‘So Bad it’s Good’ is still Bad – Blood Knights Review (XBLA)
Posted in Reviews by Steve R Gibson on November 5, 2013
A vampire tale that makes Dracula: Dead and Loving It look sophisticated.
Blood Knights is possibly the worst game I’ve played this year. From top to bottom, nearly every aspect of this vampiric hack-and-slash is unapologetically bad, yet I find myself in an odd situation. As terrible as it is, and it really is, I enjoyed playing it. I truly looked forward to turning it back on and picking up where I had left off. If a pleasure has ever made me feel guilty it’s this one, though I still find it difficult to recommend to anyone.
The game’s plot, which is often told through hilariously stagy dialog, revolves around a vampire-hating Templar knight who, for reasons never fully explained, gets eternally bound to a vampiress archer. Then the knight becomes a vampire himself, which really makes it a game about two vampires bound together.
It’s a plot that has the potential to set up a sort of genocidal Odd Couple, but the game never fully realizes the personality clash between the pair. On the few occasions when the characters did reference their ridiculous situation, it served only to remind me that their personalities had never been developed. The obliviously shallow story continues all the way up to the game’s not-shocking-at-all ending.
If it were only B-movie writing holding the game back I would write it off as an intentional parody that meant to make me laugh out loud. Sadly, the gameplay proves even more shallow. Not only is it a chore to manage the ample loot, but acquiring new items makes no noticeable difference in how the game plays. An up or down indicator lets you know which items carry higher stats than others, and I assume that equipping the new items helped me make it to the game’s end, but every sword felt like every other sword and armor seemed to serve as little more than a visual change in your character.
The combat consists of a regular “light” attack and two “power” attacks that are on cooldown timers. Characters also harness their vampiric magic to push or pull enemies and key environmental elements which sometimes became part of the game’s simplistic platforming segments. Feeding on the blood of enemies serves to replenish health and was probably the most satisfying aspect of the combat, however for reasons that are never explained away (and are transparently balance-related), strong enemies and bosses are immune to these powers.
Hacking away with a sword and then seamlessly switching to Alysa in order to fire off a stream of arrows works well, but the action fails to evolve in an interesting way throughout the game. When shielded enemies, whose shields must be destroyed with a “strong” attack before they become vulnerable to damage, are introduced halfway through the campaign, it represents the biggest addition to the game’s simple slash-rinse-repeat formula.
Corpses often leave behind glittering piles of gold, and old or unused equipment can be sold to a vendor in the game’s solitary hub area (and to a story related vendor later on.) Aside from replenishing Alysa’s supply of bombs, which I only needed to do once, the vendor served no real utility outside of clearing out inventory space. While I hadn’t earned enough money to buy even one of the vendor’s two top-tier weapons, I didn’t need them in order to breeze through the game’s finale.
Throughout the campaign, I was faced with moral decisions that affected the way the game played out — at least, that’s what game’s advertising says. In reality, there were only two major decisions to be made, and they weren’t just ham-fisted, but rather an offered up an entire Easter banquet of apish drama. Not only were the decisions laughably presented, but the outcomes based on your decisions were so minimal that you might have forgotten you even made a choice at all if not for the occasional blunt references in inconsequential lines of dialog.
Boss fights suffer a yawning lack of imagination, with many encounters amounting to little more than working a strong enemy’s health down only to have them heal and send in a wave of lesser enemies while you rinse, wash, and repeat the process a given number of times. Worse yet, when bosses reach a “defeated state” (which is often prior to their health bar hitting ‘empty,’) the game jarringly cuts to a cinematic scene.
The lack of transition and the speed at which these scenes engage is disorienting. Worse, when it happened in the middle of an attack chain ending the final boss fight it caused me to inadvertently skip the majority of the game’s concluding scene.
To call Blood Knights an underwhelming title would be doing it justice. Yet while every single aspect of the game feels like a university student’s Junior year project, nothing was insurmountably broken. I found myself yearning for the next eye-rolling, knee slapping line of dialog or “plot twist,” and was genuinely happy any time I’d pick up the controller to play.
While it’s okay to like a bad game, it’s not an excuse to call a bad game good. Blood Knights is worth playing in the same way as Paul Blart: Mall Cop is worth watching; both are a waste of time even if it’s entirely possible to revel in the moment.