Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Review


IVampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is based on the popular pen and paper RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. It takes place in a world where vampires and other creatures of the night walk the Earth, but unbeknownst to humanity. It is this that is The Masquerade, a vast vampire conspiracy to keep their very existence hidden from humans. The vampires take The Masquerade very seriously and will even slay one of their own should it be violated too often – the vampires would much rather spend their time and attention on wars with rival clans than on keeping the food supply in check. In Bloodlines, maintaining The Masquerade has become a little difficult of late as it is a time of great upheaval in the vampire world. Vampires find themselves on the eve of Gehenna, the undead version of the end of the world, and the clans are jockeying for power before the real bloodletting begins. This is where you come in. You are a new vampire brought into undead life by your sire without your knowledge or consent. For this crime you sire is put to death, but that doesn’t do anything to change your situation. Your undead life is spared, though, and you are freed onto the streets of Santa Monica to begin your new life. Without a sire you lack the kind of tutelage offered to most newly sired vampires, but a mentor does help you out by covering the basics of vampire life in what serves as the game’s tutorial. The tutorial is well-designed and gives you a chance to learn the ropes of vampire life while in what amounts to a protected and forgiving mission. Once you’re through that you’re on your own and ready to begin serving your vampire prince.

Screenshots
A vampire of LA.

Like almost all RPGs, in Bloodlines you begin by creating your character. Your first decision is probably the most important of all – the selection of a vampire clan. This choice will have a large effect on your game experience. Select Nosferatu and you will be a hideous creature who will break The Masquerade just by being seen, and your game will be one of slinking around in the shadows and staying out of sight. Become Malkavian and you will be mentally unstable, but also privy to hearing voices in your head giving you guidance as you play. As a Ventrue you will be charming and manipulative, and your silver tongue will give you more dialog options when conversing with NPCs. There are seven clans to select from in all and each will give you a different experience with the game. If this initial choice feels too overwhelming, the game will help you out by presenting you with a number of questions pertaining to hypothetical situations and then pick a clan for you based on your responses.

Once your race is selected you will need to spend points in various skill areas to further customize your vampire. There are a number of skill areas that include soft skills such as persuasion and presence, intellectual skills such as research and computer hacking, and more physical skills such as brawling and firearms. Your choices here will have a further effect on your game experience as situations will unfold differently based on your skills. Do you hack into a computer directly or try to charm the password out of somebody? Do you intimidate a foe to the point where he is too frightened to fight effectively or do you overpower him with brute strength? These types of differing approaches to situations occur throughout the game and are greatly driven by your skill mix. While selecting a good skill set may seem like an overwhelming job to some people, most gamers will appreciate how it lets them mold the game to their play style and how this affords the game a good degree of replayability.

The game itself can be played from the first or third person view, and the first thing that you’ll notice about this is that it makes the game appear more like a shooter than an RPG. This is not too surprising when you learn that Bloodlines is built on the same engine as Half-Life 2. Make no mistake about it, though, this game is pretty much an RPG through and through, with battles won by hidden die rolls as much as by a quick mouse hand. The success of everything that you do, from picking locks to hacking computers, depends on your skills in the various corresponding areas and not on timing or some other action game mechanism. The fights take place in real-time and you maneuver yourself into position to strike your enemy with your equipped weapon and then use the mouse button to unleash the attack. However, if you do everything right from a fighting perspective you still may not score a hit on your opponent. This is because behind the scenes the game is checking your level, skills, your opponent’s defense, and everything else you’d expect an RPG to do when resolving combat. If the numbers go your way you’ll see a number appear signifying the number of hit points of damage you’ve done. This works fine for the melee weapons, but the system does not work all that well when guns are involved. When using a gun you must aim the weapon, wait for the crosshairs to stabilize, and then you can pull the trigger. The amount of time it takes for the crosshairs to stabilize and the final accuracy of the shot are dependent on your skill with firearms. You can perfectly align a shot on a stationary target and then watch as the bullet misses its mark and hits the wall beyond. This makes firearms just about useless in a fight until you build your skills, and even then the effort this takes is questionable. Firearms just aren’t that powerful in the game and in most cases you’ll do much better with a melee weapon, making it wiser to spend your skill points in other areas that will have more of an impact on your game.