Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

I'm a lame-duck college senior with too much time on his hands. I've finished all my major requirements (well, basically all except for a senior seminar next semester) and I go to an uber-liberal college which translates into no core-curriculum, so I'm taking pud intro courses. I thought this would be a great time to get "into the game" with local femmes, but after spending a full year in Prague, everybody here acts like a character from a Bret Easton Ellis Novel. So, I find myself splunging into computer/video games. The first of which I just recently beat: Vampire The Masquerade : Bloodlines.

Voila le Jeu Video

If anyone's been following the development of this game, VMB was announced shortly after the unveiling of Half Life 2. Apparently, VMB was basically finished all ready, but they had to wait for HL2 to be finished. In the year after the announcement, I can only wonder what they were doing with the product. They certainly weren't optimizing it in any form whatsoever.

The game's title screen is pretty bare bones, just the requisite Title logo and standard pre-game options. The bg music is so derivative of Massive Attack's "Angel" it's almost funny, but more on music later. Character creation is just what you would expect in an CRPG: either choose a premade character, answer a bunch of questions like in the TES series, or customize. You're allowed to choose 6 (or maybe 7 it escapes me at this moment) clans to give service, all following under the mega-movement known as the Camarilla, basically the "good" vampires. When you're a damned monster, it's pretty hard to be classified as good, so perhaps the lesser of other evils, then.

I'm not too familiar with the tabletop game or mythos. I did read this long-winded history of the Vampire legacy when I bought Vampire Redemption (a game that never kept my interest) but that was, what four years ago? So I don't know how hardcore will enjoy the treatment of the universe. But overall, the game is pretty fairly well, much better than other games, but not as well as games such as HL2. I could never get into the atmosphere, though. This is because of some jarring graphic and gameplay elements....

Tu Vives Comme Un Vampire

Ever played Deus Ex or Invisible War? Then you know what VMB is all about. If you didn't like those games, don't play this game, ever. In essence, you have a free-form RPG from an FPS perspective.

Like with the DX series, though, "free-form" becomes a quickly limited terms. Unlike Troika's, the developers, other earlier works (for example Fallout 1 and 2), the gameworld suffers from a seemingly large set of options, only to become quickly limited, faster so if you're familiar with these types of games. For example, after the tutorial, I quickly went around exploring the initial hub you're thrown into and found several side-quests to do before heading down the main mission. I established a Ventrue character, basically an aristocratic vampire; if you choose other clans, you get different missions, endings, etc. But I personally don't care to beat the game again as another clan. I always found these kind of limited "freedom" games to be too tiresome to go through again, because the benefits don't seem that much more enticing. But if you're into that kind of thing, then it's definitlely here. In the end though, it all feels like a choose-your-own-adventure novel - several choices, but that's it.

Tu Jeux Comme Un Vampire

I fell as if there are really only three ways to solve your problems in VMB - sneak your way through it, talk your way through it, or fight your way through it. For my Ventrue, I chose to sneak. I put a heavy amount of experience into hacking skills, and it paid off, for most of the game. I also put points into ranged weapons and perception because I like to shoot guns in games. Maybe that's why I like FPSs. Which brings up another interesting tidbit: combat. I guess the problem with translating a turn-based RPG into a more action-oriented medium has and will always be a bitch: again when you start out you can't shoot a watermelon 3 feet in front of you, so you have to invest a lot, I mean a lot, of points into Ranged Weapons to get anywhere. A lot of other reviewers said that guns were so useless that it would be better to invest in melee weapons and magic. I found that by the end of the game I could deal a big deal of damage with my character, especially with my .50 caliber semi-automatic pistol. If you do go the melee or magic route, really spend the time to max out those specific disciplines, especially for the endgame: the bodies will hit the floor....

Sneaking is a joke in the game, because of the almostly stupid AI. Whenever you crouch you enter into Stealth mode. In said mode, there is a gauge which measures your visibility. If the number gets too high, someone can see you. But I found that if I stayed in the green, I could literally sneak up to a guy, IN FRONT OF HIM, and not be noticed. Also, I could snap one of their colleague's necks, IN FRONT OF HIM, and not be pursued. This blase attitude to their fellow coworkers is obviously why such a low fledging vampire like me was able to overcome. Towards the end of the game, I almost found the stupid AI to be a godsend, because I just really wanted to finish the damn game. To be brief, hacking works just like you expect it to - find a password, get the info, turn something off, etc.

Tu Voies Comme Un Vampire

In terms of eye-candy, VMB comes off really rough. As previously mentioned, Troika said that the game was all ready finished a year ago, so why is it in such a bad state? In HL2 I could play the game at 1024x768 with 4x AA and 8x AF and the FPS never dipped below 40. With this game I play with no AA and 4x AF at the same resolution and the game hiccoughs so much that I wonder what the hell Troika was doing that year.

The art direction is in my opinion good, but not exceptional. The erotic goth overtunes are always appreciated in games like this, but the world felt so fake to me that I could never fully enjoy it. Others will probably dig it much more than I, but it never caught me. What makes it worse is the fact that the game really resembles the first DX. Some impressive high-res textures and pixel shaders help it, but these particular seems so slapped on. Look at any screenshots of the game, you'll see.

Le Monde Vampire

What kept me playing? The quests. They're just like the ones found in DX series, but much better thought out. Sure, they're FedEx missions and kill stuff missions, but at least they're done in a bit more imaginative way. I won't spoil the story for you, but they are very good.

But the big problem comes at the end of the game; combat cannot be avoided at all. You can sneak past the dumb AI characters and snap their necks, but sooner or later you're going to face a boss character. And they hurt a lot. So if you want to make a Garrett type character, make sure he/she speaks softly and carries a big fucking stick.

Et Tu Parles Comme Un Vampire

Another reason to keep playing; excellent dialog and voice acting. Remember, these guys used to work on the Fallout games. Being a Film Studies major and aspiring filmmaker, I can say that the voice acting in the game is quite comparable to good to decent film (or maybe better in comparison to films like The Day After Tomorrow). In game terms, it's absolutely fabulous work, but remember that we gamers tend to endure horrible dialog much more than movie goers (Max Payne). Also impressive is the voice direction; it's clear that whoever was directing the voice actors knew what he wanted from the actors, which is always a plus. I guess this is because apparently the direction was done by the Troika members themselves, so bravo.

The dialogs are generally well thought out and provacative. I hope to see at least this kind of development evolve more in games.

Sound in the game is pretty good, but to be honest after hearing HL2's host-based surround sound, this EAX stuff sounds pretty weak. But that's just my opinion.

Etc. (Pourquoi le Francais?)

Because I need the practice. And to hopefully make this post a bit more interesting. To sum, this is a game filled with a lot of little things to keep you busy and generally interested to the end, like with DX. If you got pissed off at DX for this kind of gameplay, just ignore this game - the endings aren't anything earthshattering and you're not missing much in terms of story.

One thing I forgot to mention - when it comes to bugs this game is infested. I can't believe Troika didn't weed at least the big glaring bugs in the game (warning - be careful around doors, they might trap you forever). One serious bug I encountered required me to download an "unofficial" patch that fixed a bunch of the script errors. Jesus Christ all mighty.....

Warren Spector once pondered why the combat route in his DX games were always the easiest. This comes as no surprise: most gamers who play this game are into FPS shooters - we're trained to do what we do. If you want to introduce stealth, you have to be very restrictive about it, like in the Thief Series. I think this kind of FPS RPG needs to be refined more before we finally see it as it should be. DX Invisible war eschewed a lot of its RPG elements to streamline the experience, so much so that really did become a slower-paced shooter. I hope someone will find the right balancing of elements someday.

If any of you happened to read this long piece, I hope you found it useful. Here are some useful links if you do intend to play the game:

The Unofficial Patch

A Nice Walkthrough

A Forum to Bitch about the Bugs

Tomorrow I head back home, where a nice copy of KOTOR II waits for me. I really dug the original, and look forward to this one. I hope it's not fucked up.
I heard it was OK, thanks for the review. I'll probably steer clear. I did read some of the pen + paper books on Werewolf the Apocalypse and Vampire the Masquerade, but neither really caught my interest. Werewolf seemed more interesting, out of the two. D&D, Shadowrun, and Robotech/Macross were more interesting.
I didn't mean to bash the game. All in all, it's a pretty good game. It's just that there's little innovation going on in this genre, and it's getting old really fast.
Oh no, I just meant that I can't see myself shelling out full price for it. I'm not made of money, I just tape money to myself for a similar appearance.