Review: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (PC)

Genre: RPG
Platform: PC
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)
Developer: Troika
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 11/16/04
Official Website: VampireBloodlines.com

For the uninitiated, Vampire: The Masquerade was a popular pen-and-paper RPG by White Wolf involving, you guessed it, vampires. The concept is that there are vampires all around us in the world, but they keep themselves relatively hidden by a set of rules and laws known as the Masquerade.

To be honest, I know very little about V:TM. I had some friends who were in to it somewhat, and I had read the Book of Nod, but other than that, I was pretty new to the whole thing prior to playing this game. I do know that White Wolf has apparently rebooted Vampire, and is now doing a series called Vampire: The Requiem instead, but other than that, I know nothing other than what is contained within this game. So let’s get down to it, shall we?


Story
First of all, I have to say that I love Troika. Members of the studio were responsible for the original Fallout, and they’ve also developed Arcanum and Temple of Elemental Evil. One of the best things in all those games for me was the story and dialogue. And this game was no different.

I’m sure Troika worked very much with White Wolf on the story so that it would fit well within the V:TM world. Basically, the story is this: You play a young vampire who was only recently embraced (turned into a vampire). Your Sire (the person who turned you into a vampire) apparently was supposed to get permission before siring anyone, but did not, and is therefore put to death by the Camarilla, a group that enforces the laws of the Masquerade. The Prince, or head of the Camarilla in Los Angeles, lets you live, provided that you help him out along the way.

This starts you on a journey through Santa Monica, Downtown LA, Hollywood and Chinatown, where you have to deal with warring factions of Vampires and different vampire clans. The story itself is excellent, with nice twists and turns, but the best part by far is the dialogue. Troika knows how to write intelligent dialogue, while at the same time being funny as hell. This is easily the best reason to play the game.
Rating: 9.0


Graphics
V:TM – Bloodlines is designed using the Source Engine, which is the same engine that Half Life 2 is running. Having played both this game and Half Life 2, I am pretty disappointed with V:TM. The graphics aren’t bad, but they aren’t as good as the engine can produce. Whenever you speak to someone, it zooms in on their face, and you can see some of the greatness of the Source Engine, but that’s the best that the graphics get. The eyes and faces have a lot of expression, but beyond that, the graphics go downhill quickly. Character models will sometimes go wonky, and body parts will either disappear or get huge, things of that nature.

The environments are ok, but nothing to write home about. Some areas are nicely designed, like some of the night clubs you visit, but others are just boring. And it’s bizarre to exploring downtown LA, and see stoplights that change, but no cars. And it’s a relatively small area, which is understandable, but I feel they could have cordoned off the area more so it didn’t feel like it was a small area, but that you were just in a small PART of the whole Downtown. It’s hard to explain what I mean.
Rating: 7.0


Sound
I was actually surprised at how good the sound was in this game. There isn’t a lot of music, except when you go into places where you expect music, like night clubs, but what music you do hear is really good. I don’t know any of the songs, and I don’t know if they were produced specifically for the game or not, but either way, they are really good.

The voice acting was good as well. I didn’t hear many voices that didn’t fit with their roles, and each voice was different than the last, so I have no complaints here.

The sound effects left a lot to be desired though. Some of the weapon sounds didn’t sound right, and a lot of incidental sounds were just bad. Like footsteps for example. When you run, you hear a footstep for every two steps you take. And when you are trying to sneak, you hear your own footsteps as well, which makes it more difficult to listen for the footsteps of people you’re trying to avoid. They could have done a better job overall here, but I guess it could be a lot worse.
Rating: 8.0


Control/Gameplay
Having played Troika’s past games, I didn’t know what to expect from this game, since it’s in full 3D. And while it could have been ok, it wasn’t even decent. The game controls like a standard PC FPS, where the WASD keys move and the mouse aims. Left-click on the mouse attacks, and right-click uses a special power. To use your powers, you have “blood points” which is like mana or MP in other RPGs. To get blood points, you have to feed on humans. To uphold the Masquerade, you must do so without being seen, or if you prefer, there are nightclubs where you are allowed to feed openly, but only on people who want you to feed on them. If you have problems finding someone to feed on, you can always pay for a hooker and take them to some dark alley and feed.

One thing that needs to be followed is to not kill anyone while feeding, otherwise you loose humanity. Should you run out of bloodpoints, or your humanity drops to 0, you will go into a killing frenzy. Not pretty.

Also, one nice thing is the ability to switch from third and first person, a la The Suffering. All FPS games need that.

The game works like most standard pen-and-paper conversions where you have stats and experience and such. Since the game is set in modern days, it has more modern stats, like computer hacking and such. As a side note, hacking computers (in the game I mean) is pretty cool. You get no experience from combat, only from completing quests. And here is where I start to be mean.

Since you get no experience from combat, it would have been nice if combat were refined in a way so that you could avoid it a majority of the time. Sadly, you can neither avoid combat most of the times, and it isn’t refined at all. In all honesty, combat in this game is one of the worst I have EVER seen. It is essentially a stat-based click-fest. When attacking with melee weapons, you have to keep clicking clicking clicking. There is a defend button, but it just improves your defense stat, and never even worked for me. Fighting with ranged weapons is even worse, because it controls exactly like an FPS, except that just because your aiming reticule is dead on target, if your stats are too low, you may miss. Also, it makes very little sense to me that you are a vampire with super strength yet it takes you 4 strikes with a katana to kill a regular human. It’s just stupid.

Let’s add these up: click-fest combat bad combat system tons of enemies in some locations no experience for dealing with enemies = not a fun playing experience. To be honest, there was more than one occasion that I would have gladly stopped the game, uninstalled it, and burned the discs (burn them in a very hot fire, I mean) if it weren’t for the story.
Rating: 3.0


Replayability
People may argue that there is a ton of replayability in the game, but I don’t have any desire to play it again, so I won’t. But there is some amount of replayability I suppose. You can choose from 8 vampire clans, each with different special abilities and each with different ways of getting things done. For example, there is the Nosferatu, who are ugly as hell, and can’t even pass as a human, so they must sneak around pretty much all the time. And there’s also the Malkavians, who are more normal looking, but hear voices in their heads, which you experience in the game also. Despite the different vampire clans, I’m pretty sure there is only one ending. I didn’t really want to play again to make sure though. Also, it’s rather disappointing that each clan only has a male and female model, and you can’t really customize your appearance any.
Rating: 5.0


Balance
The difficulty is pretty standard at times, and ramps up, but I’m deducting a few points here. First off, there are times when the difficulty is off the scale due to the combat system, because when there are 5 enemies rushing at you, it can be very difficult to not get killed. And it seems like their way of making the game more difficult was to add more enemies and make the enemies take more hits to kill. Not only does this make it more difficult in places, it makes it infinitely more frustrating. Were the combat system better, then it may not have been so bad.
Rating: 4.0


Originality
While there aren’t that many V:TM video games, there have been plenty of vampire games in general. This is different enough in that it’s the first vampire RPG I can remember. And having the V:TM license makes it different enough, but as a whole, this game doesn’t have much that makes it completely unique.
Rating: 5.0


Addictiveness
Ugh, after a while, I simply did not want to play this game anymore. It didn’t have any fun, and like I said, the only thing that kept my interest at all was the story and dialogue. I grew attached to a total of one character and liked what he had to say, but other than that, I just wanted it to end. Add to that a section of the game that is in the sewers that is ultra-long, devoid of anything remotely interesting, and you have something that makes me want to turn the game off instantly.
Rating: 2.0


Appeal
Sadly, this game will appeal to a fairly high amount of people. Not only is it rated M and has blood and gore, which will appeal to sick people (such as myself), the game will also appeal to all sorts of people, such as goth, otherkin, and pretty much everyone who is a fan of the V:TM games.
Rating: 5.0


Miscellaneous
Potential. It’s something I talk about a lot it seems. Sometimes I have a knack for looking at a game and seeing what COULD have been. When I use that ability on V:TM – Bloodlines, I see something very good. It’s a pity that it didn’t turn out that way.

The game uses the Source Engine, which is great. Unfortunately, they didn’t use the engine very well. They could have done better. Likewise, the game is by far the buggiest game I’ve ever played. There is, in fact, one location that I was unable to pass. You’re supposed to get on a boat and it loads the next section. But when I got on the boat, the game crashed. And a lot of other people had the same problem. With the graphical and environmental bugs in the game, I have to wonder if anyone even tested the game. Because some of these problems are pretty major.

I’m just really disappointed. Troika has a lot of good people and they’ve made some great games in the past, but then this game comes out, and it’s just a pile of crap compared to everything else they’ve done. I still respect them as a company, but not so much. Please prove me wrong Troika. Release a post-apocalyptic RPG that will kick Fallout 3 in the teeth, and make it awesome. I know you can.
Rating: 3.0


Ratings Summary

Story: 9.0
Graphics: 7.0
Sound: 8.0
Control/Gameplay: 3.0
Replayability: 5.0
Balance: 4.0
Originality: 5.0
Addictiveness: 2.0
Appeal: 5.0
Miscellaneous: 3.0

Average: 5.1

Short Attention Span Summary
As you can see, I was pretty disappointed in this game. I greatly enjoyed the story, and it could have been a very fun game, but due to horrible bugs, an awful combat system, and poor usage of the Source Engine, the game just turned out to be mediocre. The only reason the score is what it is is because of the story and good music and voices and graphics. Had those things been less, the game would have dropped into “suck” territory. And even as the score is now, I wouldn’t recommend the game to anyone except die-hard V:TM fans. It’s just not worth it.