Blood Knights Xbox 360 Review
Vampires have been all the rage lately. From the Twilight series to True Blood, and even the Anita Blake series of books and graphic novels, it seems like we’ve become enamored with them. The main issue that a lot of people take with these series is that vampires have taken on a romantic bent. They don’t go after every human they can, seeking to mete out death and destruction wherever they will, all for blood lust. With Blood Knights, game publisher Kalypso Media and developer Deck 13 have taken vampires back to their roots as (to steal a phrase from Christopher Moore) blood-sucking fiends. But is this tale of medieval supernatural warfare a fulfilling experience, or does it just shimmer in the sunlight and then brood about your hard drive?
The game starts with a priest named Bartholemew magically bonding Jeremy, a crusader knight, and Alysa, a vampire warrior. This is done so that Jeremy can effectively combat a horde of vampires that have begun to attack the Holy Land in quest of an ancient vampire relic, the Blood Seal, that can make vampires once again the dominant race on the planet. After a failed attempt to capture the seal for the Crusaders, Jeremy is attacked during the death throes of his first major vampire enemy, and is converted in to a vampire himself. Also, the vampire capture of the Blood Seal breaks the moon. Seeing no other alternative, his allies, Bartholemew included, cast him over a cliff side, assuming that he will fall in to the water and therefore die. Alysa, due to as strong sense of self-preservation – being bonded means that whatever happens to one happens to the other – saves him, and they set out on their own quest to find the Blood Seal. Thus they journey away from the Holy Land to Romania (no, not Transylvania, they’re barely inland from the shores), chasing Bartholemew so that he can break the seal, and chasing the vampire army so that they can prevent the planet from going to chaos. Along the way, they fight enemies both human (because all vampires must die, as far as they’re concerned) and supernatural (because apparently Romania is crawling with monsters, and not just in its central province). The final battle is quite the twist, and the ending feels fitting.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a top-down kill-all-enemies platformer RPG. Basically, you go through levels in relatively real time, slaying almost anybody that comes along the way. However, to get through the levels, there are some puzzles that you have to solve. There are also a few minor quests that you can fulfill. In order to power up and improve, you gain levels and spend skill points. You also collect special items called Blood Coins, which, when you collect enough, provide a boost to one of three attributes – health (self-explanatory), strength (basically combat damage), and luck (determines what enemies drop when slain). You acquire new and better weapons either by finding them in the field, or purchasing them from a trader. While Jeremy’s arsenal is self-explanatory, Alysa’s skills with ranged weapons allow her to carry specialized ammunition, and to use grenades. The combat system flows well, and save for a few hiccups, it is fairly intuitive. While it is possible to finish much of the game as either one or the other, it is much easier to switch between them with relative frequency, so that if one combat style is failing, you can utilize the other. Unfortunately, as of the time of this review, we have been unable to play the co-op mode, but given the nature of the single player experience, we imagine that it is far more interesting, given that enemies now have two targets instead of one. The frequent checkpoints are a good touch, especially since they acts as save points, and, after a time, a way to go back and gather more supplies.
As far as the presentation of the game is concerned, it is what one would expect out of an Xbox Live title. The graphics are crisp, the level design is intelligent without being either too simplistic or too complicated, and the cut scenes do not feel unneeded or out-of-place. The menu design is also well-done, and is easy to navigate. The character models are fitting, and in something of a surprise, given how many RPGs have standard character models for their cut scenes, Alysa’s and Jeremy’s appearances change in the cut scenes depending upon the equipment that you choose for them. It’s a small detail, but the fact that they paid such attention to it in a game that, for one play-through, only lasts five or six hours, is laudable. The division of the game in to chapters, with either Jeremy or Alysa narrating, is a nice touch, and makes you feel like you’re playing through a book.
There are really only a couple of minor flaws in the game. Firstly, the voice acting is well-done, but there has been no effort to synchronize the cut scenes with the voices. As such, you just get flapping jaws that don’t match the words being spoken. If they’re going for some sort of, “They’re speaking Latin, or French, or maybe even Greek, so you’re hearing a dubbed conversation,” I can buy it, but otherwise, it looks sloppy. Also, there are ways to fail during the game that you don’t learn about until well after there are incidents that allow it. The aversion to water is a major one, since the shore area after the first level has places that would imply that you should try to explore them, but instead you fall in to the ocean and suffer defeat. Also, the heresy is a little disturbing. By this, I don’t mean the vampires committing heresy – I find it completely contradictory that a priest would know of arcane arts, since magic is something that God forbids, as the only way to use it is to call upon demonic forces, at least according to Christianity. Historic accuracy elsewhere is impressive (yes, crossbows and grenades were in fact around during the Crusades), but a magician priest stretches credulity.
Ultimately, though, Blood Knights is a heck of a good time. Deck 13 and Kalypso Media should be applauded for the effort, and hopefully, they keep up the good work.