Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Review aka “…it is the blood of Caine which decides our fate.”
Based on White Wolf’s roleplaying system, Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodlines explores the appropriately named World of Darkness from the point of view of a newly-made vampire. Riddled with bugs on release thanks to the ridiculous pressure placed on its developers, Troika Games, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines received less attention than it deserved. Some years on, the community has fixed the most egregious bugs and it has become a brilliant game.
Story aka “Real terror is not the sight of death, it is the fear of death.”
The story of Bloodlines is a delicious foray into a bleak world of gruesome characters, all with their own agendas and lack of conventional moral compass. Despite my normal disdain and snobbery for RPGs played in third-person over-the-shoulder, Bloodines has one of the richest stories of an RPG, and is engaging throughout.
The player starts off a lowly and young vampire, and is then dragged through the world by a series of plots, machinations and bloody deeds. For those uninitiated in the World of Darkness, as I was, it neatly explains the way the world works and then plunges you in at the deep end. Not unlike what happens to the protagonist, actually. The overall story is a winding road of twists, turns and beheadings, and actually gives a surprising amount of control over its eventual climax to the player. Just like putting together the pieces of jigsaw puzzles, each and every ending is satisfying in its own way, and that’s even without considering the fun had in the journey.
The NPCs are delightful. Really, they are amongst the most flavourful NPCs I have had the pleasure to eat – I mean, meet – in some time. Full of life (or death), and each carrying about their own (un)lives in a very believable way. I don’t think I had a single problem with immersion at any point in the game, and the NPCs really do play a part in that.
So good are the NPCs that, even though one has no companions and travels the game solo, I actually cared when they died or suffered other misfortunes (whether by my hand or the hands of others). It’s rare that a game does that to me for an NPC which doesn’t travel with you on a permanent basis.
Gameplay aka “Every time I yank a jawbone from a skull and ram it into an eyesocket, I know I’m building a better future.”
Combat in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines starts off as pretty button-mashing, but later on becomes quite intriguing. With it being possible to specialise in various different avenues, such as fists, melee weapons or firearms, as well as the special vampire-abilities, the game soon escapes the trappings of indiscriminate attacking. This sensation is heightened by the relative fragility of almost everyone around – including the protagonist. Almost anyone can be killed with enough shotgun blasts or swipes of a sword, and you are no exception.
If the combat is enjoyable, the non-combat interactions with NPCs are something else entirely. Not only can you choose from a variety of mundane methods to handle certain encounters, such as bribery, persuasion, seduction and intimidation, but some vampires can make use of their unnatural abilities as well.
Almost every NPC can be dealt with without resorting to combat, and if not, they can usually be circumvented by making use of a different skill. If you can’t convince someone to do what you want in some way, you can probably find the information you seek through hacking or lockpicking, or by breaking something down, or sneaking past them. Or, of course, latching onto their neck when they aren’t looking and taking their precious blood.
As you might have guessed from all of these skills, there is a very large variety of character advancement paths you can take. At character creation there are also 7 different vampire clans to choose from, each with their own special abilities and influences in the game. These influences don’t just affect your own abilities, but also how interactions with the rest of the world go. This is most evident if one chooses to be a hideous Nosferatu or an insane Malkavian – playing them is almost like playing an entirely different game.
Unfortunately, towards the very end of the game, combat takes precedence over everything else due to the developers becoming increasingly rushed, which is a shame given how incredibly strong the non-combat gameplay is. Thankfully, it does not go on terribly long, and occurs when your character has enough interesting abilities to not make the lengthy combats overly dull. There is a small amount of satisfaction to be had in the wanton slaughter, in fact.
In terms of interface, it’s all hunky-dory when running about and chatting to people, but properly targeting enemies in a large brawl isn’t as easy as it could be.
Graphics and Audio aka “I’m sure he spares no expense when archaeology is at stake.”
Based on the Halflife engine, the graphics are quite dated now, but they are still good enough to play quite happily. The atmosphere is really well done, despite the dated graphics, so once you are used to it, it becomes forgotten quite quickly.
This atmosphere is greatly helped by the music – the soundtrack is simply fantastic, and suits the game incredibly well. The voice acting is also very good, and the idiosyncrasies of the characters are conveyed splendidly by the actors. Listening to the characters in Bloodlines really makes me wish that someone would remake Planescape: Torment with full voice-acting, as the characters are equally bizarre, and yet wonderfully brought to life by those responsible for the voices.
Modding aka “So… what’s it like to be a turtle?”
The modding community is ongoing for Bloodlines, if slow to develop, but is most worth mentioning for the unofficial patches. There are two rival patches to choose from, the True Patch and the Unofficial Patch, each with different design philosophies. Normally this would not be worth mentioning, except that the basic game is so full of bugs, that you simply must use one of the two to play the game without killing yourself.
Normally I would reduce the score of a game for being so unplayable, but the user-created patches manage to fix the problems quite well. This review may be considered a review of fixed version of the game, if nothing else.
Conclusion aka “Police don’t have any suspects at this time, but they’re pretty sure that it was you.”
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a brilliant game, full of dark humour, viciousness and intrigue, all brought to life in a superb fashion. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of the vampire chic, this game is well worth looking at.