VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE – BLOODLINES
Before vampires shot back into popularity thanks to Twilight, there was Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. This 2004 PC-only RPG was one of the first games built on Valve’s Source engine and is steeped in lore thanks to slick use of the World of Darkness universe of pen-and-paper RPGs. Bloodlines takes place in modern-day LA, or at least as modern as it was in the early 2000s. After either answering a bunch of questions to determine your character class (or just choosing yourself) you’re thrown right into the thick of things. No sooner were you enjoying sexy times with an NPC than you find yourself transformed into a vampire. After a few brief cut-scenes, you find yourself as the newest member of a secret society of bloodsuckers, who would like to, well, keep their society a secret. It’s an integral game mechanic. Use your powers in full public display too often and you’ll be treated with a game over screen, not before losing your humanity along the way and transforming into a raging beast (hence the word ‘masquerade’ in the title). Oh and there’s a pretty deep and adult story too.
Why should I play it now?
Sure, you go back to racers for nostalgia and Star Wars for being Star Wars but even if you haven’t the faintest hint of sentimentality or retro-laced attachment, you can still enjoy Bloodlines for what it is. Namely, a smartly woven tale with an intricate gameplay system on par with Deus Ex in terms of choice. Calling it a Twilight version of Deus Ex would be the easiest way of describing it, but that would be selling it short. While you do have various methods of progress, such as action, stealth and hacking, there’s a lot of focus on speech skills what with being broken up into four different categories (persuasion, haggle, intimidation and seduction). So much so that while you can go into an area and kill everyone in sight, you can also talk your way out of a firefight. Your options are defined by your clan (the game’s definition of character class) with seven to choose from ranging from the stealthy but ugly Nosferatu, who frequent the sewers, to the attention-seeking, uber social Toreadors. It’s an interesting take on the RPG trope of classes that works better than it should. Throw in a bunch of patches that make the game playable on modern machines along with some community fixes and you might as well write off most of the month as it sucks you in. Pun unintended.
How does it hold up today?
If you know what you’re doing, it holds up relatively well. First-time buyers would be frustrated with the game refusing to boot up since it has issues recognising computers with 4 GB of memory. A quick trip to the Steam forums and a fix was found along with a few extras, including restored music, higher quality character models and a widescreen resolution patch. The time spent on R&D is well worth it as you’re rewarded with a game that looks better than it should. Animations hold up quite nicely, as do the sound effects and voice acting, while the high res characters make it easier on the eyes.
Is it similar to anything else out there?
Deus Ex comes close with choice-driven gameplay and inspired hub levels. If you’re looking for something similar in theme, there’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption. Though it was released earlier, Bloodlines is not a sequel but set in the same universe and can be played in first-person view as well.
What do I need to play this?
Five copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, one Blu-ray of Twilight: Breaking Dawn and the blood of a virgin. Add kerosene and light it all up. If done with a pure heart, Gabe Newell himself will alight from the heavens and give you a copy. If that’s too taxing, all you need is a semi-decent PC. Minimum include a 1.2 GHz processor, 384 MB of RAM, 3.3 GB hard drive space and a DirectX 9.0c compatible video card.
‘When I played through…’
After all these years, I still wonder why we don’t have more games like this. The writing is effortlessly good. You never feel that the characters are mere puppets, spurting dialogue to allow you to progress. Heck, you might be talking to a hot surgically enhanced goth vampire with a penchant for violence, but she sounds believable. Ditto with the plot that’s inspired and actually respects your intelligence. This isn’t your usual watered down RPG fare. It’s a meaty, mature yarn that’s well spun. Furthermore, the levels are well designed and teeming with a sense of personality that’s missing from most modern day affairs.
Is there anything else I should be aware of (ie mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?
At launch, Bloodlines was a buggy mess. Animation glitches, memory freezes and a whole host of issues made it nearly unplayable for some. Thankfully, with time, most if not all these have been rectified. There are a host of user-created solutions but the best one to go with is the True Patch Gold Edition. Clocking in at around 463 MB, it fixes every technical issue the game had and comes with some neat extras such as additional music and better quality character models. You can grab it here (warning: NSFW or home due to the admin’s rather raunchy signature).
Where do I get it?
You’ll be lucky to find the 3 CD box pack in stores what with it having been available in limited quantity. Steam is your best bet. At $19.99, you might think it to be steep, but for the amount of entertainment you’ll get out of it, it’s well worth the expense. Or if you’re exceedingly patient, you can grab it on sale when it tends to go as low as 75% off.