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Vampire Rain: Altered Species (PlayStation 3) artwork

Vampire Rain: Altered Species (PlayStation 3) review

"Vampire Rain is supposed to be something of a horror game. But all that it delivers is the horrifying sensation that you need to run. Not because of the imminent danger – vampires attack frequently, are hard to kill up close, and can slaughter you in less than three seconds – but because of how tired this game will make you feel."

After the 20-minute installation, three-minute (pre-menu screen) movie sequence and five-minute game intro, it’s time to invade the dangerous streets of Vampire Rain: Altered Species. Like the first week of driver’s training, Vampire Rain guides you through every step of the first mission.

As John Lloyd, former member of the Special Forces, you are part of the American Information Bureau (AIB), an organization that has established a special combat unit to deal with the increasing problem of Nightwalkers. Grotesquely designed and deadly to the touch – if they attack, you’ll be dead instantly – Nightwalkers have taken control of our cities. You can’t go out at night without encountering one, and they don’t look like vampires until you approach, at which point their human-like exterior is replaced with bulging eyes and ferocious fangs.

Hank Harrison, leader of the untitled special combat unit – and destined to be the star of the inevitable NBC spin-off, Law & Order: SCU – drags Lloyd out of bed to go hunting in the dark. Lloyd starts to follow but is stopped suddenly. He and Harrison must wait for another sequence (AKA crossing traffic) to clear.

Next up, continue walking-- but wait! There’s more traffic, this time with arbitrary camera angles that reveal a nearby threat.

Continue moving forward (again) until – oh no, would you look at that? An accident is up ahead. We’ll be here for what will feel like an eternity (but is no more than 90 seconds) watching the story as it develops. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a problem. Most of us have spent at least a small amount of time waiting to play or buy a new game or console. The difference here is that I wasn’t waiting to play Vampire Rain – I already was. It just didn’t feel like it.

While waiting for the game to introduce me to something other than the virtual equivalent to mall walking (where we stop to look at something every now and then), the graphics began to stand out, and not in a good way. The glorious rainfall, consistent throughout the first mission, is one of the few things you won’t mind looking at. Players won’t be turned off by the human characters either, so long as they stand as far back as possible. Up close their awkward and unrealistic facial details – accented by expressions that are more hideous (or should I say ridiculous?) than a raging vampire – is hard to endure, especially when playing the game on anything other than a 13-inch TV.

Buildings are comprised of nothing more than four walls; their cardboard cutout appearance is not uncommon, not even with today’s high-end consoles. (PS3 once retailed for $600; this game’s visuals aren’t worth 50 cents.) Similar to the character models, when standing far away from a building, it almost appeared that there were details worth examining. Nope – just cardboard soaked in 10-year-old textures. To put this into perspective, these visuals are nowhere near the quality of the seven-year-old Metal Gear Solid 2, which was developed for PS3’s predecessor.

Vampire Rain is supposed to be something of a horror game. But all that it delivers is the horrifying sensation that you need to run. Not because of the imminent danger – vampires attack frequently, are hard to kill up close, and can slaughter you in less than three seconds – but because of how tired this game will make you feel.

Things that are supposed to be scary and exciting are nothing more than a nuisance that you won’t have the urge to overcome. There is no reward for defeating vampires, just another alleyway or corridor to explore, and another linear path that leads to the goal. The stealth elements – ripped from Metal Gear Solid but by no means comparable – are barely necessary. Why push yourself up against a wall and peak over the side when a push of the right analog stick can adjust the camera, achieving the same effect? No, it may not be as cool as Solid Snake and his expert wall-hugging. But it gets the job done.

This is the recurring theme of the entire game. The levels do not get much more complex or diverse than the linear paths of the introductory mission. Cut scene interruptions are replaced by death sequences, something that occurs far too frequently in this game. Playing it sneaky won’t cut it and isn’t any fun when only one path, one exit, or one entry point exists. There are not any opportunities to get creative – no point at which the player can experiment, pull off something cool, and win the mission by thinking outside the box.

When you’re killed by one of those vicious vampires, Lloyd’s body jerks like a ragdoll – a ragdoll held by strings and shaken in the air. The animations don’t make any sense. Human bodies don’t launch themselves forward and flip just because a vampire attacked. You’d think he was using a catapult or something. And wait till you see what happens when the game over screen appears – blood flies from Lloyd’s body more briskly and outrageously than in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

In other words, you aren’t trapped in a George A. Romero flick, which would have been tolerable. You’re trapped in a Night of the Living Dead knockoff, one that plagiarizes the post-death presentation of games like Resident Evil (among other things) and the haphazard filmmaking of Paul W. S. Anderson. It’s torture at its worst, with gameplay that emphasizes repetition and voice work that somehow, someway, sounds less believable than the cheesy dialogue featured in the trailer for 24: Redemption – a new made-for-TV movie that embarrasses the hit TV series as much as Vampire Rain embarrasses the stealth-shooter genre.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (September 25, 2008)

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