BTVS: Chaos Bleeds is the most expensive piece of fan fiction I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong though. The game plays alright, and the story itself is pretty fair, if you take it as a completely separate and stand-as-far-away-from-the-season-it’s-based-in tale. And it sure beats the heck out of the infamous Star Trek: The Next Generation “Kiddie Crew Enterprise” script that floated around the Internet a few years ago, but does Chaos Bleeds work in the “Buffyverse” itself? Not especially.

There are two sides to this coin. On the one side, you have a pretty solid fighting game with destructible terrain, combo moves, and unique weapons; all of which combine to give a solid, if unremarkable, amount of entertainment to the player. On the other, you have a story probably written with the fans in mind by two former writers of the show. As such, you get a lot of fan-favorite characters like Faith (gamely played as ever by the luscious Eliza Dushku), Ethan Rayne (voiced as though in a trance by Robin Sachs, who played Rayne on the show) and some old villains many thought dead.

It’s been interesting playing this game, being the devote “Buffy” fan I am, as I’m burning through an above average fighter with some stellar moments, but seriously brought down by some design flaws. This all while not believing a thing that was happening since the story doesn’t work in the timeline. One thing I will say right away: If you do not want spoilers at all, do not read the back of the box, nor further into the manual past what buttons do what. The book in particular gives you a run down of all the characters in the game, some of whom should have been kept a secret. Also, there is a cool “episode guide” that details every chapter in the game. Great idea and functional in its way, but if you want a hint of mystery then don’t read ahead.

As for the gameplay, BTVS: Chaos Bleeds is a mixed bag. Combat is fun (and it’s not possible for vampire tossing to get old) but far too frequently I’d get caught in a combo and get pounded on. Also, the balance between the playable characters is less than remarkable. Spike, Buffy, and Faith are all natural bruisers, with Spike naturally being faster than either of them. One of the other characters is wicked cool, but that would be a spoiler I won’t divulge. That then brings us to both Willow and Xander.

Neither Willow nor Xander are natural fighters. Part of the scariness on the show was they felt like real people who could be attacked and maimed at any point. To the show’s credit, they frequently were. In later seasons (starting with Season 5 where Chaos Bleeds is set), Willow’s sorceries started getting stronger to the point of scary, while Xander always remained Xander. Now, how exactly is it that the both of them can flip vampires through the air? Willow can use her spells to protect herself and to launch attacks like fireballs, sunlight, and lightning at her foes, but Xander is just stuck using whatever is handy. Both are slow and, in my opinion, should have had missions more geared towards stealth than straight combat as that’s more in tune with the show, and considering how sparse health is in the game, it would have been helpful to have them not in combat as much. Whether that was possible or not, it’s a suggestion for the next game.

Also, to the developers for the next game, please try and remind the woman doing Willow’s voice that she was not as much of a high-strung nerd as she was in the first season. I’ve read complaints that the actress’s performance in Chaos Bleeds is ripping off Allyson Hannigan in “American Pie” but I disagree. She sounds like Willow did in the first season more than anything else. The woman playing Anya managed to hit the fast-talker side of the character but nothing else. And the girl who played Buffy in last year’s game reprises her role and again does a strong job. The rest of the notables are present with Anthony Stewart Head, James Marsters, Nicholas Brenden and Amber Benson voicing their characters.

As you progress in the game, you can find secrets on every level (usually just health or weapons) that will eventually let you unlock multiplayer characters and maps. In MP you can play straight Deathmatch, Domination, Slayer Challenge (where other players play as monsters and attack the Slayer), and Bunny Catcher where the players try to get the most bunnies. There are some inspired items in multiplayer, like getting the token called Chosen One which starts a timer that kills whoever has it once it hits zero. You can pass that off by attacking someone else. You can also get a token called Point Swap that performs as advertised and swaps your points with your opponents.

The graphics are really something strong. They’ve been refined from last year’s game and the models are now a little bigger and the environments look a lot sharper. I didn’t notice too many small details like reflections, but the use of shadows was very nicely done and the vampire explosions into dust were very well done too. The theme song may rock, but the rest of the music is just average. Not to mention the music plays over and over again, and since a lot of the levels will take a long time to get through this is almost headache-inducing. The sounds of smashing furniture, weapons firing or connecting with their targets and the sounds of vampires bursting into dust all are very well done. The voice acting for the most part is pretty good too. The principles (save Willow) are well done, though Marsters and Sachs both seem to be completely sleepwalking in their roles. These guys need to learn how to do voice overs before the next game, or fans more ravenous than me might get a little angry. The controls are much the same as before, with specific combos listed in the Slayer Handbook in your inventory. Hitting the right buttons in order will net a combo, from which you can do it again and string them together. Casting spells is done the same way. It’s too easy to get stuck in a combo though, so you have to watch out for that and not get button-happy, otherwise your opponent will step out of the way and nail you from behind. I had a lot of fun while playing Chaos Bleeds but there are some serious issues to discuss. Why is it you have levels taking on average half an hour to get through, but only have one or two “checkpoints” and no option to save your game mid-level? Kinda hurts the twitch gamer who wants to play for five minutes at a time. Also, I don’t understand the thinking of setting up an environment but forcing the player to go your specific way. In this day and age, why is free-form so hard to implement? For example, in an early Willow mission you have to raise the fork bars on a forklift and then jump up onto the box on the forks, and from there jump onto the top of the truck next to it. Fair enough, but I can also climb onto the back of the fork lift and be at comparable height to the box, so why is it I cannot jump onto the edge of the truck and pull myself up? No, I have to go around, up a ledge, then jump onto the forklift bars and then onto the box and then onto the truck. The plus side is there aren’t as many insane jumping puzzles as there were in last year’s game, and this year’s model tries to stick to the fighting. I’d play through Chaos Bleeds again, but for the fights not for the story. It may have been written for the fans, but this is a case where the fans should not have been listened to. You have characters brought back from a permanent end (especially one of the playable characters- he was dead and should have stayed there as his story was over) and two characters, Faith and Ethan, who were last seen in different prisons yet have managed to escape. But that’s nitpicking the story when in the end the game itself is what matters, and in that regard I had a fine time. There are a few quirks here and there, and the long levels with no mid-mission saving are especially hurtful when you’re very limited on health. It’s a challenge though, so if you like games a little higher on the difficulty curve, then check this one out. As a fan, I’m miffed at the story, which I doubt is what the creators want to hear. As a gamer, I had a good time with Chaos Bleeds and if you’re looking for a good fighting game, check this one out. It’s pretty dang fun for the most part, but it might be a little difficult to get in to if you’re not familiar with “Buffy”. The game presumes you know everyone and dives right in, which is fine if you’ve spent the previous five years watching the show, but if you haven’t then e-mail me and I’ll give you a quick breakdown of the show and characters to help out.