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Score: 68%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: HammerHead LTD.
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:
Okay, folks. When designing maps, there are two reasons behind doing them dark. One is atmosphere -- check out the Thief series for excellent use of the dark, both in gameplay and visuals. And then there's to cover up the fact that your game is just not pretty. Unfortunately, Blade takes this latter route, and the game suffers because of it. Too many places are dark, causing you to wander into dark corners because you can't tell if the pathway arcs around that crate at the end. The game's textures aren't that ugly, but they're not particularly impressive either. And the characters are actually pretty cool looking, from the zombies to the vampires to the human guards.

Unfortunately, much of this is seen at a lovely King's Field frame rate. While you're walking around with nothing else on the screen, Blade clips along nicely; but get into combat with more than one enemy and the game starts to chug like Strike Commander did on everyone's machines back in The Day. It's inexcusable, really, and it makes the poor controls that much harder to deal with.

On a side note, the in-game engine cutscenes are actually quite nice. They're no prettier than the rest of the game, but it's a lot less distracting than some spiffy FMV would be in a game like this.

The sound in Blade has its ups and downs. The music track is repetitive and trite, and you'll find yourself reaching for the remote in no time after the level music loops the third time in a minute. Augh. But if you turn the sound down, you're going to miss the voice-acting, which is actually much more solid than I would expect. While Blade sounds nothing like Wesley Snipes, and Whistler's only slightly better (apologies if Kris Kristofferson really did voice Whistler), they're not horribly overacted, and actually go well together. Some of the bit parts are pretty cheesy, but you hear a lot more of those two than anyone else, so it's not terrifyingly bad. The core sound effects are generic dustbin, though, from the guns to the sword swipes.

And "generic dustbin" is perhaps the best way to describe Blade as a whole. The action is repetitive and uninspired, long stretches of the game pass without any real direction other than to continue in the general direction you've been going, and the controls, well, suck. There may be a good game buried deep in there, but it hasn't found its way out yet.

In Blade, you control everybody's favorite half-vampire, half-human on his quest to exterminate the Vampires. While the plot certainly gets more involved, most of the game consists of busting caps in guards and slicing vampires up with your sword. It's not particularly inspired, to say the least, but it passes the time.

The game makes use of in-level loads, and you can walk back and forth between adjacent areas quite easily -- and have to for some of the "puzzles" (read: flip-switch-open-door). The loads are pretty short, which is nice.

The game itself takes an over-the-shoulder view for Blade. As you run around, you press the R2 button to "lock" onto an enemy. This lets you snipe enemies from long distances with your pistol, which isn't particularly realistic. The game compensates by placing tons of enemies right around corners and inside rooms that only open when you trigger them. This is artificial difficulty, folks, and it's Not Fun. Getting wailed on by a vampire because you couldn't predict that they were going to be around the corner is not amusing.

Compounding that is the fact that certain weapons only work on certain types of monsters. To kill vampires, you've got to use either your sword or bullets with Silver Nitride in them. Of course, those don't work particularly well on humans (which is silly -- a sword-swipe should take out a human just as quickly, if not quicker, than it does a vampire), so you have to use standard ammo for them. This sort of juggling isn't particularly entertaining either.

The levels themselves are generally highly linear, with a few branching points here and there. And in the end, with the occasional boss mix-it-up, it consists of running around, targeting enemies, killing them, fighting with the controls, and getting ganged-up on by enemies around corners. Whee!

Blade is hard, but that's because you're fighting with the mechanics instead of using them for you. Having to switch weapons constantly is a hassle, and when there are rooms with mixed types of enemies, it becomes a chore to take them out. There's also a "timing" issue with your weapons, when a well-timed shot or swing does much more damage. It's neat, but near-impossible to do in the heat of battle. And since Blade can't strafe particularly speedily, moving around the maps with any degree of accuracy is a real challenge.

Perhaps more difficult is finding the motivation to play this game any more than absolutely necessary.

Game Mechanics:
Simply put, the controls suck. The R2 trigger seems to work only when it wants to, and turns off automagically after a bit, forcing you to press the button again. Of course, if the game detects more than one enemy around, it switches to the next enemy to fight. When you're trying to get timed damage shots, this is a major pain in the butt. The cycling of items and weapons is simple enough, but many of the items aren't explained at all in the instruction book, making it a guessing game as to when you should use them. And since items (other than healing) are very sparse in the game, you don't want to waste them. There are Refill Points, where you cash in money that you pick up off of dead humans and zombies, but they give you random items, occur rarely, and make no sense in the theme of the game. The menus are simple enough to navigate and read, although some of the default cursor locations (generally cancel) are irritating.

PS2: Despite a few visual artifacts when you boot Blade up with the Smooth graphics option, the graphics in Blade are noticeably improved when you play with that setting on. It's still not pretty, but it's definitely less ugly. And with the Fast disc speed option, the in-level loads are near-instantaneous. It's one of the better results I've had with the PS2's optimizations, but it's unfortunate that it's in such a mediocre game.

Blade isn't the worst game I've ever played (by a long shot), but there are many, many other third-person action titles I'd rather play before this. The controls suck, the graphics are weak, and the game itself is repetitive. The voice-acting and atmosphere don't quite pull Blade out of the singing abyss that it's fallen into. If you're a die-hard fan of the movie or comic book, you may want to pick it up, but the rest of us can find better things to spend our money on.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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