January 1, 2008

Commentary: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Do I have enough subtitles? Meh.

I picked up Vampire from Steam during the Halloween special. I had previously read about the game's success in offering a powerful role-playing experience. I'd also read about its crippling bugs, but I figured that the most important ones had probably already been fixed.

The format of the game (a real-time, first-person RPG) was my absolute favorite, and I was very pleased with it. Vampire did a great job of using its subject matter in the gameplay; your vampiric abilities, weaknesses, and hungers are all front-and-center. Troika set the game in White Wolf's World of Darkness setting, and exploring this world is great fun.

In many ways, Vampire is like Deus Ex (my constant point of reference), and it earns my respect for that. There are several competing factions, each of which is appealing in its own way. Stealth and fighting are usually both valid options. You always travel to the same locations and accomplish the same major goals, but your actions and conversation choices subtly affect the story. At the end, you choose which faction to finally ally with. It's another implementation of the shared authorship model. It works, too.

I have three complaints, though. First, the game's action sequences are sometimes too long and tedious. I know that the only reason I'm building up my character is to make these sequences easier, but I wish that they could be made more compact. There were also several interesting skills like intimidation, hacking, seduction and others that I would have liked to use more. It would be cool to try to talk my way through an objective; instead, these skills were mostly useful for small bonuses along the way. Still, this isn't a game-breaking flaw (and Deus Ex did much the same).

Second, while the game's fictional world was vastly intriguing, the actual story that I played wasn't half as cool. The game talked a lot about apocalypse, but there was nothing other than talk, so I never was afraid of it. There was also a lot of talk about a great evil power that had crept into the city, but nothing impressive or alarming ever happened. There were some good touches, but the story was ultimately low-impact. It never convinced me.

Third, the game lacks replayability. This isn't a critique of the game, really, as much is it is my personal bitching. It offers some very interesting choices right off the bat though the "clan" that your character belongs to. One clan is insane, and you can argue with stop signs and such. Another clan is the only one that can use magic. Another is hideously ugly, so they must walk through the sewers and never speak to humans. But I found that when I tried to replay the game, I had to sit through the same briefings and accomplish the same missions. A lot of it was different, but over half was the same. It's great the first time through, but I just wish that it could remain fresh for another few plays.

Despite my bitching and moaning, the game is great. It's got plenty of flaws, but it delivers a solid role-playing experience in an interesting world. Vampire is still available on Steam, so pick it up when you've got a lull in your gaming schedule.

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