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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Activision
developer: Troika Games
genre: RPG

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 1200, 384MB RAM, 3.3GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.vampirebloodlines.com/

release date: Nov 16, 04
» All About Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines on ActionTrip


Vampires are a funny lot, and I'll tell you why. Besides having supernatural powers and basically being very hard to kill, vampires are what you might call focused gastronomists. Simply put, they are obsessed with food. Look, here's the deal; we all have to eat, there's no denying that. However, we don't spend our lifetime obsessing about cows and chickens - we slaughter the animals in huge factories, wrap them up in small parts and ship them off to be served as fast food. But eating for most is a simple necessity and not an elaborate art form. For vampires, the art of eating is taken to mythic proportions. They will chant rhymes and talk to their victims, and oddly enough, the victims will talk back. I guess now that I think about it, I can see why they take their food so seriously - it's like working in a slaughterhouse and a youth club all at the same time. That's a pretty interesting (disturbing?) concept.

There's really quite a bit to the vampire lore other than their eating habits, but eating somehow always takes center stage. The folks at Troika games tried to tackle that problem, however, by broadening the concept of vampire existence in the sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption, a video game based on the White Wolf's pen-and-paper RPG series. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines is an ambitious continuation of the franchise that deepens the lore and offers the type of gameplay that was the backbone to the original Deus Ex, but with an even heavier RPG aspect to it and lots and lots of bloodsucking. The heavy RPG feel of the game, even though it's played in real-time and mostly in first-person mode, is not at all surprising considering Troika's background as a developer. They're the folks behind such titles as Arcanum and they are the creative minds behind the original Fallout games.

The fact that Troika had something to do with the original Fallout is so delightfully apparent in 'Vampire' that it has filled my heart and mind with enormous glee. Seriously, the writing in this game is... well, you can go ahead now and list your own selection of superlatives. It's completely fucking awesome. It's spirited, it's thrilling, it's emotional at times and it's so delightfully sarcastic and drenched in crass and black humor that I will personally shoot, maim and torture every single ActionTrip reader that says they like this site, but don't like the writing in the game. Look people, whoever wrote the dialogue for Bloodlines is the fucking Baron. Think about how Smap and I write, and then add some actual talent and intelligence to that, and you have the script for Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines. The story in itself is layered and suspenseful, but it's really the little things that make it so great. 'Bloodlines' is packed with memorable lines that are sure to make you laugh.

'Vampire' is in many ways a deep and immersive experience that is not to be judged by its cover. After my initial disappointment, which I'm going to get to soon enough, I was completely taken away by the game world that Troika has created. There are a number of vampire classes you can choose from: you can answer a set of questions and let the game pick a clan for you, or you can pick one yourself. I answered the questions and was assigned to clan Malkavian - a bunch of delusional sons of bitches that all speak EXACTLY like one of our comments section posters 'vagina dry.' They make no sense and they have a few loose screws up there. What I really liked about this and what is surely a testament of the dedication by the writers, is that the clan you choose will determine how you communicate to the world in terms of dialogue. A Malkavian will speak in riddles (gibberish?) and the world will treat him accordingly. In addition to the clans communicating differently, each of them will grant their clansmen unique special abilities. The Malkavians for example are stealthy and are able to cloud their opponent's mind and instill madness into them.

Character development in Bloodlines is handled in such a way that you level up a huge number of feats and skills as you progress through the main campaign. Completing quests awards you experience points, which you can then use to level up in any way that you see fit. You can become a more insightful and crafty vampire, or you can work on your skull-bashing skills by becoming a powerful brawler.
You will be able to explore the world at your own pace, complete side quests or decide to follow the main story. The combat itself is in real-time and it's an interesting mix of FPS/third-person action gameplay and classic RPG combat. In other words, you'll still aim and shoot the gun in real-time, but the amount of damage you cause or take will not only be decided by how well you aim, or how well you dodge, but also by your range weapons skill, defense skill, etc. Another very important thing to note about the gameplay is that various quests can be completed in several different ways. Hence, there is a strong non-linear feel to the game. While the main story branches out on only the key points, the side quests really give you a chance to show off your wits by finding alternate routes or alternate solutions to problems. Being more resourceful will award you additional experience points, which will come in handy if you need to level up your 'Obfuscate' skill that allows you to turn invisible at the expense of blood loss (if you're a Malkavian). Speaking of which, vampires need to retain as much of their humanity as they can, as well as keep their blood levels up, so that they don't fall into a feeding frenzy. Maintaining the Masquerade that vampires don't exist is also very important, and if you screw up five times the others will have to take you down.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines takes place in the city of LA and its surrounding landmarks, like Santa Monica, Hollywood and China Town. Naturally, you won't see the light of day in this game, so in a way all of these urban, outdoor areas will feel a little constrictive and repetitive at first. Each will have its own Goth night club and the feel of similar urban night life. Sadly, this sense of repetitiveness also applies to the NPCs that are roaming the city streets. You'll often see the same characters walk by each other, which might kill the suspension of disbelief for some.

You see, for Bloodlines, Troika has decided to license the now famous Half-Life 2 engine, but the problem with this is that the version of the Source engine they used seems to be years away from the one I've seen in Half-Life 2. All of the basic features of the technology are there, but Troika has sadly done a shoddy job of implementing them. The graphics feel very unpolished and often uninspired. Numerous visual bugs haunt the game: from the god-awful bounding box problems (if a character is blocking your path, you'll have NO WAY of moving it out of the way), to characters gliding across the walking surface and suddenly just disappearing from the scene.

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ACTIONTRIP SCORE
8.2   Very Good


HIGHS
Superbly written story and dialogue, humor, leveling and different vampire clan abilities, open-ended gameplay elements, facial animation, voice acting and creepy ambient sounds, some genuinely scary moments;

LOWS
Game code feels very unpolished: AI, bounding box and sound bugs; repetitive urban settings and NPCs.

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