Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines: Cracked Wine Glass
Updated: Aug 10, 2018
Before we get to the game in question there needs to be some basic history explained behind Bloodlines. In November 2001 Troika Games would begin work on a sequel on Vampire: The Masquerade-Redemption which was itself an adaption of the Pen and Paper RPG series World of Darkness’s Vampire: The Masquerade series. Bloodlines was going to be an ambitious title, using Valve’s then revolutionary Source engine to create a deep breathing world with a stealth system melee and ranged combat, nine races and seven classes to chose from. Massive hub worlds with smaller levels dotted around and conversation trees that stretched far and wide with many different roads to take. However trouble started with the fact that the Source engine was unfinished so Troika games had to write their own code and had only one source (no pun intended) of support should anything go wrong, there was also no AI programming for the engine when development began which forced Troika games to work on that too. All of this stretched development budget and time. The perfectionist attitude towards the creation of Bloodlines too strained development as both dev and publisher changed and revoked things that they felt were not good enough.
This went on for three years with Troika fighting an uphill battle with a unfinished engine and ego until Activision, wanting the game to get published forced Troika to release the game unfinished on November 16, 2004 (same date as Half Life 2 because Valve would not allow the release of the game before Half Life 2) Critics loved the writing and world building but panned the broken nature of the game. The inevitable lacklustre sales resulted in Troika Games shutting down. But fans and Troika Games staff have been patching the game ever since with two official patches and eight unofficial patches from fans, all hoping to bring the game closer to what it could have been. In spite of everything Bloodlines would become a success since 2004 with people seeing the brilliance behind game’s flaws. Now that Bloodlines is on the 10th unofficial patch, a lot has changed since 2004. Now it is my turn to give it a fair shake.
The basic plot of Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is you as a former human turned vampire getting thrown around by the higher ups of vampire society while still getting to grips with your recent undeadness. When a strange and powerful artefact known as the Ankaran Sacophagus, (rumoured to hold a being that would destroy the world) tensions threaten to boil over as factions scramble to hold and control the Sacophagus with you caught in the middle of the crossfire. The world is incredibly well thought out, the story is very well told with pretty solid twists and turns, the society feels real and lived in. The dialogue is sharp and well voice-acted with some minor examples of stilted delivery. The side quests actually have a point to them asides from collecting x for y and w and often have you go to different hub worlds and levels which all make them feel like mini stories, why we still cannot fully grasp this concept even today is quite sad. What can start out as a fetch quest can turn into a grand adventure, I love it when RPGs do this type of storytelling and it is a shame more do not do it as often.
The game play is an interesting mix of melee combat, ranged combat, stealth and dialogue options, all of which are governed by stats you can max with experience points. Say if after finishing a quest you get five exp points then you will have five points to spend levelling up if you have enough for the next level up. It works well enough, not as harsh as System Shock 2’s system so it allows experimentation but also lets you specialise into what you want. Depending on what clan and race you pick you can be better or worse at certain actions and levels can be approached in any way that best suits the particular play style you want. The melee combat is not the best but it gets the job done, it is mostly swinging wildly at the thing until the thing falls down. The spells were fun to use and prevent the combat from being just button mashing.
The trouble with this statement is that it is not entirely true, I was a Ventrue with focus on melee and speech the game but the game often forces you to play in a certain way and if you do not have the needed points then the game is going to be harder on you. The Stealth levels make direct combat pointless and not being stealth focused made those levels annoying to do until I allocated points, same goes for lock picking due to one mission becoming impossible because of technical difficulties (more on that later) until I did it one way and one way only. The claim that levels and missions can be done in multiple ways is a lie sadly. The gunplay is quite poor with it lacking punch and having a target reticle that I swear lies half of the time as to whether or not I am going to hit what I am shooting at and if you have not mastered firearms then be prepared to suffer bad knockback on certain guns that will give you a headache.
The boss fights are not much better, starting out insultingly easy and becoming difficult in most boring and frustrating way possible. Two fights stand out as to where you can see the lack of play testing and time spent fine-tuning it. A Vampire Hunter who uses a sniper rifle that chips off chunks of your health and has perfect accuracy, getting too close (if say you are melee focused) will cause him to blind you and teleport across the map and you have to jog all the way to him (no sprint feature in this game) and try to land a few hits before the process repeats. It is not difficult in terms of skill but just annoyance. It does not help that majority of my spells stop working on boss fights so it is less about skill and applying the knowledge you have learn but often forcing you into an entirely different play style that you may or may not have the points for. This is true of the second boss I want to talk about, one of the final bosses of the game. She has far too much health and deals too much damage at any given time, punishing melee attacks while allowing raged attacks to hit her with no trouble what so ever. The fight takes too long and is more boring than offering any real challenge. The boss fights are an aspect of frustration and annoyance and are about as fun as watching a YouTube video on the lowest resolution on slow internet.
As this is 2004 graphics just adjust your expectations to a 3d game of that era. I have to say the game does look very beautiful, the animations when they are working are quite stellar and all hub worlds are very atmospheric, Chinatown in particular looks stunning even today with Chinese architecture looming out of the night sky the cross between gothic and Asian style of builds make it look beautiful to behold.
Now onto the technical side....I must admit that I expected the patches to fix more of the broken elements. The game is rife with technical fuck ups ranging from the amusing to the game breaking like NPC models flying gaily across the map to where they were supposed to start their walks or phones staying tucked up save and sound on their hangers even if player character model thinks it has picked it up to where quest essential items do not spawn or the AI stops working properly and does not do what it was programmed to do, leaving the quest unworkable and causing loss of progress. There were multiple times of me getting stuck on nearby scrap forcing me to reload, that is to say nothing about a certain boss towards the end of the game that got suck onto of a statue which lead to an easy defeat. The game might not be as broken now as it was then but that does not excuse the fact that I have run into so many glitches and so many bugs that cannot be ignored. It is immersion breaking all the way.
(Warning for spoilers to the second to last boss)
Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is good game that could have been great if it was kept in the oven for a few more months if not a year or two. Considering how many bugs and glitches I encountered I shudder to think what the game was like before all the patches. There is a lot of good stuff in Vampire, but it is marred by under cooked bosses and game play mechanics and bugs that would bring shame any other game. The story and writing are phenomenal but there is so much that work against the good stuff. I would still recommend it with the caveats that it is flawed and properly will not ever reach the heights that Troika wanted it to be. If you like RPGs and are willing to put up some performance issues then pick this up.
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