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Developer:
Troika
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 16, 2004

by Nicholas Bale




The latest action-RPG in the Vampire: The Masquerade series attempts to combine the best of different genres, but a slew of technical bugs keeps it from succeeding – but just barely.


The latest game of the Vampire: The Masquerade series takes place in the universe of White Wolf’s pen and paper game, where the progeny of Cain (the biblical brother-killer) stalk the earth, their presence unknown but to a few mortals.


In Vampire, the creatures of the night are not the blood-gorging, evil, murderous monsters of myth and legend. Instead, they live and work in a sophisticated variety of clans and factions, each organized to keep mere mortals from ever discovering their existence. In a cut scene at the beginning of the game, you see yourself become part of one of these clans, whether it's the magic-using Tremere, the beastly Gangrel, the silent Nosferatu, or one of the other clans (you're given a choice of six).


Your life is spared, though your sire isn’t so lucky. The Prince decides to take you under his wing, and thus your adventure begins in the world of Vampire.


The game takes place from both first- and third-person perspectives. When you're swinging a melee weapon, the camera auto-switches to a point behind you, and when you use a gun, you see through your character's eyes, a la a FPS. It helps some, though I feel that a third-person mode added a few problems. For example, if you're sneaking through a pipe in third-person mode, your head clips through the top of the pipe!


Character selection allows you to pick your clan and allocate certain stat points. As the game progresses and you get experience from completing quests and jobs given to you, you'll earn more experience, which can be allocated to a multitude of stats such as Wits, Computer, Intelligence, and so forth. Each point in an attribute will add a point to the 'feat' it corresponds to. Put a point in Intelligence, and both your Research and Intimidation will rise by a point.


The unique statistics system gives a lot of choice in how you play your game. For example, if you allocate many points to melee or firearms, you'll be able to run into a room and take out everybody before they know what’s happening. If you put skills into Computer and Wits, you'll be able to hack security systems, bypassing alarms. Putting points into Security and Dexterity will allow you to sneak past guards, pick locks, and avoid combat altogether.


Well, usually. There are areas in the game in which you have no choice but to fight. At these points it sometimes felt like putting points into the other areas was pointless because it seemed that only melee and defense were important. Fortunately most of the areas give you a choice on how to proceed.


Speaking of different playing styles, perhaps the most significant choice you'll make is your clan. Instead of just deciding some stats like in most RPGs, your clan heavily affects the way you play. I picked the Tremere, which gave me a slew of blood-spells that I could use to damage others, which meant I stayed away from melee combat. However, the rebellious Brujah clan are heavy on the physical. The Nosferatu, disfigured and hideous, must stay in the sewers, creeping out only when they must, hiding in the shadows to avoid being sighted by mortals. Changing your clan means changing your playing style, and this allows a lot of replayability.


Of course, you are a vampire, which means you will have to drain the blood of others. However, unlike myth and legend, you do not have to drain all of their blood, just enough to keep your blood meter up (the equivalent of a mana bar). In fact, if you kill an innocent, you'll lose a point of humanity. Humanity is the only thing that keeps "The Beast" from taking over, the dark side of all vampires that results in a killing frenzy. Killing innocents and making poor choices in dialogue both make you lose your humanity, which adds a certain touch of detail to the game, as you can no longer kill everything you see lest you go wild and reveal your presence to others.


Another unique addition in Bloodlines is the Masquerade. The only thing stopping people from rooting out all the vampires and killing them is the fact that they don't know that vampires exist. So the vampires keep a "Masquerade" to hide their presence. If you do something that reveals the existence of the Kindred, such as feeding in plain view, or allowing another who has violated the Masquerade to live, you lose a Masquerade 'point'. As you continue losing these you'll find vampire hunters after you, in addition to other consequences. Lose five of these points, and it's game over for you.


What I liked a lot about the game was its nonlinearity. The game consists of four main 'hubs' and a slew of special one-mission areas. At first, you're given one of these hubs to explore, to complete missions in -- free reign of it pretty much. As you progress you'll get more and more area to explore, more quests, and more of the Vampire world will be revealed to you. Although I would've liked these hubs to be larger, I'm afraid of what the strain would've done to my computer, fragile as it is.


The atmosphere in Bloodlines is quite good. The majority of the game takes place within a city during the night (which, for some weird reason, never turns to day). The ambient noises, good graphics, and dark atmosphere add a lot to this dark world of Vampire. Why, there was a haunted house in the game that had me scared witless. And I'm the vampire!


The mechanics, the processing, and the graphics, though, were my biggest problems with the game. It runs on the Source engine, which powered Half-Life 2, so you know it's going to look awesome, and it does. Everything is crisp and clear, from the posters on the wall to the expression of the person you're talking to. However, it comes at a heavy price.


The game runs slowly -- really slowly. I ran Half-Life 2 on my computer without a hitch, but somehow Bloodlines runs at a slower speed, especially in the hubs. Indoors it isn't so bad. But still, it severely affects gameplay, more so than any other game I've played.


For one thing, the controls lock up. They just freeze. If you walk forward, you'll continue walking forward for at least a couple seconds, no matter what you try to do. In the middle of the battle, this can spell your doom, and in a tight situation, it can mean you've lost. I hated this. It made me want to stop playing the game immediately. It's one of the most annoying glitches I've ever discovered in a game, because there's no reason for it whatsoever.


And though the graphics are crisp, they’re incredibly buggy. I'm wondering when the developer will release a patch for the clipping issues, the water-reflection issues (and there are a lot of these), random graphical anomalies, and whatever else is in there. A community-made patch has been released, but one has to wonder why a freelance programmer can make a patch quicker than the developer of the game.


Still, the graphics are pretty. The people you talk to display actual emotion on their faces, you can see the dirt between bricks, and when it works, the water effects look good.


So it seems I'm in a pickle here. On one hand, we've got a fun game that takes a while to fully complete, one filled with conspiracies in the world of vampires, tales of Gehenna, the vampire apocalypse, mysterious plots, and more. On the other, we've got serious problems that incredibly interrupt the gameplay, long and frequent loading times, and mechanical errors that make me want to cry.


If those errors are patched up, I'd give this game an 88%. As it is, however...


Final Grade: 74%




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