Enjoy This Game, No Matter How Hard it Tries to Stop You
Vampire Bloodlines is, without a doubt, a huge improvement over its predecessor. Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption was perhaps more polished to some degree, but it had its share of awful bugs and game design decisions, and a less satisfying story. Vampire Bloodlines turns the game into an FPS RPG, and for the most part, this is a good move. It retains the dark and gritty feel of the first game, and puts it to good use, creating a garish, sin-filled version of Los Angeles.
I am normally amused and disappointed by games that are formulaically “mature.” The use of the word mature often means three things: cursing, lots of violence, and overt sexuality. Bloodlines has these in spades, buts it’s a testament to the game’s good writing and plot that these elements were only a minor deterrent. Most characters have interesting stories and dialogue to impart, and the Source engine brings their faces to life, as does some surprisingly good voice acting. Just brace yourself for some very vulgar and sexually explicit dialogue. This is supposed to be an L.A. filled with vice-ridden, hedonistic, super-violent immortals, after all.
In the world of Bloodlines, there are 7 clans of vampires. You can play any of them, and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the Nosferatu are hideously deformed near-animals. They may be powerful, quiet and deadly stalkers, but they can’t blend in with humans. The Toreador, on the other hand, are powerful, suave aristocrats. They can’t feed on “impure” (re: rats, poor humans, “low blood”) victims, but they have political clout and old-money class.
Regardless of what class you pick, you’ll be able to level up your combat, magic (various “blood” spells) and more intellectual skills. These affect the gameworld noticeably. Try picking a lock, sneaking past a guard, or firing a shotgun at first level, and then do it again when you’ve spent 3 or 4 points on the skill. You will notice a huge difference. Bloodlines is an RPG to its core. Don’t make the mistake of letting its FPS perspective fool you. This is the natural evolution of its third-person predecessor, stat points, imaginary dice-rolls and all.
Bloodlines offers some surprisingly scary and well-designed levels. When you aren’t wandering around Hollywood or Santa Monica, looking for quests and blood, you’ll be sent on individual missions, which take place in separate levels. Some levels, like the abandoned (and possibly haunted?) hotel, the insane asylum, and a graveyard practically drip with fear and tension. One quest that has you investigating a series of increasingly sadistic snuff films is one of the scariest encounters I’ve ever had in a video game.
The combat is fun, if a bit awkward, and all of your abilities are useful, in one way or another. The persuasion and intimidation options are fun, but the best conversation technique of all is saved for one particular clan of vampires. The Malkavians are all half insane, and thus your responses to conversations are all in bizarre Cheshire cat speech. Even better, you can use some blood to make other people just a little crazy, winning them over to your point of view.
The game allows you to really customize your world, with different apartments to move into, different clothes and armor, and different ways of completing almost every mission. You’ll realize that you can complete each mission a number of different ways: sneaking, fighting, magic, charming, intimidating, and ultimately a combination of several of these. This free-form gameplay reminded me a lot of Deus Ex, but in a much more interesting world, to be honest. That is actually on of the highest complements I can give this game, actually. It is the spiritual successor (in gameplay if not in style or construction) of one of my favorite FPS RPGs of all time.
Sadly, Bloodlines is absolutely chock-full of mistakes. The animations are for the most part awkward and badly implemented. Likewise, the interface for combat is clunky and hard to use. The Source game engine, used so masterfully by Valve, looks close to ugly here. While the graphics may muster up some truly frightening set pieces, they can also break you out of the game entirely, textures popping in and out and people sticking their arms through walls.
There is evidence of missing or cut quests all over the place: pointless items, broken dialogue, etc. It’s obvious that Troika had some grand plans for this game, and couldn’t or didn’t have the time to implement them. Some of the weapons are overpowered, and some of the classes aren’t balanced properly. The game takes forever to load in many cases, despite being run on a computer that easily destroys its recommended requirements. Finally, the game is incredibly unstable, glitching and crashing frequently.
The Bottom Line
Despite that seemingly insurmountable list of problems, I would still recommend this game to fans of RPGs, FPS RPGs, and White Wolf’s Masquerade universe. This game is one of the deepest and most interesting RPGs I have ever played. It actually puts its gritty urban setting to use (unlike so many games), crafting a bizarre nightmare version of our own dangerous cities. It provides a truly interesting story, great character development, and a terrifically tense and atmospheric experience. However, the number of bugs, glitches and imbalances in the game threaten to ruin it.
The only way to get this great game to be even barely playable is to download the latest fan-made patch, unfortunately. The community patch provides all of the fixes that Troika should have put into the game before it went gold. Modern resolutions are added to the game’s options (this makes a huge difference), broken quests are fixed, missing quests are added, powers and weapons that got cut are added in, character creation is fleshed out, and most importantly, the game is stabilized.
So, if you want a deep, scary and engrossing RPG, get Vampire Bloodlines. You’ll have to a masochist or an extremely odd brand of gamer to appreciate it though, even with the patches.