Home Reviews First Person Games Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Tuesday, 26 February 2008 18:00
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Developer: Troika Games
Publisher: Activision
Trailer
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)
PEGI 18+ (Gane contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
The role-playing universe in which this game is based has been discontinued and replaced with Vampire: The Requiem. Personally, I don’t understand why they would mess with a good thing, as they tampered with all of their other lines as well. The problem isn’t isolated to publisher White Wolf, either, as WizKids has done something similar with their Shadowrun and BattleTech lines. Just know that if this game interests you in exploring the World of Darkness further, there is a vast difference between the Old WoD and the New.

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Embrace the Darkness
VTM operates on the assumption that vampires are real but operate as secret societies, cultivating superstition to convince us mortals that they’re nothing more than myth. This is the aforementioned Masquerade, supported by the Camarilla sect but opposed by the Sabbat. The Anarchs fall somewhere in between, in favor of the Masquerade but out of favor with the Camarilla over the latter’s insistence on calling the shots. And that’s not even getting into the various other sects, which developer Troika was thankfully smart enough to (mostly) leave out—it’s getting complicated enough as it is.

Vampires are descended from Caine (the biblical Cain). He embraced (turned into vampires) three Childer (progeny), who in turn created thirteen more (the Antediluvians). These thirteen are more or less responsible for the Clans that exist today, vampires that share common characteristics and abilities based on their bloodline. VTM: Bloodlines takes place at a point in time where the bloodlines are thinning away, supposedly heralding Gehenna: the reawakening of the Antediluvians, who will devour their offspring in ravenous hunger and destroy the world.

VTM:B doesn’t let you play as all the Clans, though with good reason. Since the Masquerade is the crux of the game (and you have no choice but to support it), the seven playable Clans are the members of the Camarilla/Anarchs. Of the remaining six, three don’t normally operate in VTM:B’s setting (and aren’t associated with the Masquerade, anyway), so they don’t put in an appearance. Two of the other three are either independent locals or Sabbat, and therefore serve as the game’s antagonists. The Lasombra Clan, which jointly rules the Sabbat, is the game’s only notable absence.

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Begun by Blood. By Blood Undone.
Players are given the choice to create a character or let the game do it for them. Not only is there a personality quiz to determine which Clan fits you best, but there’s also an option to have it automatically spend experience points as you get them. The system actually works quite well: the quiz subtly whittles down your options without relying on direct one-to-one answers (i.e. you won’t have seven choices per question), and the AutoLevel system pays close attention to what you’re doing when it spends XP (sneak a lot, for example, and the game will put points in stealth).

There’s also the question of histories, and for this I need to take a moment to talk about the game’s patches. Troika only managed to release a single patch before they went out of business, but the fan community has taken up the cause and released several of their own. My recommendation is the get the latest version of the “Unofficial Patch,” which will give you the option of simply fixing the game’s numerous bugs or even improving the experience with additional content. Say what you will about developer intentions, but I for one think the experience benefits from the added material.

Troika originally intended to include histories—which tweak the character creation process even further—but didn’t have time to implement them before the release date. Some histories simply determine the spread of your starting XP, while others have game-spanning effects, and they are specific to both Clan and gender. You may have noticed I haven’t gone into any depth on the playable Clans themselves, and while I could expound for several paragraphs on the intricacies of each, instead I’m going to rely on a little video shorthand to get the job done.

If you’re planning on spending the XP yourself, you’ve got a few different categories to choose from. Disciplines are essentially vampiric magic, and each Clan typically has one that is unique to them alone. Then there are Attributes and Abilities, which are inherent traits (like strength, appearance, and intelligence) and things you learn (firearms, computers, etc), respectively. What’s interesting about these is that when you put an Attribute and Ability together you get a Feat. The lockpicking feat, for instance, is derived from both dexterity and security knowledge.

The last thing you have to concern yourself with on your stats sheet is your alignment. What makes Bloodlines different from other Western RPGs is that, rather than the old Good versus Evil standby, you’ve got Humanity and the Masquerade. Break the Masquerade too many times and it’s game over. Sacrifice your Humanity, however, and you’ll lose control of your character while they tear into anyone and everyone with naught but tooth and claw. While Humanity and the Masquerade are not exactly opposites, consider what you would do with an innocent human who knew too much…

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City of Night
The game begins with you being embraced against your will and losing your Sire (progenitor) in short order. Spared a similar fate, you’re cast adrift into the City of Angels to find your way. Setting the game in Los Angeles is a masterstroke—L.A. covers over 450 square miles and is home to nearly four million people. If there’s anyplace things could go bump in the night without being noticed, it’s here. To be fair, the game doesn’t simulate all of L.A. Aside from specific missions, you’ll have general access to sections of Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, and Chinatown.

Although based on the real world, VTM isn’t set in the real world, if you get my drift, so things are a bit darker and more rundown. Your initial haven, for instance, is a small apartment above a pawnshop, and your journey will often take you to abandoned buildings and seedy establishments. The game really captures the feel of urban nightlife, that sense of isolation when everyone else is asleep, and does a good job of suggesting the world beyond the game’s boundaries. You’ll hear car alarms and police sirens, and can see airplanes and headlights moving far off in the distance.

The game also nails the sense of impending doom that has come over L.A.’s undead residents. The story’s major plotline concerns an object known as the Ankaran Sarcophagus, which may or may not contain the slumbering form of one of the Antediluvians. Every supernatural entity in the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is trying to get their hands on it, whether to debunk the rumors, prevent it from causing any harm, or use it to further their own ends (vampires can diablerize—that is to say, drain another vampire to death—to gain more power).

The game features five different endings, the availability of which is determined by choices the player makes during the game. Two of these endings are reached by playing through one of two final missions—one for either choice—whereas the other three endings are available only if the player goes through both of the final missions. Two of those three, in turn, will give the player one last choice about how things turn out. I will only say this: the easier the path the worse the ending, the harder the path the potentially better ending.

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Shadow and Flame
The player is free to explore the four neighborhoods, entering buildings they discover and talking with the various other characters to unlock missions. Some of these missions are set within the city sections themselves, even spanning them at times, while others are only accessible via taxi and even then as a onetime deal. While combat is an obvious recourse for most missions, you have plenty of options therein to distinguish one play through from another—bare handed, melee weapons, firearms, and even some of your ranged disciplines.

Stealth, however, is oftentimes just as viable an answer. With the appropriate combination of lockpicking, hacking, and sneaking skills you can avoid most confrontations altogether—and even when it comes time to fight, you can often dispatch an unsuspecting opponent with a single attack from behind. You don’t even need to be one of the two Clans that have the invisibility discipline, Obfuscate—which is understandable considering the Nosferatu must use stealth (just being seen is a Masquerade violation) and discourse as a Malkavian is quite literally an exercise in madness.

Yes, conversation is an option as well. With the proper skills, a player can talk their way through many problems. Special dialogue options are available that enable you to intimidate (green text), seduce (pink text), or persuade (blue text) another character to do as you wish. Malkavians and Ventrue can even use their respective dementia and domination to bend characters to their will. Keep in mind, though, that just because you can try to intimidate or seduce someone doesn’t mean it’s actually going to work. Consider who you're talking to before you say anything they might take offense to.

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Step Into My Parlor
Bloodlines features some excellent level design, including some of the scariest levels in an ostensibly non-horror game this side of the Thief series. You’ve probably heard of the haunted Oceanside Hotel, but there’s also a Malkavian madhouse (in which there is no doubt a book titled Memoirs of My Vampiric Illness), a Tzimisce abattoir, Griffith Park (where you’ll quickly find out why vampires are afraid of werewolves), and a nest of Sabbat in a condemned hotel. The condition of the latter is brilliantly used, as the Sabbat constantly ambush you by tearing right through the rotting walls.

Not all of the level design is perfect, however. There is one stretch in particular, a lengthy jaunt through some abandoned sewers, which feels like an agonizing dungeon crawl. Its one shining light—a terrific boss fight—is ruined when the boss character is relegated to regular enemy status and used a half dozen times immediately thereafter. What makes it worse is that you have to slog through this section, especially since one of the game’s coolest settings comes next (the Nosferatu warrens, wherein the invisible Orlock-a-likes can be heard all around, whispering…)

But don’t let me discourage you. The game captures the WoD better than the only other VTM videogame did (though to be fair, VTM: Redemption was half Vampire: The Dark Ages and more of an Eastern RPG at that). Consider the very core of vampirism: drinking blood. You heal from injuries faster when you’re drinking it, and you need blood to use your disciplines. You’d be surprised how often you’ll find yourself evaluating the kine (human cattle), waiting for someone to wander down a dark alleyway or go into an unoccupied restroom. After all, isn’t that what role-playing’s all about?

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Conclusion
I’ve played through Bloodlines twice so far, and not only were both experiences rich and diverse but I’m looking forward to going back and playing yet again. It is true that, even after all the patches, there are still some bugs, and I would kill to get a Dark Messiah-style melee system in place so you’d never have to leave first-person, but it’s hard to find fault with this game. When it comes to Western RPGs, Bloodlines ranks in the upper echelons. It’s such a shame that Troika’s gone, since I for one would love to see a spiritual successor with one of White Wolf’s other properties…
  

Game Rated 9/10
 

 

 

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