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Vampire: Bloodlines

White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade has been a popular pen and paper RPG revolving around the world of blood suckers for a long time. The thing that sets it apart from other vampire mythos is the fact that the vampires operate through the code and conduct of the Masquerade, which basically means they hide their true nature from humanity. It adds an interesting twist on gothic lore and vampire interactions and motives.

Bloodlines is the second entry of the Masquerade into the videogame field and it’s brought to us by Troika, which is a group of some of the guys behind Fallout. Utilizing Valve’s source engine Troika creates a vast vampiric world that is beautiful, haunting and involving. By modern RPG standards Bloodlines is a deep and involving game with a rich storyline that will keep you enthralled for a long time.

The game starts off with you becoming a newly sired vamp and you are quickly cast into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. Vampires tread a fine line between what remains of their humanity and the beast that boils beneath the skin and your new life is in constant conflict. Only by grasping at the shattered remains of the person you once were do you conquer the monster within and prevent the frenzy from occurring. If you fail in that respect and are taken over by the beast you will go on a blood thirsty rampage and will be unable to control yourself. Sure it sounds like fun, but doing so raises the risk of breaking the masquerade rules.

In specific areas of the game there are rules that you must follow for the masquerade. Essentially that means you don’t let on that you are a vampire, so no sucking blood and no supernatural powers. A masquerade symbol appears so you know when you have to be on your best behavior, but otherwise if you don’t see one then feel free to do whatever you want. Just keep in mind that if you do break one of the rules you lose a masquerade point, chances of calling out the vampire hunters become stronger and if you loose all your points you loose the game.

The games open nature really impresses with multiple conversation options and different reactions depending on what clan you are a part of. A clan basically makes up who you are as a vampire and how your adventure will play out. When you first start the game you are given the option to create a character on your own or let the game do it for you. By answering a series of questions similar to that job placement test your high school guidance counselor made you take, the game will determine what clan you are from.

With seven clans in all it can be fairly difficult to choose who you want to be. The Brujah are passionate fighters, the Gangrel are animalistic beasts and both of them tend to frenzy more. Malkavians are clinically insane but have uncanny insight and Nosferatu are disfigured and live beneath the streets, neither of those two groups are well liked by Kindred. The Toreador are as close to human as it gets, Tremere are blood sorcerer and Ventrue run the masquerade. Each of these clans has strengths and weaknesses that have effects on how the game plays out. They also each have unique disciplines akin to their nature.

A vampire’s discipline is essentially supernatural magic that consumes blood whenever they use it. Think of blood as magic points because the two work very similarly. The disciplines here are greatly varied and most are very useful. Once you are part of a clan you are stuck with those powers the rest of the game, so you might as well get used to them. Be careful not to use too much blood before finding someone to feed on or else you’ll run the risk of frenzying if you are low.

Magic powers aren’t the only way to inflict damage on opponents though. Melee combat and firearms play a huge role in doling out the pain. You need to raise your skills regarding each feat though so keep in mind what you want to be most proficient in. Melee combat consists of hand to hand engagements mostly, but you can equip close range weapons like baseball bats and swords, while ranged attacks consist of guns and the like.

Unfortunately combat is problematic with a very unbalanced fighting system. Melee action tends to be the best way to approach a fight, but the blend of action and classic role playing battle system feels awkward. You’d think that ranged weapons would be a good way to go, but unless your character is well versed in firearms you’re not going to get far. Either way you’re still better off using melee in comparison to ranged since the game tends to shift favor in that direction.

Unlike other RPGs you don’t get experience from combat and beating up the bad guys, you gain points from completing tasks. Once you get some points to spend, leveling up your character is an addictive thing to do and you have a wide range of customizable options. From raising stats to improving the power of your disciplines you’ll never play the same character twice.

One key part of stats involves sneaking around, picking locks and hacking into computers so you’ll want to keep those stats on the level. Sneaking up behind an enemy and performing a stealth kill is a great way to avoid combat, especially since you don’t get experience for fighting, so do that as often as possible.

All of these gameplay elements blend together nicely and even though combat could have been improved upon, it’s still fun to play. The multiple dialogue options depending on your clan are a great feature and add a lot of openness to an already expansive RPG. Explore each vampire clan to see which suits your play style more and keep in mind that being a male or female vampire will also affect your game.

As I mentioned earlier this game uses Valve’s source engine so you can expect to see some absolutely amazing graphics here. What stands out the most in this aspect is the incredibly lifelike characters and their facial expressions. Each vampire you come across conveys emotion with the slightest facial movements that gives great insight to their personality and emotions.

The environments are equally impressive with a vision of L.A. that is both beautiful and creepy. Textures are amazing no matter which way you turn or what you are looking at, but don’t expect a whole lot of interaction with your surroundings. You only have the ability to use key objects in areas like doors and computers.

Even though the visuals are as stunning as they are I came across quite a few glitches during my play time. Characters getting stuck on each other and constantly looping animations to some severe lag even though my system was two times stronger than recommended system specs. Load times are also lengthy and occur every time you enter or exit an area, so expect to see many loading screens.

Bloodlines features an impressive array of voice acting, creepy sound effects and music to keep the game’s theme moving forward. The soundtrack is a mix of industrial and hard rock that changes depending on the mode of the game. From area to area you’ll come across different songs to fight that location and you may notice that some songs are from bands such as Ministry.

The voice talent in Bloodlines is top notch with professional actors and industry veterans. RPG fans can expect to hear John Dimaggio who did the voice of Wakka in Final Fantasy X. The rest of the voice over crew does a fantastic job and really keeps the vampire filled L.A. a rich believable world.

With over 20 hours of game time, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines will last you a while. The gameplay system is rich with deep customization and control over your character and flow of the game. Combat could have used more tweaking, the graphics are glitchy and load times are frequent and long, but the game is still a solid experience. Fans of the Masquerade will feel right at home and newcomers will be given a welcome embrace. PC gamers looking for a good RPG experience will want to check this out.