Syndicated TV Tie-Ins, we've seen them all and we've played most of them. And usually they suck like a toothless Vampire. Now I've just come into the possession of an Xbox and well, to be frank, a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That's right, I'm no fan of the series nor am I a real fan of anything to do with Miss Summers. Then they had to make a console game out of it. Sigh thought this jaded hack - until he played the game and nearly lost a jaw.
I can't think of any 3rd person beat the living daylights out of something, or hack something to bits game that I've ever played that really lives up to this title. Buffy is a masterpiece of console programming and hard hitting action that should have people whooping for joy as it's played. It's also the single best TV tie in I've ever seen. It's obvious that from day one, the developers set out to capture the Tv show (I went back and watched a few of my SO's taped episodes) and compared it to the game. And they did a bloody good job of it.
So let's talk about the gameplay shall we first? It's not your usual 3rd person hack and slash at all. For a start, Buffy (Just like her TV counterpart) is a nimble minx and can pull of a wide variety of bone crunching punches, kicks and combos. It has to have one of the most interactive and best fighting systems I've seen for a long time. I was a big fan of Freedom Force on the old PS1 and I loved being able to use a variety of breakables - to break people.
She can flip, kick and hang; she can also shimmy across the various ledges and poles you'll find. She does all the moves that some of you have come to know and love. She can also pick up sharp bits of wood, good for staking Vamps and various other weapons that you'll come across - things to beat, stab, and pummel the hapless hordes of the undead. In fact there are at least 50 odd moves and combos to discover while playing the game and the combat is very satisfying.
Most fights are not a matter of just hapless button mashing, nope, it's all about timing - wear down their stamina and then pop them in an amusing way with a stake to unleash some of that sweet wooden retribution. Dusting Vamp's has never been so much fun. Combat itself is also visceral enough to appeal to the die-hard action fan, and so far I haven't been disappointed. During a particularly neat fight in the Bronze Nightclub I was assaulted by a fanged fiend and fought back, with no stake to hand I improvised by picking him up and lobbing him on a nearby coat rack, you know the one with spikes on - dusty Vampire ala Buffy. That felt good.
I could go on about the combat system and how cool it is, or the fact that if a Vamp, or yourself, happen to be kicked into an interactive piece of scenery - it will break in a most satisfying manner. Just what the Slayer ordered. But I want you to experience the funky camera angles, the special effects and the butt kicking gameplay for yourselves - this is only one person's view of the game - and he's not a fan at all. I could be a serious convert though.
As for the graphics, they really are pretty darn fine, they're colourful and well detailed, as we'd expect with an Xbox and to be honest. The characterisation of the various TV show personas has been handled with a great deal of skill and an eye for detail (They're as close to their TV counterparts as they could get). Animations are superb and there are plenty of things popping up in the battles that will surprise and delight.
The lip-synching is pretty spot on too, and the actors from the TV show provide the voices as well. I don't think they got Sarah Michelle Gellar, or if they did I didn't see her in the manual. But the replacement is pretty spot on as well, get the idea that I'm enjoying myself here. Now the highlight for me is James Masters as Spike - which really gave me a huge grin, after watching him in the TV show. Yes I could get to like the show if it had Spike in it more and more. I'm not going to give away the plot or tell you much about the story - I want you to play it and enjoy it with an unspoiled look at the game.
Various locations from Sunnydale are recreated and they are brought to life with the Xbox's graphics' engine pumping out highly sustained frame rates and frenzied combat action - along with a suitable energetic soundtrack and some gruesome sound effects. Textures are well detailed and suitably crisp and the feeling of being in the TV show is compounded by various set pieces from the series masterfully recreated and full of breakable things to use against the bad guys. You play it singleplayer and on your own, but that's not a problem, since they've made the Slayer every bit as deadly as she is on the TV.
With a huge combat system, enough special effects to fill a George Lucas movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the Xbox really does pull out all the stops. It's a refreshing change to see a TV tie in that doesn't suck (Pardon the pun) and delivers fast paced - hard-hitting action at the touch of a button. The voice cast are excellent and they have no problems with their dialogue, it never sounds stilted and forced as some of the older games have always been. Buffy is a worthy addition to the Xbox's rapidly expanding line-up of games and should be purchased by fans and non-fans of the TV series. If you like to kick ass in a 3d 3rd person fighting and puzzle game then Buffy is the game for you.
The Hell Mouth awaits, time to pray for dawn.