See beyond the bugs.
Welcome to the city of fallen angels. The place of eternal darkness, where children of the night fight for survival. Welcome to the world where “good” doesn’t exist and “evil” is painted with thousands different shades of black and red. Embrace your newfound gift and enter the world of intrigue, treachery and every kind of sin you can think of. Welcome to the Masquerade.
Please excuse my overdramatic intro that looks like it belongs on the disc’s back cover. The reason I started the review in this way lies inside the game itself. Bloodlines is not an ordinary game, it belongs to the type of games that must be judged on different grounds and with different criteria than any other game of usual type. It must be approached differently because it transcends all the requirements gaming community sets to it. It goes beyond expectations and sets new standards, which won’t be broken, unless other game developers will change their mindset about what exactly constitutes a game as form of art. It may sound confusing, so I’ll try to explain it in detail. Read on.
Let’s discuss visuals of Bloodlines. What can be said here? Source engine? Bump mapping? Dynamic shadows? No. The first thing that catches my eye is the exceptional artistic quality of the locations you visit and the environments you see. I don’t give a damn about the pixel shader version the game uses. I couldn’t care less about the amount of polygons rendered in real-time by game’s engine. I don’t want to know whether it’s next-gen, cur-gen or past-gen. However I do care when I see a mysterious abandoned Chinese theatre where the old stone gargoyle had taken a residence or the sick sets of the underground porn studios or the luxurious interior of Prince LaCroix tower. Every location (with minor exception) of Bloodlines feels unique, original and helps to create an amazing sense of immediate presence.
The environments of the Bloodlines are not merely sets for the story to unfold in. They are also a continuation of characters’ portraits. It’s impossible to think about the sisters running the Asylum club without imagining a complete layout of the room they live in. This room is a manifestation of their mindsets, the fruitful addition to their storyline. The character designers and environmental designers must have been working really hard to achieve such an astounding level of collaboration.
As for the characters themselves I will simply say that Bloodlines features one of the most charismatic cast of characters ever to be encountered in a video game. The irony is that the undead characters of Bloodlines feel more real and human-like than many of living characters in other games. There are no good or bad characters in the game. Each one is a representation of certain ideas relevant to the rules of the vampiric society. And when those ideas clash you will have to decide what side is your character on and more importantly what ideals YOU personally uphold.
Really, I can go on and on praising the exceptional voice-work, perfect lip-sync and unparalleled range of face emotions Bloodlines characters are capable of. But truth is that you don’t think about any of that while meeting these characters, you simply like them, hate them, trust them or despise them. All in all, you feel a wide array of emotions that are usually applied to real people rather than to those at the other side of the screen.
As you see I deliberately missed out all the gameplay related issues. I did so not because I saved them for a Bad part, but because it’s really strange to think of Bloodlines while trying to establish how balanced RPG skills were or how responsive weapon controls were. It’s like trying to remember a picture frame for a painting you saw in a gallery. It feels secondary to the painting itself. And by no means is the frame bad, it’s just not that important when it comes to the magnificent artwork the painting itself represents.
Much has been said about how bug-ridden this game is. Well, it’s true. The game was left unfinished, rushed by greedy publisher to the release date with only one or two bugs fixed. But is it Troika’s fault? Do you really believe that the game that received so much love and care from its creators would be simply abandoned and treated lightly when the time for QA came? I don’t think so. The same applies to the last quarter of the game which was surprisingly turned into a pure hack-and-slash non-fun, as if one of Troika’s executives had gone for a smoke, while a Diablo developer sneaked into a computer room and did his evil deeds.
If you allow me to carry a picture gallery analogy here as well I will ask you this. Would you think of Mona Lisa to be any less of an art if it was to be admired behind the iron bars? Or if you listened to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” in a crowded room on a lame stereo, would it lose its masterpiece status as well?
The Bottom Line
Don’t let people who answer yes to those questions fool you. True art lies not in perfection but in sacrifice, love and honesty multiplied by a considerable amount of talent. And I am safe to say that Bloodlines has plenty of this mixture in it.