Game: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Rough diamonds. That’s a random enough way to start a review. But it’s one useful, if slightly unoriginal, way of looking at games. A rough diamond might not be the most pleasing shape, and may lack polish, but beneath it all, it is still a diamond. In contrast, you can polish glass to a high level of shine, but in the end, you’re still left with a lump of glass. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is definitely a rough diamond of a game, from Troika, a company that seemed to specialise in them.
Bloodlines is the second game set in White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing world. It’s a world which is basically our own, except that vampires really exist, and are all around us, keeping a low profile and doing their best not to be noticed. They’re ruled, whether they like it or not, by the Camarilla, who strictly enforce the rule of The Masquerade of the title. The Masquerade means that vampires must not reveal their identities to humans, and have to keep their whole existence a secret. It’s a brilliantly realised and gritty environment, perfect for RPGs. And Bloodlines actually allows you to role-play your character more than most of the higher profile games in the genre.
At the start of the game you get to choose which vampire clan you belong to, and each of these makes a genuine difference to the way the game plays out. For example, the Brujah clan is likely to go into a frenzy at any moment, while the Ventrue, leaders of the Camarilla, are more like the Vampire equivalent of royalty. The Tremere have incredibly powerful blood magic to use and Gangrel can take on animal forms. Nosferatu have become so ugly after changing into a vampire that the mere sight of them by a human is considered a violation of The Masquerade, leading to a game using stealth and navigating the cities via the sewers. Perhaps most entertainingly of all, the Malkavians are completely insane, giving them completely bizarre dialogue choices in all conversations and skills that can spread their madness onto others. All of these lead to very different ways of playing the game, and along with an interesting array of skills to choose from when levelling up, make it very replayable.
The game mostly takes place in four hubs representing various parts of Los Angeles, each one becoming available as you move through the main plot. But there are many side quests along the way, and the main plot will take you to several isolated levels too. Amongst other things you get to investigate poltergeist activity in a very scary level set in a haunted hotel, shotgun zombies in a graveyard and explore a twisted mansion belonging to the head Malkavian. All of these are imaginative, unique and brilliantly designed levels. In all, there are only a couple of missteps in these towards the end, mostly a tedious combat filled trudge through that bane of gaming, the sewers.
Graphically the game is very good for the time of release. It uses the Half-Life 2 Source engine, and due to the delay caused by the code leak problems for Half-Life 2, it was released at the same time as that game. Vampire Bloodlines doesn’t quite match the quality of HL2, but the characters are all well designed and animated, and have more personality due to the RPG nature of the game. The environments of the various districts of LA that the game takes place in are well designed, and look appropriately grimy and sleazy, fitting the themes of the game.
All of these things make Vampire Bloodlines one of the best RPGs around. But I started this review with some semi-coherent rambling about how it was a rough diamond, which suggests things aren’t perfect. The game is definitely flawed in some respects. The shooting certainly couldn’t stand up against an FPS game, feeling slightly clumsy and awkward. The guns also mostly feel very underpowered. On the other hand you have hand to hand, which is handy. The melee combat is far more powerful and feels a bit less clumsy, although it’s still not going to hold up to a dedicated hack and slash combat game. Which is fine, since this is an RPG, and the combat is good enough for what it does. The problem is that towards the end of the game, it seems to lose its focus on variety and choice of ways of playing, and the last few levels are almost entirely combat based. It’s a disappointing ending to the gameplay, although at least the story finishes with a bang, with an ending very appropriate to the political manipulation of the rest of the plot.
There were also many problems with bugs in the game when it first came out, even containing many misspellings in the subtitles. Fortunately, most of these were quickly fixed with a patch, and almost all of them were eliminated by subsequent fan-made patches, due to the unfortunate demise of Troika. So now the game has slightly more polish. But all of the problems are irrelevant in the long run anyway. Even with them, Vampire Bloodlines is still one of the most entertaining games around. With its brilliant atmosphere, interesting characters, great premise and one of the most well realised game worlds around, it’s still a diamond beneath the rough edges. So you can keep all the shiny polished FPS glass that lines the shelves. I’ll take this rough unpolished RPG diamond (possibly a blood diamond?) every time.
Glass is pretty useful for making windows though.
Save System Review: Save anywhere, hoorah!
Arbitrary Final Score:
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