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Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines
game: Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines
four star
posted by: Jason Frank
publisher: Activision
developer: Troika
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 12:00 AM Tue Dec 7th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Tue Dec 7th, 2004

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Click to read.It seemed only fitting to first watch Interview With a Vampire before writing this review.  Troika's latest offering is dark, gritty, adult (with a capital freakin' A), mature and amazing.  Unfortunately it is also ridden with numerous show-stopping bugs.  Although a patch is (supposedly) in the offing, releasing a game this bug-riddled is a travesty -- especially when it would have been an instant classic otherwise.

 Here is the truth:  this game is amazing.  It rocks.  It will keep you up nights.  You will lose your wife, your job, and your kids will become strangers -- all in the name of improving your character just a bit more?.

What is even more amazing is that the game is this good despite having so many bugs.  Bloodlines is so clearly a labor of love, one hopes that the blame rests squarely on Activision suits? for pushing it out the door in such an unfinished state.  

The game is playable start to finish; and I seem to be one of the lucky ones -- I only had one major quest disappear (the trigger never occurred when it should) but was able to play through otherwise.  One feels bad for the many others who had problem after problem; including game-stopping crashes.  Troika still does not have a website for the game and players have been relying on http://www.dilapidation.com for forum advice and bug work-arounds.

The good news is that the bugs are the only flaw.  The ONLY flaw.  That is the tragedy -- this game deserves to be a classic.  Not since the original Fallout have I been so gripped by a game and its atmosphere.  I also just finished Half-Life 2, and while there was great eye-candy and a trigger-driven plot, the game just can't compare to the depth, the breadth and the atmosphere of Bloodlines. 

 Some have complained about the first person shooter qualities as being sub-standard.  No doubt about it -- they are -- because the game isn't a first person shooter.  It is a role-playing game.  An adventure game with one facet of it's world being violence.  Melee is definitely the easier road over firearms -- but a character who sinks points into their firearms will be packing a mean punch by the endgame.  Bloodlines makes it harder than normal to use guns, but, in this reviewer's opinion, only because guns have much less affect on the already dead.?  A small hole in your undead chest is a lot easier to deal with than someone lopping off your arm with an axe.  Get it?  The game is deep and doesn't nod to the console crowd -- thank goodness.

The graphics are gritty and dark -- although you will need a high-end system to enjoy the game in all its glory.  The sound tracks are superb (I've never actually sat and listened to the soundtrack in a game before this one -- the clubs often have a band playing and they are rather good!) and the ambient atmosphere off the charts.  Combat and fast action can definitely cause your rig to chug, but no more so than any other high-end release game these days.  It is more than playable at 800x600 without losing the edginess and depth that make it such a great experience.

Bloodlines begins with a character selection screen much like Arcanum or Fallout.  First, you select a vampire clan to belong to; choices range from the bestial Nosferatu to the suave Toreador to the dark necromantic Tremere.  Each clan comes with its own disciplines (vampire spells) and abilities, as well as affecting your opening statistics.

You have to carefully select where to place your precious experience points among a vast array of skills, statistics, feats and disciplines.  Each has 5 ranks and each rank is progressively more expensive.  Each rank then affects your feats.  For example, place several points in strength and your melee and brawl feats immediately increase one.  Each choice will directly affect game play and you can choose to play as anything from a charismatic smooth-talker, able to seduce the young lovelies into offering their lily-white throats for your satiation, to a brutish Nosferatu who can claw someone down in seconds and must hide in the sewers (literally!) because your appearance sends civilians screaming to the police.

Your choices affect how quests and conversations play out.  Like Baldur's Gate 2 and Fallout, these choices are real and not just a few extra lines of dialogue.  I have played the game through twice and am already on my third.  The game plays at about 25-35 hours with several alternate endings, so there is a ton of game and replay value by today's standards.  The best character so far, in terms of shear creativity and game affect, is the Malkavian Vampire, a clan that is known for its insanity.  Voices literally whisper to you as you progress, offering advice.  Incredible.

Vampire Bloodlines has incredible depth.  The game world revolves around four major hubs; San Monica, Downtown L.A., Hollywood, and Chinatown -- with numerous side jaunts to other map locations.  Hubs open throughout the game and then you are able to freely move back and forth with numerous missions occurring across a broad spectrum of hubs.  You will do everything from explore a haunted hotel (ala The Shining), to bounty hunting, to stopping a werewolf.  The game's missions are varied, well-written, exceptionally paced and incredibly diverse.

Bloodlines blows away with its attention to detail:  television news anchors reference what you have done at previous game stages, a radio program advances throughout the game with call-ins that are both hilarious and intriguing, phones ring (and are answerable at many stages), email gives vital clues and opens quests, and the characters are unforgettable.

Ranging from a blood bank worker who makes extra cash by supplying you and your (ahem) brethren with a bit of extra nourishment to a nymphomaniac vampiress who enjoys dressing like a Catholic schoolgirl; the characters are liberally scattered throughout the game and leave a definite impression.  The dialogue and voice-acting are superb and I literally shivered and laughed out loud more times than I can count.

What's best is that Troika earns the M in mature in spades.  From whorehouses, to a sewer slaughter scene straight from your best B-movie horror, to conversation you DO NOT want your mother (or daughter) to hear, the game pulls no punches and even comes up with a few new headlocks and combos that knock you out with their clever addition to the game's gritty feel.  Yet it isn't exploitative or sick for sickness sake like Manhunter -- the sickness is often skewed with humor, or simply fits the storyline like a velvet glove (much like a Toreador would wear while seducing some club-hopping food).

This game blows recent so-called RPGs out of the water.  It feels old school; when you were assured of hundreds of hours of enjoyment for your buck.  It surrounds you with the darkness, the politics, and the bloodiness of the vampire world and won't let you go.  It sucks you in (couldn't resist the pun -- sorry) and immerses you, making hours fly.

It is truly unfortunate that Troika didn't take the extra months needed to polish and fix this product.  It screams to be game of the year material; and instead is reduced to average by the shoddy production release values.

Is it worth getting?  Yes.  Especially once patched, it will be the killer game it so clearly has under the bugs.  But you are warned that, until the patch, you may not be able to play it to completion on your system.  

Vampire Bloodlines is no-holds barred dark, adult and deadly -- what more could a virtual vampire want?

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