Have you ever had a nightmare? What was it that was chasing you down the halls of your mind? Was it a vampire, a horde of zombies, maybe a werewolf, the ghost of a bitter relative, the Boogie Man? The World of Darkness is a place where a bad dream of these things would not be ill-founded. A world where all of these monsters are quite real in the modern day — well the jury’s still out on the Boogie Man– and they hide from humanity while preying on it. You play as a newly turned Vampire, thrust into a world of generations old politics, rivalry, and violence in the city of Los Angeles. You’re a pawn in a greater game to the elders, just trying to survive. Fight, feed, use your sweet vampire powers, and figure out what is going on in Bloodlines.
Strap yourselves in because this one’s a doozy. Bloodlines was published by Activision and developed by a little studio called Troika Games, development began in 2001. Troika wanted to make a first person RPG, thinking that the genre was going stale, and Activision wanted to make the most of the Vampire license they had acquired from White Wolf in ’98. Development began with 5 developers, 27 others, and no head writer — they wouldn’t get a writer for about 9 months.
Troika began debating whether to make the game 3D or not. At the time Valve was working on their Source Engine for Half-Life 2. It would be fully 3D and have all the bells and whistles but it wasn’t done yet. Despite it’s incomplete nature Troika gambled on using it. This lead them to finish incomplete sections of code themselves with only Valve to go to for technical support. Because Valve was making Half-Life 2 in the Source Engine, Troika was forced to put off Bloodline’s release until Half-Life 2’s released. Further delaying things, Valve suffered a security breach that lead them to put more security into the engine. Leading Half-Life 2 to delay, which lead Bloodlines to Delay.
The scope of the project continued to grow. Every new system introduced additional models and animations for the characters. Most games have a static 10-20 models whereas Bloodlines had over 150 characters and almost 3000 animations for them put together. Levels were designed and then scrapped. The game planned to launch with a multiplayer mode but that was also scrapped for time. The game’s development dragged for so long that the team put off finalizing things because they didn’t know when the deadline truly would be. Things were further slowed as every decision had to be approved both Activision and White Wolf.
When Activision put their foot down and set a deadline Troika hadn’t even begun testing yet. Troika also didn’t respect the deadlines because they knew that Activision wouldn’t let this money go to waste. The money Activision offered to finish wasn’t enough to pay the whole team and some employees took pay cuts while others worked for nothing to push the game as close to completion as they could. The game released on November 16th, 2004 in an incomplete, untested, and unpolished state. Creative Director, Jason Anderson said that only 2 months of its 3 year development wasn’t spent in overtime.
It’s competition was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2), World of Warcraft (PC), and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (Gamecube, PS2, and XBox)
I can’t think of a game that I put more into, from a technical perspective. I can’t think of another game that was so broken that I also refused to abandon. I was playing this game when it chugged on my 1999 Compaq and I gave it another go when I finally upgraded to my next machine. Giddy with anticipation at the bug-fixes that came with the latest patch. Every time I play through it I play as a different clan and keep notice more dialogue differences. I struggle to differentiate between patch added content and stuff I just missed my last time through. Whenever I relate to someone about this game we have completely different experiences from our in game choices and it leads to a, “I wonder what happens if I do this,” marathon.
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a first person/third person (your preference) action RPG game. Every vampire is defined by their clan, whether they want to or not. A characters clan determines their attribute points, skill points, and what abilities they can use — wanna dominate someone’s mind? Not as a Toreador you won’t. Every clan has also got a certain strength and a crazy weakness. Some weaknesses are as benign a losing more humanity when they do something untoward to looking like a literal monster like those of the Nosferatu Clan. Every character has feats scores which determine how effective they are at actions. Each of these feats is the sum of the relevant attribute and ability scores.
By ancient law and tradition everyone you meet will make you do something before they help you. I’m totally serious on this one, not only is it written into the rules of the table-top that all newbies have to work for the higher ups but they implemented that into the game. And I mean every-fucking-body will tell you to kill someone or find something before they’ll give up the goods.
The real meat of the game is exploring, wandering around, and messing with people’s lives for good or ill. And there’s something brewing in the Heart of LA, something that mixes together all the clans and supernatural into a giant pot that’s at risk to boil over. Naturally as the chose one — or whatever– it’ll lie to you to deal with it.
I guess all of that content made but unimplemented paid off eventually because the programming in this game is really robust. Every character will remark on the character’s clan, attributes, and actions. Some things are effected by a characters humanity, preventing them from using their social graces if they grow too inhuman. Playing a Malkavian completely changes the game’s dialogue into nearly indecipherable babble that only makes sense in hindsight.
I’ve never played a game where I was more interested in speaking with characters. Usually I troll around, trying to find someone with a quest or something interesting to say but Bloodlines lead me to talk to everyone. Sometimes they would say crazy things, sometimes they would have cryptic hints about the crazy stuff going on, but they always had something interesting to say.
Speaking of characters, the voice acting in this game is really good. With VAs like John DiMaggio, Steve Blum. Phil LaMarr, and Grey Griffin they really knock it out of the park. The performances create characters I come to care about and really want to listen to. Combine this with Brian Mitsoda’s character driven writing and it creates an experience that’s oozing with charm and style.
This is THE White Wolf RPG game, accept no substitutions. There are no other games with the White Wolf license that are better designed or more well known. If you want to play Vampire but can’t get an RP group together, then this game will scratch the itch.
The Haunted Hotel. That is all.
This game will not run or operate well without an unofficial patch and maybe a few mods. It’s almost absurd to purchase something with the knowledge that it won’t run on purchase but it’s something that comes with Bloodlines. The patches are easy to find and free (And the latest update was on April 20th, 2015) but it means plugging and playing isn’t an option. It’s a wonder to me that the distributor doesn’t just bundle the patch in with the game.
Sometimes the animations and textures are just downright ugly when I don’t think they’re supposed to be. I played a Toreador my first time through and they’re all a bunch of vain art divas so I checked myself out and I looked pretty good — especially for a dead guy. I went to open a lock and BOOM, I’m looking at one of the grossest hands in video game history. Then there are cinematics which include hoodlums shooting recoilless uzis into the air while the most stock sound effects I’ve ever heard for gunfire blast in stereo. It’s rough and blocky and breaks my immersion something fierce.
This game is pretty glitchy and crashy even when it’s been patched. I’ve seen bosses freeze, dialogue get skipped or misfire, and certain quests become broken for completely unknown reasons. This is just the stuff I’ve seen, mind you, there are horror stories out there about glitches in this game.
Unless my character has obfuscate, the power to go invisible, I can’t stealth. I don’t know what’s up with the stealth system but it seems like no matter how many points I cram into it it’s never enough. Normally it’s not a problem but there are some quests that can only be completed stealthily.
The fucking sewers. That is all.
This game has got its ups and downs but as I said, it is THE White Wolf RPG bar none. If you want to play in the Vampire setting or you want a satisfying Vampiric gaming experience in any variety then it’s either this game or nothing. It’s still being patched today and let that be a testament to how good this game is and how much work people are willing to put into it to help it flourish. I would suggest at least grabbing it on sale and then seeing where the night takes you.
Next Week: No Time to Explain