Solid on the surface.
Vampire is damned addictive. The story keeps going from one exciting locale to another and spans 800 years (sort of). For the most part, Vampire is an excellent action game. I would compare it to Diablo with the camera zoomed in. There is a mixture of sword and sorcery and guns and ammo. Vampires are much like humans, except their undeath gives them access to powerful spells called Disciplines. Disciplines work like Jedi Knight's force powers or Undying's spells in that you can upgrade spells to make them more powerful. Unlike most games, it pays off to master a few Disciplines rather than knowing a little bit about all of them.
The game is largely combat based with a surprising amount of linearity. There are some quests that involve acquiring items, but most of the game entails raiding enemy vampire camps. Still, combat is varied with a large number of enemies and a variety of weapons and spells to choose from.
The mythos of Vampire is very well developed and is excellently presented here. I have not played the pen and paper game, yet was able to follow the story which involves 13 rival clans vying for supremacy. The actual story of the game is entertaining if not original and various conversation options and your Humanity level (an indicator that shows whether you are following a human moral code or are succumbing to the Beast) determines the game's ending.
I expected the Masquerade to be more masquerady. The World of Darkness assumes that vampires are among us (and always have been) yet they remain unknown due to the Masquerade. That is, they hide from our view and operate out of our knowledge. In this game the Masquerade involves running past London bobbies with swords, guns, knives, fangs dripping blood, etc. Imagine what a stealth element would have added to this game.
Vampire is billed as being an RPG and has been hyped as being a first-rate RPG, I find both claims doubtful. If you accept Diablo as an RPG, a pure hack and slash game with one way to completion than so be it. Granted there are three possible endings and you can customize your character, but many games have multiple endings and various character/weapon/spell choices.
This game does use the character stat/discipline sheet that is part of the pen and paper game. Within this game I felt those stats were poorly realized. Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina all seemed to take an active role, but others such as Intelligence and Charisma served only as prerequisites for higher Disciplines. In true CRPGs these stats come into play throughout the game. In Fallout, a great RPG, Intelligence determines conversation options, Charisma (or the equivalent) determines character interactions.
Another problem I had with the game is the Discipline choices. The manual (which is pretty but bloody useless) offered iffy descriptions and failed to explain why I would want to upgrade certain Disciplines. One Discipline identified magical objects, would level two really identify them? Would level three identify the hell out of them? Or how about another useless Discipline that allowed you to determine if a person was good or evil? This would be very useful in the pen and paper game, but in the computer game you could usually tell your adversaries by the way they swung their swords at you.
Graphically this game was incredible except for poor clipping, sprite based shadows, and combat. Combat, the majority of the game, was incredibly frustrating. There was no difference in animation if a sword/arrow/bullet connected as opposed to a miss. In a game with as great of graphics as Vampire had, it's the little details that stand out.
Finally, the AI. AI is bad on both parts and sometimes coterie (party) members behaved so poorly I wished the game was turn-based. There are three settings for coterie members: do nothing, kill everything, tag along. I unfortunately had the party set for kill everything and after sitting through a long cutscene explaining how we weren't supposed to harm humans, my party went berserk in town. Party members also fire ammo into walls, refuse to move to get a better shot, cast powerful spells on weak creatures, etc. Enemies stand still until you come within striking range before swinging into combat. Ack- and pathfinding- Pedestrians routinely walk into lamps, sides of buildings and get stuck, your own party isn't much better. You fortunately have the option of releasing party members and controlling them one by one, this isn't a great feature it's a poor fix to a design flaw.
THE PATCH IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST!!!
The Bottom Line
Not quite an RPG but a fun action/adventure game that is novel in having the player assume the role of a vampire. Graphics are quirky at times, but are largely the best to be found and the music is remarkable. The patch is necessary in that it refines a save system and provides a balance for the early game. Highly worth its now bargain price.