Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines: The Review

VMB was on extreme sale for $5, so I picked it up.  I would not have guessed that I needed a vampire RPG, but it’s pretty good.  It’s from 2004, and if you’re a graphics snob like me, you’ll have to get past that.  It’s made with Valve’s Source engine, though it doesn’t look anywhere as good as HL2, which was released at the same time.

The dump you start out in. But hey, free rent!

As an RPG, it’s really well done.  The voice acting is superlative, you have a lot of choices about both morality and gameplay, and the atmosphere is as dark and gothic as you’d expect.  To start with, well, you’re a vampire.  You can be a fairly nice vampire or a monstrous one, but you’re going to be regularly sucking blood, to say nothing of killing a bunch of humans, vampires, ghouls, zombies, and other nasties.  Gotta love a game that offers this useful advice:

Female vampires, at least, leap onto the backs of their victims to feed… they really seem to be enjoying it. 

The atmosphere is macabre; they do a good job of showing the vampires– and associated humans– as making an effort to stay above the bestial and not often succeeding.  Though about the scariest sight I’ve seen so far is this:

That’s my character.  The face is all right, but ye gods is that a crappy body model. 

Combat is all right, though guns are very wonky to use… a knife generally works much better.  You can soak up a lot of damage, and health recovers slowly when you’re out of combat, but the health bar can also plummet, so the fights can be difficult.  You can use various vampiric abilities; I use Celerity, which slows down your enemies– the others aren’t very exciting.  (E.g. Auspex enhances your perception of enemies, which is completely useless as you can just see them.) 

You get experience for finishing quests, which can then be invested in various attributes and skills, from defense to lockpicking to seduction. 

You can sneak around, but this is not as well done as it could be… if you’re crouching enemies can’t see you right in front of them:

Ha ha, can't see me

OK, I guess it’s vampiric mind control tricks, but frankly it’s a little too easy.  You have to pretty much run into them for them to notice you. 

Thankfully, there’s no nonsense about rating your morality.  People react to the choices you make, and that can lead to new quests and allies, which is as it should be.  There’s no place in real life, after all, where you can press tab and see God’s rating of you.

It’s a little buggy in spots.  I had trouble with a door that wouldn’t work, and had to replay a section of the game to fix it; another bit could only be made to work with a console command.  The developer went out of business, so there’s no support and no sequel.

So, anyway, dated graphics and gameplay, but as an RPG it really holds up.  I think the choices you make here are a lot more interesting than even Bethesda and Bioware games.  And I think it’s refreshing to play a game where no one, including the player character, is an angel.