Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines
Sink your teeth into this!
White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade series of role-playing games is probably the best you could hope for on the subject matter, being to Bram Stoker what Dungeons and Dragons is to J. R. R. Tolkien. The game has the established blood-sucking, sun-fearing vampire in center stage, but the World of Darkness universe does so much more by throwing the player into an intricately carved gothic-punk setting replete with rivaling factions, complex politics and some of the most sublime horror in gaming.
The series was originally restricted to the pen and paper realm until Nihilistic made a computer rendition of the game: VTM: Redemption. Although by no means a bad game, Redemption was more or less an action-oriented RPG that just tentatively flirted with vampiric politics. Bloodlines is an almost polar opposite, drawing its kicks from directly meddling in secretive Kindred society, taking on its complex strifes and soaking in that excellent Vampire mythology that so masterfully animates Los Angeles by night.
Dead And Alive
You spend most of the game tracking down a missing sarcophagus that could potentially bring about the end of all vampires in a spectacular apocalyptic showdown called Gehenna. The superb plot and characters continually evolve and always captivate, and the choices you make within the game – including which faction you decide to join – will have a profound effect on how everything plays out in the end days. The action is set around Los Angeles, or rather four boroughs that act as hubs to receive and solve quests – Santa Monica, Downtown LA, Hollywood and Chinatown. Although each hub is extremely small (merely spanning one or two streets), the attention to detail around every corner is astounding courtesy of the modified Half-Life 2 engine under the hood.
Before you begin the game proper you’re introduced to your nameless character as he or she is unwittingly ‘Embraced’ and joins the ranks of the undead. Common vampiric etiquette demands you keep an oath of secrecy known as the Masquerade, which essentially means you can’t reveal yourself as a vampire to human kind without sparking the ire of your fellow Kindred. You’re allowed a total of five Masquerade strikes, which might involve things like feeding in public or showing off your vampiric superpowers, before a Blood Hunt is called on your head and it’s game over. Humanity plays a secondary role in all of this – lose too much of it by performing ghastly acts and you’ll frenzy unpredictably, thus breaking the Masquerade, thus forcing a Blood Hunt on you and so on.
Let’s Talk Numbers
Bloodline’s character building system is very complex, giving way to numerous decisions as to what sort of avatar you want. The seven requisite traditional clans alone justify going through the game again and again, as each is fundamentally different as far as outward appearance, demeanor, dialogue options and even their outlook on Kindred society.
Contrast the Brujah – rebellious idealists and anarchists – to the calculated and double-dealing Ventrue, who constitute the political elites of the Camarilla, a sort of vampiric Bilderberg aristocracy that pulls the strings behind closed doors. Or the loathsome, horribly disfigured Nosferatu to the cultured and enchanting Toreader, who fancy themselves as esteemed artists and have high regard for their Humanity. Add to the seven clans the choice of either playing as male or female (this has a great effect on how NPCs treat you) and you have every reason to replay Bloodlines at least a few times.
You advance your character by distributing Experience Points, but don’t expect to receive them gratuitously. XP is handed out sparsely whenever you complete a quest or defeat a powerful enemy, which, combined with the multitude of skills at your disposal, make smart character development a real challenge. You can naturally pour points into combat oriented skills such as Firearms or Melee, but most of the game’s challenges can be surpassed by more intuitive means. You can sneak around some levels, methodically dispatching sentries while quietly waltzing into their base. Learn social skills like Persuasion, Seduction or Intimidation to unlock new dialogue options, or master hacking to brake into computers and laptops.
VTM: Bloodline vaguely resembles a first-person shooter, but it doesn’t play like one. Many quests are solvable using stealth and this is actually a good thing, as the combat is more than a little awkward. You get quite a broad selection of guns – shotguns, revolvers, submachineguns, etcetera with ridiculous brand names (eg: the ‘Killmatic’) – but even wholesale they’re useless in a fight. They put out embarrassing damage values and kick like a horse (even after maxing out your Firearms skill). Melee combat is more effective, but overall the fighting portions of Bloodlines aren’t as engaging as its narrative. It’s probably why the climax is so anti-climactic.
But overall Bloodlines builds capital on fantastic atmosphere and engaging characters, little surprise considering its rich source material. For fans of the pen and paper role-playing games it’s a no-brainer, but anyone else interested in intricate vampiric lore set in a dark gothic environment should find suit. The combat definitely makes it more pain than it’s worth at times, but surpass that hurdle when it rears its head and you’ll find plenty to sink your fangs into.
System Requirements: 1.2 GHz CPU, 384 MB RAM, 64 MB Video, Win 98/ME/2K/XP
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