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SummaryNever underestimate the power of crap gameplay when it comes to trashing good ideas
The GoodEvery once in a while a game manages to pack such cool ideas into itself that you could swear there's no way on earth that game could suck. That's really the first impression one gets from Bloodnet, an rpg/adventure hybrid from Microprose that sets itself appart thanks to it's unique setting and creative content.
Basically what you have here is, as another reviewer noted, the closest thing to a Shadowrun game on the PC. Why? Because the game takes place in a typical retrofuturistic cyberpunk universe where the rise of cyberspace and technology has turned the cities of the world into dark and grim technocracies where the rich live idillic lives surrounded by the latest technological wonder and the poor live among the wastes of the megalopolis. Only the cyberspace remains as the last frontier between both worlds, and those few lucky ones able to deck into it can escape their shitty fate and live a romantic, outlaw-like existance sticking it to the man as per standard cyberpunk regulations.
The game thus places you in a futuristic New York which houses giant megacorporations, outlaw gangs of deckers, cybersurgery groups, and underground groups that lurk in the shadows. These later ones bring me to the Shadowrun side of things which, as you might have guessed, entails the addition of certain fantasy elements to the classic cyberpunk universe. In this case vampires, Dracula-like vampires that suck blood, hate garlic and that sort of stuff. While most of the world lives unaware of their existance, they are very real to the people that live in the slums and serve as their foodstock. And they will be very real to you, Ramsom Stark, a veteran decker that falls for a gorgeous pale-skinned brunette and ends up with a pair of fangs sucking the life out of his neck. Fortunately thanks to some neurological disease, you had some sort of neuro implant installed a while ago, so you don't turn into a vampire right away, you have most of their powers, but unfortunately your humanity (represented by a large bar) is slowly slipping away as your bloodlust rises. Whenever it hits the maximum you go berzerk and bite someone with the corresponding loss of popularity and subsequent loss to your humanity. The quest is on and you have a limited time to do it, so you'd better find a cure to your problem pronto. Unfortunately the first move you make, which takes you to an old friend and the person that gave you your implant, thrusts you into a nasty corporate ploy which endangers the fate of cyberspace and is oddly connected to your own bloodsucking situation.
The game thus lets you loose on New York with a handful of clues that go unlocking the main plotline and take you to different locations all over the city map in the same way as classic adventure games. Once in a location you often have to talk to this or that person, get this or that item and every now and then solve some very light puzzles. On top of that you also have to journey into cyberspace to download critical clues and programs, which serves as an extension of the main game, and there's also the matter of the rpg angle, which includes a stat/skill based system, equipment and inventory management that also includes the ability to assemble and disassemble weapons and items as well as recruiting party members and companions to make a party of up to 6 partners to help you complement your skills as well as aid you in the turn-based combat that you have to run into every now and then and which involves all sorts of firearms, sci-fi weapons and esoteric vampire-slaying equipment.
If you don't think all of that is cool enough, the flow of the game is completely up to you, with the only constraints being your ever increasing bloodlust (but you can eventually overcome it to extend your playing time inmensely). You can pursue the main storyline or take some time off doing any of the many subquests that offer money, items or unique party members as rewards, or you can just slack off and go around picking fights and earning experience. Bloodnet's New York is pretty vast and filled with interesting locations and characters and that brings me to the excellent writing and dedication poured into the dialogues, descriptions and textual information in the game. You'll meet loads of unique characters with lavish names like Phree Thought, etc. all ready to dish out tidbits of information that build the gameworld and connect the different storylines.
The BadWell after waxing so much about the bitching creative content in this game I would be the first one to recommend it, unfortunately Bloodnet is the most clear example of that age old problem known as the "Great ideas stuck on crap game". Really, it's a shame to admit it, but practically every thing you read above that was so good, it's downplayed thanks to a collection of lackluster gameplay mechanics, design flaws and just plain lousy execution.
I don't even know where to begin here, the interface and controls are incredibly weak, making the exploration, retrieval and equiping of items a frustrating chore as you have to scroll in only one direction through the party lineup and move one at a time the items you want. The party management is horrendous, with their incorporation being one-time affairs that besides being just plain crappy go as far as making the game unsolvable! For instance: Does Rymma have better fighting skills than Chuck? Well let's let him go! Oh but wait, since he has an important part later in the game you would want to keep him around... Bad luck pal, once dismissed characters dissapear into the void never to be seen again. This also happens with items and npcs as another reviewer noted: kill Harker or don't pick that gasmask and you won't ever be able to continue with the game.... not that anyone will ever tell you, but hey! At least when you lose a party member they leave their inventory in a neat little pile for you to go picking up item-by-item and hope that whatever order the game imposes when throwing them into the party's inventory doesn't force you to fiddle around later, at least not too much.
The stat/skill system is a complete joke, which is a shame as it might have been the key for a truly non-linear experience, but seeing as how none of the skills are really worth shit, the only thing you seem to upgrade with experience are your hitpoints, and the way you earn experience is completely ambiguous. Want a hint for your character generation in Bloodnet? Think Combat. Put EVERYTHING into combat skills, because that's all that matters. Every other skill is supplemented by your added party members (which thanks to scripting reasons you must recruit anyway) and while the flow of the game is completely up to you this does not mean in any way that it's a non-linear experience. Sure, it's not as linear as Mario Bros. but to call Bloodnet non-linear is about as true as if you took Monkey Island, slapped to it a stat model and random combat and called it a non-linear experience. The plot progresses in a defined order and there is only one way to achieve things which is, of course, to kick ass and take names, hence my recommendation for you to turn Stark into a bona-fide Street fighter, I made the mistake of developing a decker/thief character and suffered dearly through the endgame which forces you to fight alone against a selection of enemies, before (obviously) killing Gonzo the bad guy...niiiiice...
And speaking of fighting, want another hint? AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS. Seriously. The fighting system in Bloodnet is so horribly flawed it's almost painful to write about it. The concept behind is for it to be a squad turn-based one, with combat being entered usually by the enemies (though you can also force it with a command) and then proceeding to place your characters and give them orders each turn on what actions to take. You can tell your characters to target specific bodyparts, but there's no particular difference between hitting the head or the leg of an enemy (though such weapons as stakes need to be targeted to the torso for instance). The combat however is completely devoid of things such as useful feedback (only a brief note in the end tells you if all the shooting you just saw hit someone or not as the only animation for hits happens when someone dies...). There are other far worse flaws that can screw up your fights such as dodgy unit placement and horrible movement, plus such blatantly lousy flaws such as the inability to access your inventory (except for what you have equiped) which results in such joyful moments as having your rifle (a two-handed weapon) break up and being unable to access any other weapon since you had originally used all your equipment slots, regardless of the fact that you have a complete arsenal in your backpack... heck, there's lots more, however the worst one I think was the one that prevented me from quitting the game and reloading while in combat and forced me to reset whenever I just couldn't stomach the whole thing :).
Another problem comes with the lack of any sort of questlog or organization chart to keep track of all the different quests and adventures you might decide to tackle. The only sort of aids you get are a starting list of contacts to help you get moving and a dialogue recorder that is completely useless as it only lists the names (in no particular order mind you) of the people you encounter and what they had to say. Let me ask you this: if you can't even remember what quests you have going on, just how in the hell are you supposed to remember who the hell gave you the quest, as the log keeps track of EVERY character you've met in no order whatsoever??? Who the hell could have thought this to be a useful aid?? The only result of this feature is that you'll decide NOT to further explore the subquests and extras in the game... not that you would miss anything, I did a lot of them and they were all derivations of FedEx quests a la "find me X item or tell me where Y person is"...
I can go on and on and on and on, practically every other feature is rendered an annoying, infuriating mess due to poor design choices. The weapon customization is rendered useless as there's no gain from saving up the cash by making your own Inert/Rad suits when the poor balancing means you have enough cash to buy a truckload of them... Cyberspace is just an even more boring version of the main gameworld except the backgrounds are all trippy and shit and you have to type in your destination instead of selecting them from an overhead map.... And this brings me to the inconsistencies in the graphic layout of the game. There's a collection of some truly beautiful graphics in this game, such as in the edgy character portraits that seem ripped right out of fantasy artbooks, or the illustrations in the overhead menu and screens such as the character generation one, however for the main game display they chose to use the shittiest collection of lousy backgrounds and sprites that look like better shaded versions of King Quest 1's. Really, I known when people say amateurish and kiddie-like you seem to be stretching the truth, but there's just no other way one can describe the ugly, disproportioned backgrounds that seem like a collection of color blotches and the group of 5 generic sprites that seem to stand in for almost every character...heck, at least the sounds are good and moody enough to convey the dark cyberpunkish atmosphere of the game.
The Bottom LineWhen thinking of Bloodnet I think of a collection of developers that had a truly great idea in their hands, but probably due to internal turmoil ended up stranded in a generic game engine that was wrapped up in little or no time and shipped with only minimal testing. That's the only way I can think of to justify what's essentially the most blatant example of a great idea poorly... well, make that maddening, frustrating and infuriatingly poorly executed.
Cyberpunk games are always a cool thing, and the addition of fantasy elements and interesting writting makes it an interesting thing to at the very least experience momentarily, but do NOT believe for one second that you are going to get any enjoyment out of this game. The poor gameplay in Bloodnet not only removes the luster from the original concept but goes as far as to drag the game into the voids of truly horrible games.
On the other hand, you can always think of it as the most interesting lousy game you've never played.