All entries for Thursday 20 January 2005

January 20, 2005

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Review

Some games transcend genres. Deus Ex, Warcraft 3 and Metroid Prime are three names that spring instantly to mind. And it is in this heady company that Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines almost finds itself.

Yes, you read the title correctly. A complex title (well, at least in terms of length and punctuation) for a complex game. To start at the beginning: you are a new vampire whose sire has been put to death for creating you without permission from the vampire elders. Cast afloat in your new life with no guide, you must discover for yourself the murky world of vampire politics, and the disturbing rumblings of the coming of Gehenna – the apocalypse.

In many ways, Vampire is similar to Deus Ex. From a starting point of ignorance, the storyline unfolds around you, engulfing you. Conversations cover subjects as diverse as politics, mythology, schizophrenia and lap dancing, without causing a distraction. In fact I’ve never played a game which tackles adult subjects with such ease and wit, nor gets away with this amount of swearing, simply because none of it is out of place. This immersion, just like with Deus Ex, makes Vampire a very difficult game to put down. The RPG style stats system is also similar. Completing quests provides you with experience points, which can then be spent to improve fighting abilities, character attributes, and vampire powers. But comparing any game to Deus Ex is incredibly dangerous and can only lead to disappointment, and sadly, this is the case here too.

Vampire is current the only game other than Half Life 2 to be using the Source engine. Unfortunately, while Half Life 2 is optimised to within an inch of its life (hell, it even runs acceptably on my low/mid range spec), Vampire is not. It has sound jitters, jerkiness, and some of the worst graphical glitches I’ve ever seen. Of course, as this is the Source engine, the graphics are otherwise beautiful. In fact, the game gives the engine a more intensive workout than Half Life 2, with close-ups of faces during conversation really showing off the range of expressions available.

Vampire is also the most memory whoring game ever, requiring a 1400MB swap file and not even running smoothly on a system with 1 gig of RAM. In essence, it’s not finished, and the recently released patch does almost nothing to fix these problems, providing the disclaimer “Your computer sucks, get a new one.” Or words to that effect.

There is one more problem – combat. To start with it is particularly weak, following a simple ‘you hit them, they hit you, repeat until someone is dead’ model. With stat increases things start to get a little better however, and throwing powers into the mix adds some spice to the more important battles. However the reason I claim that Vampire doesn’t manage to transcend genres is that it doesn’t quite work as a shooter. Gun wielding is a little clunky, fairly ineffective unless your stats are good, and just a lot less fun than using melee weapons, or just sucking the life out of your opponents.

The ideas behind Vampire are excellent, and the potential is there for this to be a truly great game. As it stands, this is an original and thoughtful game, providing that “just one more sub-quest” feeling that characterised all great RPGs. It’s just a pity it isn’t properly finished.

8/10


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