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Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption (Windows)

Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174226)
Written on  :  Mar 27, 2007
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

18 out of 19 people found this review helpful

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Brujahs and Malkavians of all countries, unite!

The Good

I've heard different opinions about this game; one of the most popular definitions was "Diablo with a better story and clumsy combat".

Indeed, Redemption has similarities to that famous title, being combat-heavy and pretty straightforward. However, it's a bit more sophisticated, integrating rules from a complex role-playing universe it tries to recreate in a computerized form. The core mechanics are simple: you have a party of up to four characters, and you can switch between the active characters at any time. You can also go into solo mode and navigate each of the characters separately, which opens new possibilities for battle tactics. You can spend the experience points you earn to upgrade your characters' basic statistics, or to teach them disciplines, the magic spells of the game. The main attributes all make a difference, including not only obvious ones such as strength or stamina, but also more refined manipulation or appearance. They affect certain disciplines, and if you want to specialize in some of them, you must raise the corresponding attribute before you can actually handle the spells. There are vampire-exclusive things here you won't find in your usual RPG. For example, the source of magic spells is your own blood, and one of the ways to replenish it is to feed on your enemies, which in its turn requires a special discipline in five different levels that determine its efficiency.

There is a wide variety of disciplines to learn. From the standard healing and buff spells to summoning wolves to fight for you and making enemies admire your beauty, there is quite a bit of stuff to experiment with. Although characters have different basic attributes (for example, Eric is not really well-suited to be a mage because of his raw strength and low wits and intelligence), you are unrestricted as to how you want to develop them further. Different vampires have different disciplines (like Gangrels having Animalism, which allows all kinds of communications and summoning animals), but you can also find tomes of magic in the game which will teach the appropriate discipline anyone you use it on. In short, there are many possibilities, and you'll definitely want to replay the game to exploit them all. It's a RPG that makes you think before finally deciding how you want to spend your hard-earned experience points, and that's just what I love in RPGs: choice.

Speaking of choice, there is also moral role-playing in the game, something I appreciate very much. In this game, vampires are not just cruel, soulless beasts. Various vampire clans have their own morality codes. There is a humanity attribute for all party members, which influences a variety of things, from weapons and armors the character can equip to their ethical views. Everything you do is recorded by the game, affecting your humanity level. Kill innocent people while feeding on them and you'll lose humanity. Bravely stand up against a vampire prince and defend your ethical principles, and your humanity will raise. You will influence the plot and achieve different endings depending on how much humanity you have left. You'll have to make decisions during the course of the game, which include some really interesting moral choices. For example, a person wants to die and asks you to kill him - what do you think is the more humane thing to do, to satisfy his wish or to refuse? The choice is yours.

There is a lot of other RPG-related goodness in the game. The hardcore dungeon crawling, the scope of regular battles, the challenging bosses. There is an insane amount of items scattered around, so every dungeon crawl is also a treasure hunt. You'll open enough treasure chests and break enough barrels to satisfy your collector's instinct. There are tons of weapons, armor, accessories, and magic scrolls in the game you can find in dungeons or buy. Melee and ranged weapons (bows in medieval times, guns in modern times), two-handed weapons, different kind of damage to deal and to protect from (bashing, lethal, aggravated), and so on. Once again, you'll have to think when visiting a shop and looking at the long list of wares.

The battle system was heavily criticized by many people, but I don't think the criticisms were justified. I think it was judged as an action game, which it is not. It is an RPG, and a challenging one at that. In RPGs the outcome of battles depends more on preparation, good strategy, and character building than on finger dexterity. You won't achieve anything by madly rushing through the dungeons, hacking away at enemies. You'll be outnumbered, surrounded, and killed. That's why it is unfair to say that the combat in Redemption is bad because it takes time to kill the enemies. There is a lot of variety in character building and plenty of little tricks that will help you survive. You can send a character solo, luring away enemies one-by-one and then attacking with the entire party. You can use long-ranged weapons to trigger the attention of enemies, then run away, or charge with melee weapons. There are many disciplines that will make battles easier - different kinds of magic and supporting spells, various ways of replenishing your health and blood, and other stuff to try out. Enemy AI is anything but brain-dead; for example, enemies would run away when low on health, and heal themselves, forcing you to chase and to corner them. The combat has much more depth than your usual action-based system, but there is still a good feeling of addictive hack-and-slash in the fast-paced battles.

Redemption has a highly original and attractive setting. Instead of your typical fantasy realm or sci-fi with robots and spaceships, the game is set in the real world. The unique twist is the separation of the game into two parts: Middle Ages and modern times. The first part of the game is set in the medieval Prague and Vienna, while the second will take you to modern-day London and New York. While the historical Middle Ages setting alone is already quite unusual and refreshing, the inclusion of modern times brings a new dimension to it. This is decidedly one of the coolest settings I have ever seen in a game. It is simply a blast to spend half of the game running through the narrow streets of Vienna, equipped with bows and swords, and the other half visiting bars and clubs in New York, wielding pistols and rifles. Everything changes drastically, you have plasma bags instead of blood potions, and computer hackers in your party instead of axe-wielding barbarians. The contrast between "ye olde medieval" era and the modern time with its pop culture is just too cool to pass. It's also quite funny to see Christof adapting himself to our epoch with contemporary attire, or the Brujah vampires turning from wise guardians of occult lore into punks.

It is possible to see that this game is set in a well-crafted, detailed universe. The different vampire clans are very interesting, and each has its own personality. Noble Brujah and insane Malkavians; arrogant, treacherous Ventrue and cowardly magic-using Tremere - you'll meet all kinds of people in the world of darkness. Everything here has its own history, "parallel" to the history of our real world, so the whole imaginary setting becomes really convincing. Legends, rituals, traditions, ethical codes, mythology and literature - everything is here to make the world more credible. When you fight against a certain vampire clan, you never fight just against some "bad guys". You are given information about them, reasons to why they behave as they do, their culture and traditions. This is noticeable in many details. For example, as you fight your way through hordes of ghouls faithful to the Lasombra clan, one of the characters will note that Lasombra are obsessed with painting and portraits because they cannot see their reflection in mirrors. Just a small detail, but one that gives you some insight on the enemy.

Redemption boasts an epic plot that attracts the player with its scope and emotionality. Essentially a darkly romantic love story, it can become quite fascinating to follow thanks to the captivating initial predicament and the way it unfolds through several centuries in one powerful arc. Most of the characters who join your party or appear as supportive or opposing figures are interesting, or colorful and exotic at the very least. By the way, the quality of the game's dialogues is surprisingly high. The English language of the game is rich and sometimes complex. Every person speaks in their own manner. Most of the conversations are cleverly structured and are a pleasure to read. Colorful expressions, irony, anger, compassion, and humor are clearly manifested in those dialogues. The modern times conversations are particularly amusing and well-written. I was literally laughing out loud during the conversation with Dev/Null, the Malkavian computer geek. The voice acting, often the weakest link in many games of that time, is totally acceptable here - while some lines sound over-acted or too bland, most of the dialogue is delivered with appropriate emotion.

Some people would argue that the strongest aspect of this game is its atmosphere. Indeed, Redemption has exceptional atmosphere that will draw you into the game world the moment you look at the title screen. I played this game usually during the day, but I was genuinely immersed into its world and felt as if I were there. The world is crafted in such a way that you'll have no doubts concerning its reality. Having good graphics alone would not be enough to create such an ambiance. That said, the technical quality of the graphics is outstanding; Redemption is easily one of the best-looking games of its generation. But what really makes those graphics stand out is their artistic quality. The locations of the game come to life because they were created with inspiration and aesthetic guidance. Every dungeon is unique. Even though most of the locations in the game are dark and macabre, there is a great variety within this color palette. This is not achieved by throwing in buckets of blood and scary monsters. Just look carefully at the detailed design of the locations, the architecture, materials, objects, everything that makes a location real, and you'll see that the power of this game's atmosphere comes from the creativity of its artists.

On top of that, the music in the game is fantastic. Once again, it is mostly of the same kind - dark, depressing, and threatening - but there is so much subtle beauty in it that you'll find yourself stopping and just listening to the music. It fits the game perfectly and is another important factor in creating its marvelous atmosphere. The sound effects are also great. You'll just have to listen to the characters' moaning when they feed on enemies, the creepy noise of ghosts' attacks, the sound of steps in a seemingly empty corridor, anticipating enemies that await you around the corner...

The Bad

My beef with this promising - and mostly satisfying - game is that it could have clearly been more. With its rich lore and gameplay system, it could have become the role-playing giant of its generation. Instead, it turned out to be a great experience without necessarily being a truly great RPG.

You spend most of your time in the game in the dungeons. The friendly areas seem reasonably large until you realize you'll be returning to the same hubs to sell loot and go on another mission. There is no choice involved in traveling: you go somewhere simply because the game sends you there. There is a lot of fun to be had in the dungeons, and the game's plot-driven nature makes the linearity somewhat more bearable; but it's a pity that the role-playing rules, tailor-made for rich exploration and interaction, were not better realized in this game.

Lack of NPC contact is another serious issue. Many people wander the city streets, yet the only way you can interact with them is by attacking or feeding on them. You can only have conversations with important characters. This doesn't make the cities of Redemption any less atmospheric, but certainly detracts from its depth as an RPG. You'd think that this flaw can really destroy the game, but surprisingly, you'll want to spend time in this world even though you can't talk to most of its inhabitants. I just can't help thinking what this game could have become if it had player-driven dialogues with unimportant NPCs.

The battle system has its problems. The pathfinding is not always optimal. Sometimes party members get stuck or circle around mindlessly while the enemy hacks away at me. Party AI could have been better - your party members would waste valuable spells on easy enemies, run to attack when they are low on health, etc. The biggest downside of the battles is the lack of damage feedback. Sure, you can feel that you're killing enemies quicker when you have more strength or a better weapon, but how big is the difference exactly? You can see that the enemy is bleeding under your attacks, but how much health did he really lose? As in some other conversions from pen-and-paper RPG systems, luck plays an important role in the combat of Redemption, and therefore the battles are not always well balanced.

The original, unpatched version of the game comes with a terrible save system. You can only save in your haven, or rely on auto-saves between different levels. In a game that is not very easy to begin with, it is just an additional frustration factor. Fortunately, it was corrected in the patch: in the upgraded version you can save anywhere you want.

The Bottom Line

Redemption is far from perfect, being neither a particularly fulfilling adaptation of the pen-and-paper rules nor an important factor in the development of RPGs. That said, it is quite engrossing in its own way, atmospheric and even addictive with its simple gameplay, and the epic ride from medieval towns to modern-day metropolises is not something you'll see a lot.

Now go away, mortal, and play this game, or we shall embrace thee before sunrise!