Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This is a vaguely inappropriate segue, but...

...speaking of vampire slayers... Part of the reason I've been so behind on my TV is I finally got the Buffy game for GameCube. (Yes, folks, it's another video game review for my fellow geeks out there.) Despite my mildly obsessive Buffy fandom, I still can't quite deal with dropping 50 bucks on a game, so this is another one I was waiting to see reduced. When I went to that used game store a couple of months ago, I asked the clerk if they had any, and he told me they were hard to come by because they'd stopped making it. It seems like a logical overlap to me, but apparently your average Buffy fan isn't much of a gamer, and your average gamer isn't much of a Buffy fan, so the game had bombed. The clerk told me the game was really good on its own, and it was a shame that people didn't realize that and buy it.

So of course, I was on eBay that night getting a copy before it got any rarer.

I'm not sure I agree that it's a good game on its own. If you're interested in story, it assumes a certain level of knowledge with the characters and the setting, and there are lots of in-jokey references to the series. And if you're a more hardcore gamer than I, it's probably too easy. I, of course, love it. You cycle through different characters -- Buffy, Xander, Willow, Spike, Faith, and Sid the Dummy, and you get to run around Sunnydale High. At one point there are bunnies involved! Yay, bunnies!

One thing I usually take for granted in games, even those based on films, is the voice acting. I'm incredibly aware of it here because they managed to get most of the cast of the TV show. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan are notably absent, but the girl doing Buffy's voice does an extremely convincing impression. The girl doing Willow's voice, however, makes my ears bleed. It's really really really bad. I'd rather listen to someone who sounds nothing like her than this awful attempt at an impression. It really becomes distracting when playing her. I don't usually pay much attention to the quips and noises in video games. They're awfully repetitive and rarely entertaining. But of course some actor got paid to record each and every one of them, down to the last grunt or sigh. Eliza Dushku makes up for Tru Calling by committing 100% to her work in the game. Playing as Faith would be fun no matter what, but Eliza makes it way funner by keeping her quips, even when they repeat, from getting dull, and making the most out of lines like "Grrr, Aaargh yahself!"

As a fanboy geek, I don't quite understand why you can kill vampires with a metal sword through the heart (though playing as Spike with a sword is cool enough that I don't question much). Since the game is rated T (for teen), I suspect they had to avoid beheadings to keep it from getting an M (for mature). Far more annoying is the level where you fight vampires in a quarry...in broad daylight. Okay, the game is set in an alternate reality, but come on! This is taking the conceit of the show that a vampire can survive in slight cloud cover a little too far.

Still, they've paid great attention to detail in other areas -- My favorite sequence in the game so far involves Faith doing some serious damage with a shovel. The game makes it pretty easy to fight without having to learn lots of silly combos. If you're fighting three demons at once with an appropriate weapon (say that shovel), you'll twirl it and whack them all with one swipe. As a player, this is easy, and would come "naturally" to these characters. This sounds too easy, but the enemies work on the same engine, so they can knock something out of your hands and use it against you, and do lots of cool moves of their own. So it's pretty evenly matched. And despite that bit with the sword, if you're fighting a vamp with a shovel or an axe, after beating on him for a while you'll turn it around and stake him with the handle (this is one of the few moves that actually does involve a separate button). Weapons degenerate with use. You have to be careful fighting near walls, or you'll hit the wall more than the enemy and your axe will fall apart sooner. But when that happens you can still get a nice wooden spike from the handle...until that gets whittled down to a stake. And Willow, for all her annoying vocal ticks, gets to use magic, and making a miniature sun appear to kill a room full of vamps never gets old (oops, there goes that alternate reality theory).

They claim that the game's storyline can be viewed as a "lost episode" of the series from season five, but I have to admit the writing's pretty crappy and the plot makes little sense. Still, I miss these characters so much it's just nice to have them on my TV in any form. It's horribly addictive. It's taking me a fair amount of time to finish, but it's never stupidly frustrating like Bounty Hunter. Just good demony fun.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who misses the show. The new trend in games is to include extras like on a DVD (though they need to be unlocked by achieving things in play). Chaos Bleeds features interviews with the actors at their recording sessions, and apparently no one told Nicholas Brendan this was happening, because he's there in a white tank top looking remarkably doughy, and I think he might be stoned. From an interview with Joss Whedon elsewhere on the disc, I got the impression that they did all this right after the final season wrapped. At one point I think they ask Nicholas what his plans are now (we don't get to hear the questions), and he stammers something about not wanting to talk about things that aren't final, and yammers about how the show was his life for so long, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I felt like he may as well have been saying "Yeah, that bitch Gellar ruined it for all of us." (In contrast, Amber Benson looks adorable and just seems thrilled to be back for a day a year after her character died.) It made me sad. Though not as sad as that awful movie he did for ABC Family.

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