BDTB: Vampire Bloodlines: The Masquerade
Thanks to life, this and all subsequent Breaking Down the Backlogs will be one game only. I am doing this so I can have more output on this barren ass section (which is totally my fault).
According to Steam, this is the first game I bought when I started using the program (The Orange Box excepted). That was in 2007. I have tried playing Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines – now condensed to VMTB – a couple of times since then and never stuck with it. However after eight long years, I have finally finished it. What did I think of it? I thought it was bloody brilliant!
For the uninitiated, VMTB is a role-playing game where you play as a vampire saved from being killed by a head vampire called La Croix because he thinks you will be useful for him. And so begins a quest that travels through the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, killing, sneaking and most importantly talking your way in and out of situations. You visit such wholesome locations like: a haunted hotel, a pornography shop, several sleezey clubs, zombie infested sewers and a snuff film set (yes, really).
The biggest success this game has is the world building, dialogue and characterisation. The way VMTB represents Los Angeles as this corrupt, bloated, nasty place is sublime. It is perpetually night-time, the women are scantily clad, the men are either shitty businessmen or pretentious tossers, homeless people are everywhere, prostitutes are at every corner and
everyone is a vain, vacuous self-important shithead. It all reminds me of the film American Psycho taken to the extreme because, after all, this game is about vampires. And their society is just as incestuous, paranoid and degenerate as the human world.
All the vampires you meet on your travels are incredibly weird and wonderful. Jeanette is a mentally disturbed female vampire who dresses like Britney Spears circa 2001 and it is implied actually still has sex despite not getting any pleasure from it. LaCroix is a whiney, petulant man hiding behind a huge bodyguard whilst Nines Rodriquez is a naive anarchist in charge of a bunch of hot-heads. There are dozens more but to list them all would make this article far, far too long. Just trust me when I say that this game has some of the best characters in an RPG, period.
All this quality characterisation comes thanks to the many ‘clans’ of vampires who have their own quirks and traits. At the beginning of the game you get to choose your own. I personally went for the Malkavians. They are insane but can turn invisible and cause other people to become hysterical. This insanity manifests itself in dialogue choices WriTTen LiKe ThiS and are, on the surface, nonsensical. But if you pay closer attention to said choices, you realise that there is hidden meaning underneath it all. It is all very clever stuff. Other clans include the Tremer who are warlocks, the Gangrel who are wolfish and the Nosferatu who are great at sneaking but are incredibly ugly (so ugly that they are forced to dwell in sewers for almost the entire game).
This is all well and good. But the actual playing of the game is the problem. Walking around and talking is fine – and most of the game can be played that way if you are good enough at talking – but the combat is TERRIBLE. The shooting feels awful and the close combat isn’t much better. It takes animation priority over controller interaction (think, Dark Souls but awful) plus it is stat focused so if you haven’t leveled up in combat skills, you are kinda screwed. Also the sneaking is equally atrocious. The meter you use to gage how hidden you are is unintuitive and the artificial intelligence of your enemies varies massively. Sometimes you can walk right in front of them without a problem, other times you can be fifty foot away and get seen. It sucks.
On top of that, the game itself feel rather janky and rough. VTMB had a bad launch, Activision rushed it out back in 2004 and it was made on the then new Source engine – the one Half Life 2 used – and both those things created a tornado of bugs that leave the game feeling a bit crap all over. Luckily the player-base have created a fantastic patch that fixes so many issues that, despite my complaints, I shudder to think how bad the game is without it.
Despite this almost insurmountable problem, Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines is a diamond in the rough. A mature game that doesn’t condescend to the player as it forces them to think for themselves in an arcane and bewildering world that is thick with atmosphere. Play it!
You can buy Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines on Steam.
The unofficial patch can be found here.
Next up on Breaking Down the Backlog: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.