The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile Review (Xbox360)

For a game that features waves of blood, a mental asylum patient and a sort of dark and morbid collection of hand-drawn environments, The Dishwasher: Vampire Style is surprisingly inoffensive. In amongst the grim setting and heavy guitar riffs, there's a button-basher that always feels like it longs for just that little bit more.

Not that Vampire Smile is terrible - far from it. There's hectic combat to be found, some fantastic level design, and a story that never like to sit in a single spot for too long. The problem, however, is that the game never seems to reach its full potential, instead serving up the same enemies, the same combat, the same crazy all the way through. The content levels definitely help to neutralise the balance of fun, but we're still left wondering what this game could have been.

Boss battles are freaky as hell. We'll be having nightmares for weeks

The Dishwasher: Vampire Style begins with the crazy, and never really lets go. You are a prison in some sort of space jail - or are you a patient in a mental asylum? Flashes back and forth between these two worlds appear to jar each other at first, building a gorgeously tense atmosphere, but it quickly becomes apparently that the lead character can switch between these worlds to pass through solid objects.

Something in the mental world is chasing you, however, and the story builds from there, flashing back and forth whenever it's time to get a little bit crazy. There isn't exactly much of a story to follow in all honesty, and it can be incredibly confusing when you do try to take it in - but it's easy to appreciate the dark and mysterious settings, and the cutscenes and flashes do a great job of cutting the main action up.

If you played last year's downloadable title Shank, combat will feel familiar, if a little more bloody. Essentially you've got the X button to smash enemies in the face with, B for grabbing and launching them at the ground, and Y for driving a chainsaw through their faces (again, Shank anyone?). The fighting is intense, especially later on when bad guys are all around.

It's also rather difficult - but in a good way. The enemy don't just come lumbering up to you and take a beating, and you'll need to zip around each room taking the strongest ones down before dealing with the weaklings. The bad guys can even hurt each other, which is great fun to experiment with. Once an enemy has been beaten to within an inch of his life, you can then perform a zoom-in blood-splattering move to finish them off.

There's a serious amount of blood involved. It's all for show, and it's kinda comic-book style with gritty hand-drawn visuals and loads of completely over the top effects and moves. But it looks fantastic, and really gives the game a huge amount of style. That's what Vampire Smile is really all about - making you feel insanely powerful, cutting down enemies in all directions and spilling their blood in the most inane ways.

The mental asylum flashes pop up occasionally to quell the repetitive combat

Yet as great as it all initially feels, Vampire Smile falls into the same pit that Shank did. After a couple of hours of button-bashing baddies to death, you're still bashing the very same buttons to kill the very same enemies. Sure, the character models may change, but there are barely any tactics involved - it's always simply a case of running at an enemy and hammering X until it's time to hit B and finish them. Rinse, repeat, end game.

The regular boss battles attempt to quell this tide of repetition, and to an extent do a good job. These huge lumbering titans with incredibly silly names still usually have the same weak spots (get behind, slash, repeat), but the enormity of the situation gives them an added edge. These battles are also rather difficult, again emphasising that each is a break from the norm.

Level design is glorious at times, with some fantastic wall-to-wall and air acrobatics and hidden areas to find. Sometimes you'll come across a room that seemingly has no way through, but exploration wins the day and you'll find genuinely clever for figuring it out. The second campaign, played using The Dishwasher character from the first release, isn't so hot, but learning the backstory is entertaining enough, if a little flimsy.

Apart from the main campaign, you've also got co-op elements to try out. One player can control a cat that follows along behind the main character, giving support in combat. This can be played either local or online, which is a great touch. It's entertaining to a certain degree, but it's not long before the person playing the support role becomes bored.

Arcade mode is a little more successful, allowing up to four players to fight the cause together, with hordes of enemies coming in from all angles. We could easily see ourselves battling through this mode for an evening with a group of friends online, but as with the single player, it does become repetitive after a short while.

A cat with wings! Cute and formidable!

Before we wrap up, it's worth mentioning the guitar elements quickly. Now and again, you'll find an instrument in the main campaign that will start a Guitar Hero style game. Using either your regular controller or a guitar controller, play well and you'll earn cash. In a nutshell, they're a bit pointless, and it's really not worth lugging your plastic guitar out of the cupboard for this brief moments.

The Dishwasher: Vampire Style is a rollickingly gory ride, packing with blood, style and content. If only it built on its foundations, rather than pounding us with the same repetitive gameplay throughout, this would be a must-have. Fans of the original will definitely want to completely ignore us and pick this up.

Top Game Moment: Flashing to the mental asylum and allowing yourself to be completely freaked out.

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