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November 12, 2014

Xbox 360 Review – Blood Knights

by Master Pillow

Blood Knights is undeniably a B-budget title that doesn’t make any pretensions to be otherwise, yet the entire package is so decidedly sub-par with robotic animation, muddy textures, awful voice acting and brain-dead AI that it makes the game nigh unplayable.  About the only positive comment one can make is that the game indeed boots and doesn’t crash but that’s incredibly faint praise.

Every so often a no-name low budget game can be a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered but alas Blood Knights is not that game.  Instead, it tasks players to trudge through approximately 4-5 hours of gameplay that reminds one of everything wrong about video games in general.  It is as if the developers purposely set out to craft a title replete with every long-since forgotten design faux pas just to test each player’s intestinal fortitude.

From the stereotypical art design that starts with the two main characters that come straight from the “classic” mold where men sport ripped abdomens and women dress in the skimpiest outfits imaginable for no apparent reason to the outright hilariously overwrought dialogue, Blood Knights makes every effort to initially turn gamers off. This is a case where the game is “so bad it’s bad” as there is little of merit here to keep players entertained.

Blood Knights makes a feeble attempt to spin a meaningful plot and though the setup does have its possibilities the developers decided to take the low road and instead allow the narrative to merely exist in as barebones a manner as possible to link the various levels together.  The game focuses on an alternate Earth circa The Middle Ages where humans are at war with supernatural vampires.  As the story opens the hero, rather blandly named Jeremy, leads his small cadre of troops through a mountainous region hoping to track down vampires and a mysterious artifact.

The problem is that they have no clue where to go so in desperation a none-to-bright priest manages to bind Jeremy’s soul with that of a female vampire named Alyssa who now must inexplicably help them out.  As fate would have it, the group is ambushed and in the confusion of battle Jeremy falls and is himself turned into a vampire causing his surviving troops to brand him a traitor as they immediately desert and leave him to his destiny.

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To be fair the narrative’s setup has some degree of merit but that is predicated upon players thinking that the plot will revolve around Jeremy’s redemption and/or his growing relationship with Alyssa.  It is therefore, lamentable to find that the game never bothers to build on either of these concepts as the dialogue exchanges between Jeremy and Alyssa quickly degenerate into the worse buddy-movie banter imaginable while the entire subplot about Jeremy’s inner fight between his human past and vampire present is reduced to meaningless dialogue choices.

The ridiculous dialogue is made worse by some truly uninspired voice over work from all involved.  Both the actors for Jeremy and Alyssa sound as if they are merely standing in line at MacDonalds waiting to order a Big Mac while others like the priest Bartholomew and a huge hulking lout named Castello decide to ham it up and chew as much scenery as possible.

It is obvious that the developers have attempted to place moral dilemmas into the game, seen through various dialogue selections given to Jeremy over the course of the narrative.  These are incredibly black or white moments where Jeremy is given the opportunity to side with his human past or give in to his newfound vampire powers.  That sounds great in theory but the game treats each of these moments without sufficient gravitas and to make matters worse, never gives any hint as to how they affect the ongoing plot.  It isn’t until far into the game when one realizes that they really don’t change anything at all which is a major disappointment.

As for the banter between Jeremy and Alyssa the less said the better as this is one example where it really seems as if no one on the writing team understood the very premise they were concocting.  Not only is the soul bond not properly explained but Alyssa is probably the most accommodating character ever and comes across as far too well-adjusted, especially considering the fact that she has essentially been kidnapped against her will.  Instead of being disgusted at the thought of being emotionally linked to Jeremy, a famous vampire hunter, in his quest to hunt her own kind, Alyssa merely relents to the journey without nary a complaint.

One would think that she would throw venomous insults and warnings that she will kill them all if she could but instead, she traipses along like a cute puppy.  When Jeremy is suddenly turned into a vampire one would hope that she gives a biting sermon about karma biting him in the ass but once again she merely shrugs and then goes on helping him kill more vampires.  It is all so ridiculous and confusing just like every other aspect of this poorly conceived title.

Billed as a hack and slash action game, Blood Knights functions like other genre titles where players control two switchable characters as they mow down various enemies.  Keeping to “tradition” the male, Jeremy, wields a mighty sword while Alyssa flaunts her “bare assets” as she shoots her mighty crossbow.  Regardless of their weaponry both characters control virtually the same way with movement mapped to the left analog stick while the right stick aims.  There is a simple combo system in place as well as different special skills that each can utilize such as whirling around like a tornado with the sword or shooting fiery arrows but by and large they remain useless due to the game’s incredibly low difficulty level.

Blood Knights is seriously one of the easiest games I have ever played due to the fact that it contains some of the worse enemy AI imaginable.  This is a game where the enemies essentially defeat themselves due to one huge problem – the enemy detection zones are far smaller than your player character’s firing arcs.  This means that you can stand far away from enemies without being detected and merely send wave after wave of arrows at them until they keel over.

Let me repeat that in case I haven’t made myself clear.  Step 1: Stand far away.  Step 2: Shoot arrows.  Step 3: Watch them not care that they are being perforated by said arrows until they finally slump over and die. Step 4: Rinse and repeat.

Yes, enemy AI is this brain-dead and if the game actually tries to play a fast one on you and puts your characters in an enclosed space so that they have no choice but to wander into enemy detection zones you are screwed.  Actually, strike that.  You are going to be fine.  Why?  All you need to do is jump a character onto a nearby staircase or ledge or do the opposite and jump down to a lower area where you can once again shoot arrows into enemy faces with impunity because the AI is too dumb to either run away or, you know, jump up or down to confront you.

Admittedly, watching suicidal enemies stand around while getting skewered with arrows is initially mildly amusing but it certainly is an act that gets old quickly.  More sadistic gamers might try this instead: wander into the enemy’s detection zone just enough so that they start a mad dash run at your character and immediately move out of their zone.  This will cause them to inexplicably turn around and run back to their initial location.  If you do this quickly you’ll get a totally farcical Monty Pythonesque sequence where an enemy will run towards you, quickly turn away, turn back towards you and turn away again all the while getting arrows shot into their heads.  Do it just right and you can essentially get an enemy to spin like a ballerina or figure skater on the same spot while shooting them with projectiles until they die.

In other words, the game has so little redeeming qualities that the only real enjoyment comes from seeing how you can break it.  With no difficulty whatsoever, the game degenerates into shooting enemies from afar or watching them spin like tops till they perish.  It’s so mind-numbingly psychotic that it somehow achieves some small level of entertainment.  Also, it should be obvious by now that using this technique requires players to control Alyssa since she is the only one with a projectile attack which means that there are precious few moments when Jeremy’s melee skills are even required.

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While the AI is nonexistent, gamers will still end up dying through no fault of their own as the forced camera perspectives are ghastly as oftentimes enemy archers will not be shown on screen as they are purposely placed outside the field of view.  Still, that issue pales in comparison to the game’s biggest hindrance, being that the characters don’t jump properly at all and instead, merely appear as if they are defying gravity by levitating in the air.  This completely floaty mechanic will seriously cause frustration especially in conjunction with the awful camera perspectives as players will find their characters drifting off cliffs to their deaths.

The “fun” doesn’t end there as the game employs an inherently busted checkpoint system where huge tracks of the level have to be repeated if a character should meet their demise.  This is actually more prevalent in the first half of the game where the developer must surely have been lazy by not placing enough checkpoints.  However, in the latter half of the game these checkpoints magically reproduce so that they are far more numerous and in strategic locations.

Blood Knights for the Xbox 360 might have been a graphically decent game if it were released when the console went on sale way back in 2005 but it looks downright ugly when stacked up against modern titles.  Featuring muddy and oftentimes pixelated textures the game really is an eyesore as even its framerate isn’t particularly stable or fluid.  All the characters and enemies are made up of very few polygons while everything seems coated with a layer of saran wrap.  This awful effect is most easily seem with the main and supporting characters whose skins shine so unnaturally that it makes them look like extremely polished mannequins.  Animation is summarily low-grade and gamers will surely laugh as they watch characters robotically move as if made of as few joints as possible.

It should be crystal clear by now that Blood Knights is plainly not a very good gaming experience and though the title is a relatively short 4-5 hours that most of that time is damningly incompetent.  Killing enemies with impunity is good for a laugh or two but falling off cliffs and jumping into invisible walls surely do nothing but frustrate.  At a premium $14.99 this is one title to totally avoid and those who find that it is sometimes on sale through PC services like Steam should also give this one a wide berth.  Simply put, there are better ways to spend your hard-earned cash and those responsible for Blood Knights should seriously sit down at the drawing board and try to learn from all their mistakes making this game.

* out of ****

Developer: Deck 13

Publisher: DTP Entertainment

Released US: 11/01/2013

Released EU: 11/01/2013

© 2014 The Galactic Pillow

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