What begins as a search-and-rescue mission for a missing recon team turns into -- during the course of one endlessly rain-drenched evening in LA -- a face-off between four members of the spec ops arm of the AIB (American Information Bureau) and four of Los Angeles' Prime Walkers (the city's Chief Executive Vampires).
You fill the black assault boots of John Lloyd, sole survivor in his unit from a five years' past ambush by a coven of "Nightwalkers" (the game's revamped word for "vampire"), equipped with all the generic trappings of special operative's gear. Hank Harrison is team leader, Claire Kelly is sniper -- though, strangely, she's pretty much always stuck with rear guard -- and Duane Hanson is the congested-sounding communications specialist. But aside from their assigned duties, no one character steps forward with any perceivable personality, with the voice actors only putting forth an appropriate amount of effort to not stutter over the low-brow script. The story's authenticity seemingly stems from a writer that did pay a lot of attention to depictions of pseudo-military organizations … in straight-to-DVD movies.
Vampire Rain (or simply "Rain" in the original Japanese version) is a stealth-action import from Artoon that's saturated in dubious mission/tutorial structures -- and is several inches above the flood zone when it comes to aggravating enemies. What it lacks in gothic grit it makes up for in dull, butter-knife gameplay, which says nothing of the production values and budget-minded design, per se, since there's no points directly docked just for working with a thin wallet. Vampire Rain is insufferable only for prolonging screen time with antiquated schemes like long, protracted death scenes (get used to 'em), cliché-driven movement puzzles involving steam pipes and nonsensically placed weapon stashes, and for the 90-degree angles aligning the square aesthetic of every building, crate, street, and parallel-parked car. Strangely, only the rain contributes to the atmosphere, even as the game handholds your way through the insultingly redundant instructions in the beginning chapters. Sample:
[Observing from an overhead 2D cam] Harrison says, "This is where we are." [Scroll to comms facility.] "That's the comms facility." [Pause as we go back to the 3D map.] "Now look through your scope at the comms facility." [I look through the scope.] "See that? That's the comms facility."
I get it already. What I don't get is the utter lack of unlockable Xbox LIVE achievements (save body count rewards for online multiplayer) which is a bullish sign of Japan's Xbox-shunning breeding. Instead, each level is given a badge upon completion, gauged on expected factors such as weapon accuracy, damage taken, etc., all of which adds up to the bare minimum requirements of the stealth-action genre. Miniature tutorials open up between chapters and provide sometimes embarrassingly simple objectives that should've been incorporated directly into gameplay. And with Vampire Rain's hog-tied pacing, opening fire on an alleyway full of crates as one of the mid-chapter trials is some rare destructive fun. The storyline missions are in keeping with the stealth tradition, holstering your firearms 98 percent of the time, and never trouncing into Big Explosive Territory unless it's the Nightwalkers themselves pounding down a door or two. In fact, for the first several hours of gameplay, the only time you get to fire at anything is to shoot at padlocks, and to frighten away birds. Seriously.
The Nightwalkers themselves are the Terminator project of a developer wanting to reinvest an element of danger into the public perceptions of a softening vampire race. Nightwalkers flash instantly between normal-enough homo sapien mode, to pigeon-toed zombie mall walkers, to 28 Days Later fast-forwarding death machines. If a Nightwalker acquires a visual lock on you, you're done. You cannot run, you cannot hide, and your fully-automatic weaponry will not slow them down. As soon as you hear the frightening soundtrack crescendo into a nail-biting sonata, you are actually hearing for whom the bell tolls. And it tolls for thee entirely too many times to preserve your sanity. Even after you digest the rules for the Vampire Rain universe, dying is still the only answer to the ceaseless trial-and-error required to get through each mission the singular, unwavering right way.
Despite the 3D illusion of a sizeable city to run through, your movements are choke-chained to stay within each mission segment's invisible borders ("Stick with the mission, please!" Hanson keeps yelling through your earpiece). So you're left with a series of ride-on-rails objectives, imploring you to keep your hands in the vehicle at all times or die. End of story. In which you're treated to an unskippable Game Over screen filled with MS Paint blood splatters, and overwrought sound effects that seem less like a Nightwalker chewing on your neck, and more like the reality of two guys in a sound booth tearing apart a cantaloupe next to a microphone.
Essentially, the horror aspect of Vampire Rain is laughable, since it doesn't churn up any brooding atmospherics beyond the non-stop sheet of rain, and the only dread you will sense is not from dying at the hands of Nightwalkers, but dread from having to hear your gurgling-belch of a death cry while staring at that damnable Game Over screen for the umpteenth time (I didn't even know they still made those things).
If that little convention isn't old-timey enough, then phrases like "We haven't seen hide nor hair of them" is used at least twice in the script. Another head-scratcher came along when I listened to two Nightwalkers (in human form) talking to each other:
Lady: "What are you doing?"
Guy: "What? I did what you told me."
Guy: "You're getting on my nerves."
Lady: "I've never seen anyone like you before."
And I can't imagine anything too important was lost in translation from the original Japanese. A few times you'll overhear nonsensical drama between the Nightwalkers, and none of it contributes to the story, and none of it makes much sense, not even to the Nightwalkers talking to each other.
One ghostly character that doesn't speak is a little girl from Lloyd's past. But if you've seen one spooky, speechless schoolgirl in a Japanese horror game carrying a music box, you've seen 'em all. It's a staple to the genre and, while one of the few intriguing moments creeping around the not-so-creepy story, it's a long-worn out trope of scary campfire story time.
At last, over half a dozen chapters in, Lloyd gets a chance to put some hurt on the Nightwalkers. It's sniper shots to the head, shotgun blasts at close range, and backstabbing with a UV knife that finally let you get your hands dirty. The other half of your arsenal -- the pistol, sub machine gun, and fully-automatic rifle -- are worthless in the face of a charging Nightwalker. The inclusion of such weaponry is completely superfluous except for a few heavily-scripted moments when your entire squad is lined up to open fire on some of the baddies. Even then, it's terribly unsatisfying since it was a completely scripted moment with minimal input on your part beyond pulling the right trigger on your controller. It's a good thing you get some sniping, shotgunning, and stabbing action, as it feels good every single time you get to reduce those godforsaken Nightwalkers into a pillar of ash and smoke -- them looking like a long pull off a cigarette -- and watching them wash away as a vomitous spill of acidic residue. A fitting death, considering how Vampire Rain tries to inject an outdated mode of "sexy" into these beasts by having most Nightwalkers be avid chain-smokers. There's your M for Mature rating, kids!
But not so fast. Many movements you make are interrupted by too-tightly placed cut scenes, especially when you start moving around with your team on the same screen. You'll see a cut scene of your squad moving towards a door they need to breach. Then you're given 10 steps' worth of in-game time as you run up to the door. Then you're interrupted by another cut scene of your squad going inside the building for a continuing cut scene of some little bit of big-yawn horror. This is one dusk-till-dawn game that could've learned a lot more pacing and direction from the B-grade films it halfheartedly imitates.
If you've really got to drag this one out, the standard deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag games all await on LIVE (with team variations of these matches intact). It will finally scratch your itchy trigger finger -- since the single-player game predominantly fits you in Chinese finger-cuffs -- and in multiplayer you can be a high-jumping, powered-down Nightwalker, or an ambling, gun-toting human. This should give you about 30 more minutes of extended gameplay before you righteously take this energy-draining, bloodsucking sack and burn it in effigy.
Without any tension buildup, the stealth-action is merely electroshock therapy when you make bad decisions. Without any psychological suspense, the survival-horror won't elicit any flinching from unexpected scares or cringing from alarming imagery. If you approach Vampire Rain more appropriately as an only-one-way-to-win 3D puzzle game … you'd still be justified in calling for a trade embargo against producer Artoon.