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With the lack of videogames inspired by Vampires, TVG sinks into Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and comes away reasonably impressed...
Being the only other title released this year to utilise Valveâ??s impressive Source engine and coming at a time when PC role-playing titles are a little thin on the ground, we found ourselves booting up Troika Games Vampire: The Masquerade â?“ Bloodlines with a great deal of anticipation.
Itâ??s quite frankly unbelievable that there hasnâ??t been a good videogame take on Vampires and the various mythologies in recent times; itâ??s dark and supernatural setting seems ideally suited to videogames, but surprisingly weâ??ve had to make do with the likes of Bloodlines so-so predecessor â??Redemptionâ? and ummm Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Vampire: The Masquerade â?“ Bloodlines begins as with most RPGâ??s by creating your character. The typical choices are open to the player in this respect, being able to completely customise each and every attribute or take the option to answer a series of moralistic questions to gauge and determine your mentality. The game features seven distinct Vampire clans, providing players the opportunity to become a swathe and sophisticated demon of the night that can talk his way into a nunâ??s bedroom, or a sulking, disfigured beast that must lurk in the shadows and travel by the sewers. Each different clan has varying abilities; such as the twisted and deformed Nosferatu being masters of espionage and information gathering, or the Malkavianâ??s that suffer from surprising and often disturbing insights.
As you progress through the game your character will gain experience from completing quests and various other actions, which in turn can be used to Level-Up various aspects of your character. This system is broken down a little differently to most other RPGâ??s, into Attributes such as Strength and Mental categories; Abilities which in turn are divided into Talents such as Athletics and Subterfuge, Skills including Stealth and Combat, and Knowledge that includes Computer Hacking and Finance. Finally your chosen clan will impose the type of Discipline, which is the one major factor that separates you from mankind; the game includes 11 different disciplines, ranging from Animalism (the ability to control animals) to Celerity (granting a temporary speed boost to the Vampireâ??s actions). The Discipline powers require blood, which is depicted opposite your health bar as a Red gauge; whenever you use too many powers youâ??ll need to replenish your blood by either feeding from a victim or visiting a Blood Bank â?“ just be careful not to make it too noticeable. Progress in each of these categories allows your character to develop, until eventually youâ??re the meanest thing walking the dark and dangerous streets of Los Angeles. Despite being somewhat clunky and a little inaccessible, the character progress system does provide a lot of depth and the opportunity for players to really create their own take on being a Vampire.
Although the concept of becoming a Vampire may sound appealing, thereâ??s sadly some rules laid down by the Camarilla (the largest sect of Vampires), which are known as The Masquerade. This basically lays down some structure to the game and ensures you donâ??t just go around killing everything in sight; such actions as feeding in public or going on a killing rampage will incur the wrath of the Camarilla, who will soon track you down and destroy you â?“ so stay on the line to begin with.
Set in the Gothic-Punk locale of Los Angeles, the game is split into four main sections, namely Santa Monica, DownTown, China Town and Hollywood. To begin with youâ??re taken under the wing of Prince LaCroix, the de-facto ruler of the Camarilla, and must do as he bids. However as you progress through the game youâ??ll learn of the turmoil amongst the various clans as they attempt to topple one another, with one particular sect thatâ??s obviously been influenced by the Blade movies, aiming to overthrown mankind and put an end to the Camarilla and its rules regarding secrecy.
Naturally being an RPG, the choice of allegiance is very much up to the player; do you side with Price LaCroix and maintain the Masquerade or perhaps believe that the day of Vampires has well and truly come. In all honesty the storyline is heavily clichéd on existing Vampire pastiches, however the overall style and execution is sufficiently good enough to entertain and entice fans of the subject material as you become embroiled in a twisting story that leaves you uncertain of whom to trust. A particular neat touch is the inclusion of four different endings, which creates the sensation that your actions are actually having an influence on whatâ??s happening within the game. The various clans of Vampires have been created brilliantly, easily crafting the scenario that Vampires could just as easily be executives of Fortune 500 companies along with the traditional shadow-blending demons.
The various quests that the game presents to you are handled in a fairly non-linear manner, allowing the player to determine exactly which path they choose to take. Thereâ??s a wide selection of quests presented to the player, ranging from the typical collecting-items to much more elaborate and grandiose missions that are packed full of set-pieces. Arguably the game is more linear then the likes of Deus EX: Invisible War, however through the various features of the game such as computer hacking or lock-picking the game always presents a variety of options to the player â?“ always nice although we do question why Vampires become uber computer hackers or master lock-smiths, whatever happened to floating under the door in a cloud of gas or just simply manifesting yourself as a bat and flying through the window!
The streets of Los Angeles have been brought into the game with great style, creating a foreboding location that is far from the City of Angels. In-keeping with this, the game features an eclectic cast of characters that youâ??ll have to interact with throughout the game. Conversation with NPCâ??s is handled via the traditional pick a number to choose a response, however the response from these characters will all be based around your character; for example, those who apply the charm will find themselves courting the attraction of the opposite sex, whilst hideously deformed Nosferatu vampires will have helpless humans running in fear.
Thereâ??s been a great deal of care and attention paid to the various settings throughout the game, to create a truly Gothic-Punk feel to the entire proceedings; such small details as hacking in to somebodyâ??s e-mail account and wading through the dozens of SPAM e-mails advertising â??manhood extensionsâ? and â??Viagraâ? is a nice touch that only heightens the sense of immersion. However you do have to take the various locations with a pinch of salt and respect the developerâ??s use of artistic license; such factors as the complete absence of cars within Los Angeles is a point that a number of people are quick to point out â?“ yes it may detract from the overall believability of this being based in real-life LA, but itâ??s best to just forget about such matters and enjoy their dark take on the city.
Sadly there is one particular area that lets the game down and that is combat. Much like Morrowind before it, the combat system feels completely uninspired and arguably has more flaws then the aforementioned epic. Players can make use of various melee attacks which switch the view to third-person; combine these with the various Disciplines and you have an enjoyable if somewhat shallow fighting system. Where the main problem stems is from the various guns that you can pick up throughout the game. Shooting a firearm is naturally tied in with your particular skill in that area; however itâ??s completely frustrating to line up a perfectly aimed shot to the head, only to miss wildly simply because your stats arenâ??t high enough. Although you can improve your skills and thus your accuracy, the mere fact that itâ??s just so uninspired and shallow, coupled with the fact that its completely ineffective compared to melee attacks makes you question exactly why the developers even bothered to include it.
Other flaws that let the game down include relatively weak AI when facing opponents in combat, which has the result of ensuring that combat throughout the game, is never really that exciting or engaging, whilst there are also a number of glitches that let the side down. Coming after Half Life 2 youâ??d assume Vampire: The Masquerade â?“ Bloodlines to have a similar level of standard in terms of the overall quality; however youâ??ll often see strange oddities such as characters becoming merged into objects thanks to some atrocious collision detection. Despite featuring some basic attempts at physics and allowing the player to interact with certain objects, itâ??s nowhere near to breaking down the boundaries between fantasy and real-life that Half Life 2 so successfully managed.
There are also some strange oddities that prevent this from being the ultimate videogame take on vampires, although given the lack of competition itâ??s certainly the best around. As weâ??ve said before it feels strange to find yourself having to lockpick when youâ??re a demon of the night, whilst such aspects as turning others into Vampires hasnâ??t been fully realised. The overall result feels like a traditional RPG moulded around the theme of Vampires, when personally we would have liked to have seen a little more thought and care paid to the concept; as it stands Vampire: The Masquerade â?“ Bloodlines feels worryingly restricted by the almost institutional feel imposed by the rules laid down by the RPG genre.
Visually the game is somewhat striking, particular because of the contrast between vivid and garish themes across the dark backdrop. As youâ??d expect from the technologically proficient Source engine, the game features exceptional character models with spookily realistic facial animations. Itâ??s certainly nowhere near to the overall quality of Half Life 2, whilst some of the aforementioned glitches and poor cut-scenes let down the overall effect.
As an RPG it’s fine game and will appeal to fans of the genre along with those who like the demons of the night; thankfully it’s a notable improvement upon its predecessor, which will hopefully continue if we get another title in the series.