Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Oct 29th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under RPG, horror, pc, vampires, halloween

The World of Darkness is a trio of settings for supernatural and horror tabletop role playing games. It was originally developed as the background setting for the original 1991 release of Vampire: The Masquerade. The series gained some popularity in tabletop circles as an alternative to a rather scant selection between an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and the Ravenloft setting of Dungeons and Dragons. While Ravenloft is medieval and Call of Cthulhu is set in the 1920's, the World of Darkness is mostly our own modern world with plenty of supernatural details added into the recipe, with some spinoffs set in various historical eras.

Vampire: The Masquerade is the most popular game set in the World of Darkness, but some other popular releases include Hunter: The Reckoning, Mage: The Ascension, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The naming convention becomes easy to identify quite quickly. Multiple video games have been released in the World of Darkness, including three focused on Vampire: The Masquerade. The first one was an action RPG developed by Nihilistic Software and released in 2000 called Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption. This game was a modest success, enough to greenlight a sequel. Troika Games developed this sequel, called Bloodlines, with Activision publishing both Redemption and Bloodlines, both exclusive to PC.

Bloodlines released to a critical mixture, with the writing praised and the game's technical bugs plaguing most reviews of the game. Troika had managed to license an early version of the Source Engine for the game, and Bloodlines would be the first game developed with the Source Engine. This early engine would be part of the technical problem, since Troika started work on Bloodlines before Valve had fully finished the engine. A contract agreement with Valve prevented Troika and Activision from both revealing Bloodlines to the public, and releasing the game, before Valve had done both with Half Life 2. This caused much turmoil for the game's release window, and it was originally meant to release in early 2005 before Activision forced a late 2004 release. The game immediately flopped commercially, with Troika laying off most of its staff in the first month after release. This meant that the game's technical issues were left unpatched until fans themselves did as much to fix the game as they could.

Character creation in Bloodlines is quite interesting. There are multiple clans of vampire; or Kindred as they call themselves, all of them have different characteristics and cultural affinities. A hidden "Hard Mode" option is placed in character creation. Choosing to play as a Nosferatu limits the player quite heavily. Being seen doing supernatural, monstrous deeds by normal humans on the streets will cause the loss of a piece of the player's Masquerade. Nosferatu are heavily mutated, ugly abominations, even for Kindred, that will immediately be noticed by normal people on the streets. All other clans are safe options from this perspective. Losing all of their Masquerade points leads to a Game Over. On top of the Masquerade players also have to uphold their own Humanity, so they must refrain from being murderous blood fiends who kill their prey. Upholding the Masquerade is difficult for any fledgling Kindred, and its rewards are not immediately clear.

The game's graphics are showing their age, but they were quite good for the time of its release. Environments are also quite breathtaking. The art style covers plenty of ground, from high class theaters to grungy, half rotten basements of nightmares. The worst part of the graphics and art in the game are the awkward and stiff animations. Some of the animations are just off, and strange. They do not seem to match natural movements. They also stick out when they happen, as the action usually takes center stage. The audio design is outstanding. The game is filled with haunting ambiance, with the clubs around LA having energy to match it. One of the game's greatest strengths is its voice acting. Every role in the game is well directed and acted, giving the characters of this dark world more personality than many other games of the time, and even today. The characters range from idiot, stoner surfer bros, to the most frightening, graveled, ghoulish voice one could imagine.

While combat is a facet of The World of Darkness, for the Kindred, they have a greater tendency to play politics. Most of the game involves exploration and conversation in that order. The setting is Los Angeles, California circa 2003. Players are given hub style maps similar to the hubs in the Deus Ex series. From these hubs quests are found through conversations of the various residents of the city, Kindred, humans, and even other strange, supernatural creatures. Troika Games was founded by ex-Interplay developers who splintered off during the development of Fallout 2, they were quite experienced when it comes to creating role playing games where choices matter. Bloodlines sprinkles important decisions throughout the game, with the player picking sides in the various petty squabbles between the various Kindred representatives and rulers in the city over the course of the main story. Some quests have multiple ways to complete them, and other quests can only be finished in different areas of the city or much later in the story.

While the dialogue is the game's greatest strength, combat is arguably its greatest weakness. Bloodlines has real time, action style combat, albeit rather sloppy in presentation and execution. The game is mostly played in first person, with the camera switching to a third person overview when the player equips a melee weapon and draws it. Pulling out guns keeps the camera locked in first person. However, guns have quite limited use. Guns are not too effective against Kindred or other vampires unless it has a great amount of stopping power. In the tutorial, Jack brings up how much shotguns hurt multiple times. Limited ammunition makes them weapons the player attempts to save for difficult areas or boss fights. On the other hand, melee weapons never break and are quite powerful. The camera shift also gives players a better overview for the battleground they are currently fighting in. As a result of this, melee weapons are easily the best decision throughout most of the game. Towards the end the players will find flamethrowers, and these are incredibly powerful against some of the last major enemies and bosses. Using melee or guns would make some fights seem impossible, but the flamethrower ends them in mere seconds. This balance is a bit of a holy triangle, but the flamethrower is so limited in the amount of time players will have one that its effect is negligible to the overall game, but crucial at the tail end. Combat is also scattered few and far between throughout most of the game, with the ending sequences having the player rush through several gauntlets of angry enemies one after the other. This shift in pace was noted by developers in later interviews as a flaw, perhaps from the rushed release.

Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines is quite close to a masterpiece from the perspective of its story. The dialogue is strong with abundant player choice, with plenty of dead ends for the player to find, or perhaps avoid. Its not uncommon to find a door closing for the player, limiting options, but another choice might leave that door wide open. Closing one door does not necessarily open another. The foreboding atmosphere in the game is rewarding for players who explore. Bloodlines is filled with examples of the most disgusting, frightening, twisted, and deranged that humanity can offer, and that's before the supernatural depravity is even considered. Bloodlines is one of the best immersive RPGs to play in the month of October, it has the perfect atmosphere for a horror game. Unlike most horror games, players are active participants in the strange fright and political squabbles of Los Angeles.

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My second favorite game ever! Good review of the game. I actually don't mind the combat that much. A combination of stealth, melee and disciplines is pretty satisfying for me (especially when those disciplines are Dementation or Thaumaturgy). Though the couple fights in the game where that tactic doesn't work are a real pain. I just put up a video review of this yesterday.
Regarding the gal on the cover: I guess the tattoos on her lower back would be called... a vamp-stamp?  Grin

THE facepalm

...I'll let myself out.

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