In the world of video games the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is constantly challenged by games made by developers with banners displaying unique ideas. These ideas are frequently innovative, eye-popping, and engaging.
The BloodRayne series held that kind of niche for me. It was unique, and definitely vibrant, with a dashing female character who just happened to be half-vampire. The earlier games, for the PlayStation 2, included accessibility features for the visually impaired, one of which was the different vision modes that you could switch on or off at a whim.
Even though the previous BloodRayne games exuded participatory fun for my disabled limbs, the edition of BloodRayne Betrayal was a different kind of package altogether. I happened to download the demo on a lone Wednesday night while wondering how many goodies nestled in the PSN universe. I liked the previous BloodRayne adventures, and this one offered a demo, so why not test out a game before the buy? I wouldn’t want to splurge, hoping to sink my fangs into a riveting plot, only to discover that the content has been drained of all-inclusive intentions. With slight eagerness, a lot of wonder, and minimal thirst, I soon downloaded this tantalizing demo to my console.
Appearances can be deceiving, and in the case of this demo, there were many first appearances that didn’t justify the mess of confusion I was to endure later. The menus had easy-to-read text with very legible letters placed starkly on a high contrasted surface, making my face split with excitement as I tweaked the game settings to suit my needs.
Soon after I jumped into the demo, wondering what kind of wild and revealing adventure the original video game femme fatale, Rayne, and I would endure. Would we have to battle Dracula? Would I hold my composure through all the twists and turns that this demo promised?
Within seconds it became evident that I would never know what the story was about or even what the controls were. The game opened up to a location I had trouble deducing. It looked like I was in the woods, or outside a mansion. The moon hung in the upper right, where the first speech bubble materialized and dematerialized quicker than a flash of lightning.
Wonderful. Speech bubbles. I fought hard not to exude any extra effort to squint at the rapidly typed exposition and dialogue. I had no idea what the text said so I watched the camera pan slowly to the left before our heroine damphir (the official name for a half-vampire) stepped out, starting the adventure.
Since I couldn’t see any of the prompts, ironically displayed on glaringly white surfaces, making the text even more impossible to decipher, I was to figure out the controls myself. It appeared that pushing square resulted in a blade attack. I’m sure the texts that shot across splotches of white that popped up near my character were very helpful tutorials, but I might as well have imported the demo from a different planet. The glaring white forefront of the grey words that could rival a hair strand served as nothing more than an annoying reminder that my vision was impaired, but no matter, I was going to finish the demo!
The directions were easy to figure out because I could only go left and right. Subjecting to video game tradition, I’d figured that going right would be the right way to go so I started in that direction, still wondering why I was even there and, more importantly, what happened to get me here in the first place. At least I knew who I was.
As the quest to the right continued, I wondered how people without sight problems could play this. Environmental elements distinguished themselves by reflecting the moon's light on lower portions of a ledge or wall, leaving me wondering, on several occasions, if I was fatally trying to jump onto a platform that was higher than the twin towers. I repeatedly fell off ledges that, I’m sure, led to secrets if I had just remembered to tap the X button to jump to get onto a higher ledge, but I pressed on anyway.
I soon reached the pinnacle of sanity. I was merrily strolling along, wondering how I sucked blood to regenerate health when a yellowish gas peppered me from, what looked like, a white wall. To make matters worse, enemies soon attacked me, leaving me to engage in battle with a poisonous geyser that I couldn’t see. I couldn’t tell where the gas was coming from, and since the camera kept zooming out for some reason, my carefully executed attacks on the bad guys soon morphed into random button mashing as I listened to Rayne grunt with each loss of health until she finally died.
I kept trying, in vain, to at least find a camera control on my future attempts, or find a way over the spurting poison, but the textures of the environment made it impossible to tell what was a ledge and what wasn’t. Text with buttons appeared just before I reached the poisonous geyser, but, with the inability to read it, I wondered if this demo was designed to be as inaccessible as possible to disabled gamers.
I made a few more attempts and soon gave up after I died about 67 times in the same location. Without an ounce of shame, I exited and promptly deleted it from my hard drive, wondering if anyone paid for the game and regretted it without having tried the demo first.
A demo is a testimony of a games’ potential and direction. Since this demo didn’t even provide enough inclusion for me to know what was happening with the story, I knew the full game would be the same. The demo showed me that the thought of disabilities wasn’t considered, and it showed me that I would have ruptured a blood vessel if I had paid the price they were asking for on the PSN store.
The older BloodRayne titles had many memorable moments laced with fun and heart-stopping action as I deftly manipulated the half-vampire out of the same situations the same way gamers without disabilities did, sporting no problems in the way of video game accessibility. The BloodRayne Betrayal demo, however, was a demo that I’d happily never download again.
If a demo is an example of what a game will be or could be, the demo should at least be more inclusive.