After the slasher film deluge of the 1980s, horror cinema went through a period of dormancy. Senseless sequels and cheap knockoffs of popular franchises had simply soured the publics taste for all things frightful, and the horror film wouldnt be a viable genre until 1996, when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson collaborated on Scream.
Scream almost single-handedly revitalized the genre. The film was a postmodernist slasher flick, filled with great dialogue, characters that understood the conventions of the genre, and a series of gruesome funhouse-styled scares. A glut of self-referential slasher films would follow in Screams wake, and screenwriter Williamson would get a lot of credit for this new direction the genre was taking.
However, while Williamson was the first screenwriter to have a huge hit with a snarky and self-reflexive horror film, he wasnt the first guy to trot down the postmodernist path. Way back in 1992, Joss Whedon wrote a little film called Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Whedon's film featured a California valley girl who dispatched vampires while dishing out a series of sarcastic remarks. Unfortunately, Buffy was a film that was ahead of its time and barely managed to garner a cult following.
However, after the success of Scream, Whedon decided to bring Buffy backthis time to the small screen. In this new climate, the show took off and has been running for over seven seasons now with no signs of ending anytime soon.
Seeing that the show has become so popular, it wasnt a big surprise to learn that a Buffy The Vampire Slayer videogame was in the works. Would the likeable characters, witty humor, and gothic atmosphere transfer to gaming? Overall, the answer is yes.
After years upon years of bad games based off popular film and movie properties, gamers were right to be apprehensive about Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Often, games based on popular licenses are shoddy at best, trying to blend the source materials plot with some uninspired gameplay. The end result is more often than not a disappointment.
Buffy is something of an anomaly because its one of the rare instances where the licensed property actually makes the game better. Remove the Buffy cast from this game and youd wind up with a mediocre "beat-em-up" with a decent combat system and average graphics. However, by including the cast of the show, the game develops an extra dimensionone that covers for a lot of the flaws in the gameplay and execution.
As a game, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is incredibly faithful to the show it is based on. The sarcastic humor, tone, and atmosphere of the program are all faithfully recreated. The original castwith the exception of Sarah Michelle Gellar (who plays Buffy)has provided their voices for the game, giving the title the feel of the show.
The games plot is also tied in nicely to the Buffy mythology. The vampire lord, The Master, has returned from death once again with a new plot to destroy the Slayer and bring forth his demonic hordes. Buffy, along with her friends and watcher Giles, are the only ones who can stop the nefarious plan.
Doing so will require the player to guide Buffy through numerous locales in the fictitious Sunnydale, California. Exploring the local high school, the Bronze, a sunken church, and other locales is all part of a days work for The Slayer, as is dispatching the plethora of demons, vampires, and other monstrosities that confront her at every turn.
The majority of the game is spent with Buffy killing her enemies by utilizing her martial arts skills and a bevy of wooden stakes and other implements. Luckily, the titles combat engine is surprisingly good, because the majority of the game is spent fighting.
Buffy has an array of combos at her disposal for battling the forces of darkness, as well as some specialized slayer moves (that look to have been inspired by The Matrix) that are executed by performing a series of button presses on the controller. Combat is fast, fun, and generally entertaining, which is a good thing considering the player will spend the majority of the ten or so hours it takes to complete the game fighting.
What isnt good are the platforming elements that the developers included in the latter stages of the game. At its heart, Buffy is a beat-em-up, so the inclusion of platforming elements is not only out of place, its almost presented as a throw-in to keep the game from feeling too repetitive.
The problem with the platforming is that Buffys character isnt designed for the task. She has floaty jump physics that are fine for a combat-driven game, but are far too loose for a platforming title where precision is required. Because of this, the last few stages of the game can become very difficult because one missed jump leads to instant death.
This also highlights another of the games flaws, the save system. Buffy features a checkpoint save system (not unlike Halothe game autosaves to the hard drive whenever you reach a certain point), but the checkpoints are few and far between. Because of this, death leads to a lot of repetition as the player is forced to go back through entire levels after dying. Im not one of those guys who wants to save the game every two or three steps, but a few more save points along the way would have made the game more playable.
Despite the flaws, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a fun game. Most of this is attributable to the writing and the licenseBuffys action and humor-oriented approach on the show translates to gaming quite nicely. The title never achieves the atmosphere of dread and fear that permeate survival horror games like the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series, but Buffys never been about real horror to begin with. Instead, Buffy The Vampire Slayer has always focused on likeable characters, sarcastic humor, and lots of action, and the game succeeds in capturing all of these elements quite nicely.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.