Please wait while this review installs….
The idea behind combining vampires with a stealth action game seems like a winning combination. At least that was the hope when developer Artoon released their sneaky blood-sucking title for Xbox 360 last year. The problem most had started with a merciless difficulty, sloppy gameplay and linear progression. Vampire Rain now returns on an entirely new console with a fancy subtitle and a lot of the same issues that made the original an exercise in frustration.
When you first boot up the game you are greeted with a 20+ minute install which boggles the mind because other games, with larger installs, take half that time. Once you finally get into the game you are dropped into the boots of John Lloyd, an elite member of yet another super-secret agency under the control of the American Information Bureau. In all honesty though, your resemblance to Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher is borderline plagiary. The core story itself though is actually interesting enough to keep you entertained throughout the game. The city is being overrun by the Nightwalker (the technical term for the blood-sucking baddies) population and it is your job to thin out their numbers.
As with any good tactical game this day and age you are not alone in your adventure. Joining you in your pursuit are a trio of formulaic figures that feel lifted directly from the pages of the “How to make an Action Game” manual. We have your squad leader Hank Harrison who is a bona-fide badass and will teach you some of the basics in the tutorial levels. Next we have Claire Kelly who serves as the prototypical female member of the team. Finally we have the smart, tech guy Duane Hanson who rounds out this stereotypical cast of characters. It should be noted that this game focuses entirely on stealth so don’t count on having three teammates around to save you. Instead you will often find yourself being on the frontlines as you must tackle several missions alone; and in this game that can easily be a death sentence.
Altered Species is a stealth game and only a stealth game. The option to fight enemies is rarely presented and if you are seen expect to be hitting that continue button. The object of the game is clearly to move from point A to point B without being seen, and if you fail to do so the game will punish you accordingly. Nightwalkers are faster than you, stronger than you and can reach you no matter where you try to hide, which makes being seen an instant recipe for death. Another annoying gripe is that the game is entirely linear forcing you find the one and only path that works, and stick to it. The glory of most stealth games is the abundance of ways to tackle each situation. In Altered Species the motto is clearly the right way or the highway.
Altered Species also suffers from some of the clichës you would expect to be extinct by now. For instance the game progresses in a linear path because there are barriers around the world that force you to stay inside them. Roam outside of the barriers and the game will warn you that you are outside of the designated area and must return. The streets are also void of any activity, which actually makes sense because there are freakin’ vampires controlling the alleyways, but you would figure with so few objects on screen the game would look better than most PS2 games, unfortunately outside of the rain it does not.
Enemies also suffer the age-old problem of AI stupidity. Each bad guy has a cone-shaped line of sight much like that classic Metal Gear titles. Once you break this cone they will pounce on you faster than you can blink game over, time to restart. However, you do have the ability to escape their gaze if you ac quick enough. When they see you a pair of eyes flash on the screen and you have ample time to get out of sight. Funny thing is once you manage to avoid their vision cone they go back to aimlessly staring straight ahead without any regard to the fact that a Sam Fisher look-a-like was just trying to sneak past them.
It doesn’t end there unfortunately. You see these run-of-the-mill Nightwalkers can off you in two hits; one to knock you down, the other to finish the job. When you reach the boss characters the game miraculously balances itself out and allows you to take several hits before having to lay into the continue button. Now this is obviously so that boss characters can be taken down in a regular brawl, but how much sense does it make when the supposed main villains are much weaker than the scrubs? To top it all off you are equipped with several firearms all of which are useless outside of the shotgun and UV knife. The machine gun can take down a Nightwalker if he is a decent distance away, you don’t miss or have to reload and you have enough ammo. The handgun however, is completely useless, which begs to question why it is even in there.
If you are still with me there is still one area to discuss, and for most it will be the highlight of the game. Altered Species supports online play for up to eight players (insert joke here about how not even eight people bought the game) and supports the traditional deathmatch modes as well as a rather inventive Humans versus Nightwalker mode. If you can manage to find players online this is certainly the best way to play the game, of course therein lies the problem. Online is like a ghost town, much like it was on Xbox 360 over a year ago. Finding a match can take longer than the initial install and sometimes when joining games it will disconnect you or kick you back to the menu screen for no apparent reason. With all of these problems though if you do manage to find a game online there is some fun to be had.
Vampire Rain: Altered Species has a lot working against it. Substandard AI, deficient visuals, exasperating difficulty and a host of other problems that make you wonder how much effort and care was actually poured into the game. While the online is rather enjoyable once it gets going, the community is far too small to keep things fresh for long. Even with a new subtitle and a change of scenery on the front of the box don’t be tricked into this game’s deception. Altered Species is a text book example of how to do almost everything wrong, while doing very little right.