or pulp novel. Vampires are breeding… um, multiplying in secret and will outnumber the world’s human population in short order. The US government has done nothing for years and is now finally fighting back. Players control a commando named John Lloyd, part of an undercover vampire hit squad trained to hit the bloodsuckers quick and dirty. We join the strike team on its maiden mission, out to take down the undead leaders of an unnamed West Coast city.

John Lloyd

Adding a bit of interest to the mix, the game plays up the huge difference in physical ability between even a highly trained human and the newest, weakest vamp. Theoretically evening the odds is… rain. Apparently water reduces a vampire’s superhuman sensing abilities, making it possible for a human to move undetected more easily. Sounds decent so far, right?

Rain’s appeal, unfortunately, begins to falter literally as soon as the player exits its moderately well-done intro. Pre-game cinematics aren’t badly animated, but poor voice acting is immediately apparent. The player’s orders, ultimately, come from Colonel Dixon, who is supposedly 52 years of age… yet he sounds noticeably younger than his visibly more youthful aide. The dialog between said figures also, accurately, bodes poorly for the overall storywriting.

As you’d expect, the game’s opening missions serve as a tutorial on how to move the player and use weapons. Character animation is clearly last-gen at best, looking stiff and nonhuman (and this is on the humans, ha ha). Perhaps worse, there is no command buffer for the player’s actions; one can’t transition smoothly from one movement to another (for instance, running to pressing against a wall, or landing from a jump into climbing over an obstruction) as an actual trained commando would. Still, the command vocabulary is more or less as one would expect; move about, crouch (and move while crouched), lean against walls and peer around corners, draw/shoot/reload, and so forth. The game permits players to lie down and crawl in sniper’s position, occasionally useful for navigating tight areas. The in-game models for player and allies are actually fairly good, with detailed gear and weapons visible; however, this is sorely underutilized. For instance, when using his basic pistol, the protagonist clearly draws it from and replaces it in a hip holster; all is fine so far. Seeing the player draw a full-length rifle magically from the same holster, and replace it such, totally blasts any sense of disbelief. Larger weapons, once acquired, aren’t even visible on the player’s model; they appear and disappear from some fourth-dimensional gamespace at the bottom of that same holster.

Interaction between the team members plays a moderate role in the game’s early story. Subpar writing rears its head early on, as the exposition is painfully heavy-handed and utterly unbelievable in its given context. A four-man fire team would be familiar with each other prior to deployment on even their first sortie; the teammates behave more like people meeting for the first time. The flow of story events is also awkward and unbelievable, with single team members being sent into the field in obviously unsafe circumstances; typically this sets up a “go get it” mission to meet them or retrieve something. Single forays into the hostile night environment would make more sense if the human characters weren’t so clearly overmatched by their fanged foes.

One of the game’s most annoying quirks is that very imbalance. In theory, the player’s commando team is armed to the teeth with anti-vamp weapons; guns with silver ammo, ultraviolet-projecting knives, and so forth. In actual fact, the player’s typical arsenal is laughably inadequate to defeat even a single vampire. Though unassuming enough in human form, when provoked the beasties transform into larger, decayed-looking versions who run faster than a player can run away, and can soak up multiple clips of most forms of ammo. Crueler still is the unavoidable fact that once a vampire enters melee range, the game is in no uncertain terms lost. A single hit effectively kills the player; though on screen you live long enough to absorb a second fatal blow, there is no way to avoid or forestall it once the first lands. Killing vampires is possible, once the player acquires higher-caliber weapons a few missions in, but in the best of cases takes extreme effort and is irritatingly risky.

You're screwed.

You’ve at least got to take your hat off to a developer so unafraid to kill the player to make their point. In this game, the human good guys simply are not supposed to try and tackle a vamp head on; you’re relegated to pure sneaking for most of the missions you’ll undertake. If better done, this could be largely forgivable – for instance, if more realistic choice were available in most cases. Successful paths through each level are so adamantly linear as to feel almost scripted – the player’s actions, mind you, let alone the enemies. Occasional exploration and alternate routes are possible, but for the most part you’re forced to slog through the same mission several times, dying instantly if you alert a single vamp to your presence, until you find the right sequence of things to do to advance. Each mission has invisible borders you’ll be verbally warned of if you approach, and they’re consistently painfully limiting.

Another aspect of making the human/vamp imbalance palatable would be evening the odds later on. The storyline even implies this is going to happen, as one specific mission tasks the player with recovering a stockpile of ammo for all types of useful weaponry, including shotgun and sniper rifle rounds (either is capable of taking out a vamp with one shot). However, even following successful completion – in which it’s revealed there’s now “plenty of ammo for everyone,” – the player begins nearly every mission thereafter with the same nearly-useless assault rifle and completely pointless pistol. In an even more irritating touch, rounds for said pistol can be found lying around in most missions – yet the tiny weapon has no utility whatsoever save to scare away the occasional clutch of birds who might give away the player’s presence if not dispersed. Even the UV-projecting knife attack – another way to kill vampires in a single strike, provided they don’t know it’s coming – is usable only in limited stock. Apparently it requires a new set of batteries for each use, and they’re in vanishingly short supply… except the one mission where they’re lying about all over the place in a vamp-infested warehouse, of course. The punchline? Even if the player completes each mission with a minimum of ammo expenditure, there’s no carryover to the next mission. You start each one underarmed, overmatched, and more or less locked into the role of easy meat.

Don't bother shooting.  No, I'm serious, don't.

Simply put, Vampire Rain’s poor execution outweighs its strengths. There are some missions the player can almost enjoy – sniping vamps from the rooftops could be cool, if these particular vamps didn’t behave with incredible stupidity compared to their counterparts in any other mission. Normally, attacking or killing a vamp in any particular area turns all the rest against the player immediately; in this case, the streetwalking vamps don’t even bother to look around in surprise as their comrades are gunned down literally a few feet away and in plain sight. Blasting down a hallway-full of vamps with your newfound shotgun would be really cool if you could expect to do it again anytime soon. Fighting bigger, nastier boss vampires might be really neat if it weren’t totally nonsensical that they fail to kill the player in two hits the way the normal grunt vampires do. Inconsistencies like this are literally everywhere, and conspire with the overly limited path options to rob the game of virtually all fun factor.

Vampire Rain’s multiplayer aspect might have been a partial saving grace. While the Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flame (it’s like a flag, only not) modes are nothing dissimilar to what’s been done better elsewhere, the game also contains the partially unique Death or Nightwalkers mode. In this game type, players can eventually gain the energy to turn into a vampire, granting super speed and jumping ability – basically all the power imbalances that made the vamps so annoying in story mode. It’s sort of cool for a while, but wears thin pretty fast, especially considering the XBox Live population for Vampire Rain is, deservedly, fairly sparse.

This looks way, way more fun than it is.

Video games aren’t easy to make, and typically represent a significant volume of work for a group of people who really cared about what they were doing. Despite the overall poor quality of the final product, I tend to believe this is also true of Vampire Rain; thus, I feel a little bad about totally bashing it. There are a few nice touches, like the reflecting water effects on a busy screen, or the suitably flinch-inducing warning signs (visual, aural and tactile) when an enemy partially or fully spots the player. Yet the experience is summatively subpar, and would really have been even on a last-generation console. Regardless of the effort that went into it, Vampire Rain is simply a bad game; thus, with some regret, I have to recommend even fans of either of its antecedent genres avoid it. The developers can easily do significantly better with future outings, and for their own sake one would hope they try harder next time to produce a more worthwhile end product.

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