Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

Hidden Gems: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

In 2004, developer Troika, made from many of the old Black Isle team members, released their first 3D title: Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, based on White Wolf’s World of Darkness. It also proved to be their last as the game sold less than 100,000 units, possibly overshadowed by Half-Life 2, which was released on the very same day. It also suffered from a plethora of bugs, likely due to the team’s inexperience with 3D, a rushed final third, and horrid combat. Why, then, is it a feature on Hidden Gems? Well, that’s because it’s one of the greatest RPGs of the past decade.

The game tells the story of a man or woman, depending on which gender you choose, who is turned into a vampire. The character’s sire, the vampire who turned them, is killed for breaking the rules and the player character is more or less left on his or her own, except that a few vampires early on who provide some pointers on how not to get killed right off the bat. From there, the character embarks on a journey through the dark underbelly of vampire society from the orderly Camarilla and the rebellious Anarchs. There’s danger at every turn as the Prince sends you on various missions to uncover the truth about an ancient vampire sarcophagus that has appeared in Los Angeles.

What’s really striking about this game is how deep it is. There are numerous conversations choices for virtually every encounter, all of which are effected by your character’s stats and vampire clan. All the characters are fully voiced, and quite well for the most part, and there are a good number of characters to interact with. There are some NPCs that you can’t talk to, however. But I digress, this is truly an RPG in the purest sense of the word. Rather than focus on action, action, action, it concerns itself with the underlying systems that provide differing experiences based on player choice. Of course, if you truly want a different experience, choose the Nosferatu clan during character creation.

There’s a huge number of missions and side missions for the player to complete, or not complete, all of which provide little bits of insight into the workings of the vampire world, both their trials and their ambitions. That’s another aspect of the game that is truly unique. The world has so many great characters and great stories, but it’s all buoyed by a unique world that has been carefully thought out and put together. This world feels very lived-in and also as if one push might throw it all into chaos.

The graphics are pretty good for the most part, aided by some truly stunning character faces. Characters are very detailed and well animated, which is good because you’re going to be staring at some of them very closely thanks to the first-person view. There’s also a third-person view, but I wouldn’t really recommend it except for melee combat. The look of the world is another high-point, it has almost cyberpunk feel to it as you stare out at the skyline of the city at night. Although it was actually the first game to use Valve’s Source engine, it certainly doesn’t look it. However, it does become clear that it’s an early Source engine because of the lack of physics, which Half-Life 2 was famous for. It’s unfortunate, but another by-product of the team’s inexperience with 3D.

I’ve talked a lot about what the game does really well, but there’s also something that it does very poorly. For one thing, there are a number of very serious bugs, some of which can completely break the game and force you to start over. That’s not good. The few cutscenes that are scattered around in the game are very poorly handled and animated. It’s a good thing there aren’t very many because you won’t want to watch them. Another bad thing? The combat is some of the worse combat to ever appear in a 3D RPG. It’s stiff and cumbersome and feel’s like it was tacked on near the end. Speaking of the end: the final seven or eight hours is very rushed and combat-heavy. Also, if you played stealthy through the first part of the game and didn’t really spend many points on combat, then you’re in trouble. There are monsters near the end that will see you anyway. My suggestion is to switch on god mode and stroll past them. The ending is also light on RPG’ing, you know, talking to people and doing side quests and things of that nature. It’s almost pure combat, which might not be that bad if the combat weren’t so janky.

It’s got a decent length, about 15-20 hours, and features a nice range of locations to visit and explore. There’s simply a lot of things to do and find all over the place, so that you’ll rarely ever be bored. It’s even got a few instances where the game can be really creepy, even scary. It’s a dark, adult RPG.

Specs: Developed by Troika, Published by Activision, and released on November 16, 2004 for the PC.

Upsides: A dark world filled with interesting characters and a lot of missions to accomplish.

Downsides: Broken combat, rushed finale, poorly animated cutscenes, lots of bugs.

Verdict: The epitome of a flawed gem. If you can overlook the problems this game has, then you’ll be rewarded with a deep RPG that is unlike any other out there. 8.5/10

Where to Find: The retail release is out of print by now, and a bit costly used, but there’s a Steam version available now for $20.

Random Note: Most of the bugs have been ironed over the years by a series of fan patches. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE LATEST ONE BEFORE PLAYING.


April 18, 2010 - Posted by | Games, Hidden Gems | , , , ,

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