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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC) artwork

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC) review


"It's seemingly impossible to so much as turn over a rock in Bloodlines without encountering more pasty-faced neck biters that you can shake a sharpened stake at, but there's otherwise very little about this game that sucks. These aren't the sorts of vampires who constantly whine about their lost humanity or take annoying teenage princesses to the prom, either; we're talking about hard-drinking and even harder-dying undead anarchists packing UZIs who'd just as soon rip your head off and use it to shoot hoops in the dirty, haunted streets of downtown Los Angeles, except that kind of thing always gets the elders' velvety cloaks in a bunch. Keeping up appearances in front of the cattle and all that; they have nuclear missiles instead of holy water and boomerangs these days."




Vampires.

Animate corpses who rise from their coffins by night in search of precious blood.

Relentless foes of finely figured virgins and cantankerous, crucifix wielding Dutchmen.

Owners of snazzy evening wear.

It's seemingly impossible to so much as turn over a rock in Bloodlines without encountering more pasty-faced neck biters that you can shake a sharpened stake at, but there's otherwise very little about this game that sucks. These aren't the sorts of vampires who constantly whine about their lost humanity or take annoying teenage princesses to the prom, either; we're talking about hard-drinking and even harder-dying undead anarchists packing UZIs who'd just as soon rip your head off and use it to shoot hoops in the dirty, haunted streets of downtown Los Angeles, except that kind of thing always gets the elders' velvety cloaks in a bunch. Keeping up appearances in front of the cattle and all that; they have nuclear missiles instead of holy water and boomerangs these days.

To a certain extent Bloodlines itself is in disguise; at a cursory glance it may resemble a first-person shooter, and indeed runs on Half-Life 2's Source engine, but this is very much an RPG of extraordinary depth – that just happens to frequently involve blowing away mortals and monsters alike with a pump-action shotgun. The seven vampiric clans you can choose to descend from not only feature unique appearances for both male and female fledglings but each offer their own combination of supernatural powers ranging from the elegant Toreador's superhuman speed and savage Gangrel's ability to rend flesh asunder in the form of a monstrous beast to the Malkavian incapacitating entire hit squads in the blink of an eye by offering them a glimpse into her own diseased psyche. Don't care much for shooting or spells? Specializing in brawling can be even more effective against undying horrors than emptying a Glock into them, not to mention a physically adept character's ability to snatch gangbangers in the midst of combat and refill her health via a quick mouthful of arterial spray.

Tasty.

That said, your character's incredible potential for violence doesn't mean you have to mindlessly squander it on every last peon, not in a game conceived by the lead designers of Fallout. There are almost always multiple ways to successfully tackle an assignment; you could of course simply wade into a frenetic bloodbath and take out everything that moves with bared fangs and blazing guns, but unlike so many other RPGs experience is never awarded for killing enemies. It's every bit as valid to creep through the shadows the entire time and make off with your objective with no one the wiser, picking locks instead of looting bodies and perhaps lunging out from the darkness to snap a few bastards' necks when they're not looking. Those who prefer breaking hearts instead of spines will also discover countless opportunities to flutter those sooty lashes and slip past obstacles via their diabolic charm, and these latter methods can be quite rewarding; completing a quest without resorting to violence is often worth extra points and occasionally required for dealing with sensitive situations.

You certainly won't lack for problems to solve while exploring a hellish depiction of moonlit California in which convenience stores are built next to abandoned hospitals rent by tortured screams, and gothic cathedrals house beat-blasting bars run by refugees from The Crow. As the story progresses you'll visit four distinctive hubs ranging from the seedy, rain-swept streets of Santa Monica to picturesque Chinatown, each offering a wide variety of side quests that seldom become dull thanks to their integrating both the obvious society of (occasionally) innocent humans and clandestine underworld of winking immortals surrounding them – you're just as likely to start shootouts with Russian gangsters in pristine penthouses as putting down decaying celebrities in the Hollywood cemetery due to an unfortunate outbreak of toxic necro-hoodoo. But whether it's the silken, shameless owner of a strip joint where the sex kittens ooze equal amounts of seduction and delicious plasma, or the slithery viper of a prince whose ever shifting alliances will nevertheless always consider you his personal errand girl, one thing's for certain: just about everyone with or without a pulse is looking to fuck you one way or the other.

As one of the few RPGs to employ a horror setting, things are further livened up by the way seemingly mundane jobs can quickly escalate into a scene straight out of your darkest nightmares: one moment you're on the trail of an escaped criminal for the local bondsman and the next you've unthinkingly wandered into the surgery-laden lair of a serial killer who's trying to bludgeon you to death with a severed arm. One of the first story missions is actually the creepiest, dispatching you to a formerly ornate hotel shunned for decades after a vengeful spirit began to ensure that any visitors to its slaughter-soaked halls remain there permanently. When they're not constantly hounding you with maddening whispers, blood-spattered phantoms flicker in and out of existence from the corners of your vision while inanimate objects suddenly leap off the walls to shatter against the back of your head. Elect to step into the lifeless elevator shaft looking for a way up and an unseen specter breathes a warning in your ear right before the lift comes screaming down with a resounding crash.

In addition to being totally cool, these eclectic quests are important since you want to be earning as much experience as possible; the staggering number of skills and powers they can be spent on in turn create even more ways to play the game. It's quite possible to finish Bloodlines several times with an entirely different style for each, but two of the available clans go above and beyond with their respective deformities making for a completely unique narrative. Members of the Nosferatu are misshapen freaks reminiscent of Graf Orlok in bondage gear; unable to go out in public without inciting mass panic, you must instead skulk through the sewer systems and back alleys in order to reach your surface destinations, while brazenly approaching any of the mortal characters causes them to recoil with humorous dialogues of barely concealed horror.

Playing as a Malkavian is even more rewarding, as every last one is renowned for being both eerily prognostic and batshit insane. All of the dialogue options become either dark poetry or outright psychotic non-sequiturs that the other speaker then has to decipher with increasing levels of frustration, and your character has a knack for immediately blurting out their new special friends' thoughts and motivations before they can so much as introduce themselves. As if debating a stop sign wasn't a bold enough clue, Malkavians' listening skills tend to reflect their warped perceptions of reality as well, as with the local news station:

"In other news, an apparent third victim of the Southland Slasher has prompted the closing of the Santa Monica pier, where the body was found earlier tonight. Investigators say the scene closely mirrors those of slayings in Glendale and Longbeach. In both cases the bodies of the victims were described as 'torn apart,' though details are being withheld from the public at this time. Police urge anyone with information relating to this case to contact them."

"In other news, an apparent third victim of the Southland Slasher has prompted the closing of the Santa Monica pier, where the body was found earlier tonight. Investigators say the scene closely mirrors those of slayings in Glendale and Longbeach. In both cases the bodies of the victims were described as 'ripped, torn, bloody entrails smeared upon the walls, splatter on broken windows, feet in weird places – murder, murder, murder.'"

"Several dead at a beach house in Santa Monica tonight. Police suspect the slayings were carried out during a drug deal gone bad. Residents of this quiet community were shocked by the killings, though neighbors suspected the men in the house to be involved in drug distribution and had seen many strange people going inside at all hours of the night."

"Several dead at a beach house in Santa Monica tonight. Police suspect the slayings were carried out during a drug deal gone bad. They suspect this may be the work of vampires and – hey, have you seen any vampires around here?"


Unfortunately much like the vacation plans of Count Dracula, this game doesn't end particularly well; the last few chapters degenerate into a marathon of rather boring dungeons rife with combat but little of the captivating nonlinearity which had defined the journey up to that point. You can almost pinpoint the exact moment in which Activision started prodding it through the door, a sad resolution to an experience that's so captivating for so long – but the fact that this game is still well worth playing (repeatedly) should be pretty obvious by the utterly devoted fanbase it still enjoys. An unofficial but incredibly polished series of patches have been released in the many years since Troika's demise, restoring a truly impressive amount of cut content and dialogue in addition to rebalancing the gun damage, fixing numerous bugs, and all around making the World of Darkness a more awesome place in which to "live." No self-respecting vampire would ever sparkle, but their grisly adventures in Bloodlines certainly do; it's one well-aged vintage you may find yourself becoming addicted to.

Rating: 9/10

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Staff review by Sho (October 30, 2010)

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zigfried posted October 30, 2010:

I played as a Malkavian in the tabletop game. I thought I was a Ventrue, and so did everyone else -- for a while. Fun times!

No one ever played as a Nosferatu, for pretty much the reasons that make them sound so cool in this.

//Zig
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zippdementia posted October 30, 2010:

I hate reading reviews for this game because they always make me want to play it and the chances of me actually doing so are slim. I just don't have a PC.

I did play the first Vampire which felt like a beta version of what this game is supposed to be like. I also briefly played a Tremere in the actual game. Unlike Zigfried, I was really a Tremere. Joshua Vesculae. Former vampire hunter turned into vampire. Fun times.
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Halon posted October 31, 2010:

Great review that I pretty much entirely agree with (one of my favorite RPG's ever minus the last 1/5 or so). Tried to play it again not too long ago with a Nosferatu but the game was having problems with Windows 7 and I was too lazy to figure out how to get it to work.

Malkavian is my favorite, though! Some of the dialogue options are insane.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThyD2ikS9SY
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bloomer posted November 01, 2010:

Re: Zipp, you can get the game on the Mac. But I imagine compatibility problems with any modern Mac will be extreme. It originally ran under OS 8.6. If it wasn't carbonised, the last OS you have even a chance of running it under is 10.4, if you installed Classic Environment. If it was carbonised, it might work natively in 10.5. Chances of a carbonised version working in 10.6 are microscopic. (It would probably play, with the little side effect that the screen will be a solid block of one colour.)
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Halon posted November 01, 2010:

Just make sure the unofficial patches work for Mac (believe they're up to 7.0 but I could be wrong). Without it the game is nearly unplayable due to bugs.

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