Author Topic: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines [2004 -- Troïka]  (Read 190 times)

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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines [2004 -- Troïka]
« on: March 12, 2021, 05:02:29 PM »
Important notice: for the purpose of this review I played the game patched with the community patch "lite". This version of the patch only fixes bugs and adjust dialog options but unlike the "full" version does not add anything to the game nor change anything of the game mechanics or locales.

Wow, this is the review nobody asked for but still, you have it. Why review a 16 year old game? Because I've never properly voiced my opinion of it, because I re-played it recently and because Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is finally in the work and as sure as I hope they won't change a lot of things, I sure hope they will change several others.

Editorial Notice: of course, when I wrote the above, Paradox had not yet let known the fact that they had fired Bloodlines 2 developer Hardsuit Labs without naming a replacement. So the prospect of a Bloodlines 2 in the near future is all but erased. Still Bloodlines (1) is still there so our review continues...

But why not go for a bit of the story (for those who lived under a rock for the past 16 years). You start the game as a nobody having a good time in a sordid hotel room with someone (male or female depending on the gender you chose to be). The one thing you ignore is that your companion of the night is actually a vampire desperate to kind of "reproduce".

And here you are, a new fledgling with a ridiculously short life expectancy considering that what your one time love affair did (siring a new vampire) is absolutely illegal according to the rules book of the Camarilla -- a congregation of several vampire clans. Hence your sire (the person who did this to you) gets executed under the auspices of Prince Sebastian Lacroix (the Camarilla boss responsible for the Los Angeles area) and you're next on the line.

But there comes Nines Rodriguez to the rescue, the face figure of the anarchs, a vampire movement opposing the grip of the Camarilla that they perceive as pure fascism. To avoid a confrontation, Lacroix decides to not execute you and to take you in his employ instead. He expects great things from you and immediately proceed to set you up on your first mission without even the courtesy to inform you of what exactly being a vampire entails. Fortunately for you there's Jack, a vampire so old that nobody really knows his age but everyone assumes considering his look (and I concur) that he was a pirate at some point (either that or a biker). Jack decides to proceed to a quick tutelage of your humble person so you have at least a chance to survive beyond the next hour. And there you go, your new unlife as a creature of the night just begins.

Vampire: The Masquerade -- Bloodlines (VTMB for short hereafter) is a RPG game based on the universe set by the tabletop Vampire: The Masquerade (not so surprisingly) published by White Wolf. As it is a RPG, the player starts of course blank, choosing first and foremost the clan (or "bloodline") they want to belong to. That choice more than any other will define the experience during the rest of the game. Playing as a Nosferatu, a Malkavian or a Tremere for example will generate three distinct ways to play the game, to approach problems and more often than not, affect relations with other characters.

The universe on which the game is based features a multitude of vampire clans and factions but for the purpose of VTMB only seven (playable) clans and three factions are featured. There is the Camarilla faction (a faction believing that the ultimate goal of the vampire society is to remain secret and concealed from human beings, hence to uphold the "Masquerade"), the Anarchs (less a faction and more a loose assembly of free thinkers responding only to themselves) and the Sabbath (a congregation of brain dead Vampires that think that the louder they are the better they will be -- their members tend to live short and brutal lives). As for the clans you find the Brujahs (fiercely independent "take no shit" kind of guys and girls), the Gangrels (which vampire powers are neatly linked to nature), the Toreadors (the top models and Casanovas of vampire society), The Tremeres (the equivalent of blood sorcerers, very protective of their magic), the Ventrues (the aristocrats equivalent of vampire society, generally candidates to the higher functions), The Nosferatus (possibly the closest to the horrible vampire depicted in the movie of the same name) and then there is my personal all time favorites, the Malkavians (total loonies with a strong prescience of the future but nobody ever listen to them because nobody really understands them -- and if you play as a Malkavian, chances are you won't understand yourself from time to time).

Those diverse clans are enough to open the road to a number of replays without the impression to get into the same routine every time. Playing a Tremere will embark you on the dark path of blood magic with an array of powers that only this clan possesses.  Playing as a Ventrue, you'll feel entitled to boss everyone around. Playing as a Toreador will bring the charmer from deep inside you while playing as a Nosferatu will do the exact opposite and force you to avoid as most as possible humans eyes due to your hideous appearance that will make them at best flee in horror, at worst attack you on sight. Playing as a Malkavian... well, you just do your thing and figure out the consequences later (your many inner voices will always figure out an explanation or an excuse for what went wrong, or right; worst case scenario you'll drown your interlocutor under a lot of incomprehensible babble leaving them stunned...).

Each clan has their own powers. Malkavians can debilitate their foes in a number of ways, from mere hallucination to mass suicide -- and even by just talking to them. They share with Nosferatus an ability allowing them to go invisible. The Ventrues can command people, the Tremeres can dispatch their foes with the power of their blood magic, The Gangrels can summon nature to their help... All clans share some basic abilities though. Auspex (kind of a super-vision augmenting your mental stats too), Bloobuff (that augment your physical stats for a short time) and Bloodheal (allowing a vampire to use blood in exchange for health).

Unfortunately the game also come with a number of problems that stemmed from the fact that the game was never completely finished and polished due to financial constraints imposed on the developer Troika Games that was soon to be closed down definitely. VTMB was quite the victim in the whole grim process and was released in what could only be described as a beta state (basically for those not familiar with the lingo, a functional game but riddled with bugs)

The fact that they didn't bother changing the walking animations between female and male characters is a testament to the rushed nature of the final game. And it's only one technical problems among others. Part of the problems are linked to the fact that the game is using an early version of the Source engine powering Half-Life 2 (before Half-Life 2 was even released, meaning that the game is using an engine that Valve was still working on). The sound system is inaccurate with a lot of propagation and positioning errors and the game physics is out there (imagine Half-Life 2 but worse) resulting in you being occasionally stuck on a plank of wood that fell on the ground. NPCs manage to block you from passing through entrances that would easily provide passage for two people side by side... etc.

Arguably, VTMB on a bug level was way worse than even the recently released Cyberpunk 2077 everyone seems to be complaining about nowadays. And yet VTMB is one of the most endearing, fun and compelling vampire games I've ever played especially as the community managed to correct most of the bugs and weird errors here and there. Only the problems directly linked to the engine itself cannot be corrected (not without a tons of copyrights infringement).

I'm fond of this game. Technically it's certainly not the best game ever but the atmosphere, the characterization, the writing and the gameplay are there to make up for the deficiencies. And, come on, who doesn't like to go for a Malkavian stroll on the beach from time to time?

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein