Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5472)
Written on  :  Feb 07, 2006
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Patch Me Once, Patch Me Twice, Patch Me Once Again.

The Good

I have a friend who keeps bugging me to play Werewolf: the Apoplectic, which I’m sure is a fine game, but whenever he describes the workings of the world, my eyes glaze over like I’m watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen again. It’s much better to jump into the game world and attempt to figure it out, which is what Vampire: the Masquerade—Bloodlines does. Vampire: the Masquerade has an equally complicated mythology with political factions and rivalries extending back to Cain, but once you’ve picked your vampire clan, all you need to know is that the head of the Camarilla was ready to kill you, but the “head” of the Anarchs called him on it, none of which matters right now because Sabbat forces are hunting you.

As mentioned above, players begin by selecting which type of vampire they are. Other than the hideous Nosferatu, whose blighted appearance confines them to the shadows and sewers, vampires of any clan can blend in with human society. Bloodlines has seven playable vampire clans (open to both genders). The biggest difference between clans, other than aesthetics and role-playing potential, involves core abilities and Disciplines. Disciplines are akin to spells and, this time around, their implementation makes sense for a CRPG. Some vampires can turn invisible, others can transform into wolves, while others still can cause an enemy’s blood to boil.

Bulking up the rest of Bloodlines’s formidable character sheet are physical, social, and mental attributes and talents, skills, and knowledges. These varied traits influence everything from a character’s appearance to their computer skills. Combined with the variety of vampire clans, Bloodlines has an amazingly deep character creation system. Nosferatu hackers, mad Malkavian mercenaries, Gangrel brawlers are all here.

Bloodlines is an RPG and, while technically a sequel to 2000’s Redemption, it plays completely differently. The original game resembled a standard dungeon crawler, where the player led a coterie (party) through a series of vampire-laden chantries (dungeons). Bloodlines, on the other hand, resembles Deus Ex. Gone are coteries; in their place is a single character game played from either a first or third-person perspective.

Instead of sprawling continents and centuries like its predecessor, the world of Bloodlines is confined to four huge maps spread around modern day Los Angeles. Players begin in Santa Monica, and travel to Downtown LA, Hollywood, and Chinatown on a series of missions. I doubt Hollywood has a zombie problem, but overall the areas have a realistic feel. Rather than having NPCs standing about, pedestrians bustle, homeless people gather around burning barrels, young toughs wait for cops to pass by before tagging buildings, and people enter clubs to drink and dance.

Bloodlines has a solid set of story-based missions, but some of the most fun comes from stumbling onto side quests. What is the connection between a tattoo artist and a prosthetic limb designer? Does a walk-in clinic hold a vial of Werewolf blood? Sure the main quests with its serial killer, ancient sarcophagus, and Asian vampires are interesting, but so are the ones involving escalating levels of brinkmanship between two retired hitmen, a one-armed swordswoman and her quest for vengeance, and a Cemetery Man who’s caught between his duty and his urges.

An extra bonus to completing Bloodlines’s quests is seeing how their resolution plays out. Everything your character does impacts the game. Good acts (as good as vampires get) restore your character’s Humanity, keeping the vampire’s bestial nature at bay. Throughout the game, you can act on behalf of different factions, which influences the game’s events, most heavily during the ending sequence.

The Bad

Bloodlines is a good RPG. If it weren’t buggy to the point of instability, it would be a great game. Superb, even. The first problem I had occurred during the opening animation, or lack of animation. Characters that should have moved around on the screen did so without the usual running or walking, instead they moved around like Colorform characters.

Shortly after that I entered into combat. I didn’t mention combat above. Bloodlines has tons of combat. Hordes of combat. Plenty of weapons. Piles of cool offensive spells. But severe framerate problems, loose controls, and an annoying feature where, when reloading a game saved during combat, your character’s gun empties its clip, made combat frustrating. This may sound a bit harsh, but I am astonished at how clunky combat is considering how important combat is to the game. Shocked even, to discover that we’re talking about the Source engine here.

Other interesting quirks I ran into involved event triggers which failed to trigger. Hours after I rescued her, I saw a cutscene of a girl being kidnapped. I fumbled with stuck doors which were mission critical. There was an epic bar fight in which the patrons took no notice. Probably my favorite element of badness involves the Quick Save. Press F9 and in as little as one minute, your game will be saved. And for a game with long saving times, the loading times don’t disappoint either.

Apparently some of my problems were caused by my having the wrong sort of video card. The NVIDIA slogan, “The Way It's Meant To Be Played,” should be accompanied with an image a boot stamping on a human face—for this game. I also patched this game several times (and edited in Python to fix one bug).

The Bottom Line

For all the annoyances that come with it, Bloodlines is still a great game and one of the better CRPGs to come along. Only one of the problems I ran into was a game stopper. Bloodlines has a satisfying character creation system and, having tested a few characters and checked a few FAQs, Bloodlines has a very high replay value.

The biggest drawback I see to Bloodlines is its over emphasis on combat. While players have a free hand in creating their characters, I’m pretty sure that players who don’t invest in combat skills will get creamed. This is a shame for a game that has so many other options more suited towards actual role playing.