Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Most of what they say about vampires doesn't make much sense. Take the 100 per cent blood diet, for example. We all know what four beers and a tikka masala can do to your digestive system, so what the hell would a few years of only drinking blood do to your belly? It really doesn't bear thinking about. I mean there's not a lot of fibre in your average artery, is there? The idea of a bowelconscious Nosferatu tucking into a bowl of All Bran before his nightly jaunt in search of fresh virgins won't ever be particularly scary. And what about the bizarre hatred of garlic? Are zombies averse to parsley? Do werewolves come out in a nasty rash when they get close to nutmeg? It makes no sense.
This is where Vampire: The Masquerade and the White Wolf Universe of pen-and-paper gaming and its reams of stats and character classes come into play, giving a sense of order to the many and varied interpretations of vamp lore. The deal is that a few millennia ago, vampires recognised that if humans ever cottoned on to the fact there were thousands of clammy-palmed bloodsuckers in their midst their days as the undead ethnic minority would be numbered.
So it was that the Masquerade began. Enforced through the agreement of the seven vampire clans, a mandate demanded that thou shaft not reveal thy true nature to those not of the blood". The bloodsuckers went under cover, living among the animals they fed upon and diverting human history relentlessly in their favour. The bastards.
Vamptre: The Masquerade - Bloodlines sees you playing a newly embraced member of the kindred' in a dark, Gothicised Los Angeles, filled with seedy bars, dodgy hotels and questionable ladies of the night.
Fundamentally an RPG with the trappings of Deus Ex's open-ended gameplay, and a collection of armaments that would make Charlton Heston blush. Bloodlines is gearing up to be the first of a new breed of action-packed first-person RPGs. Powered with the same facial animation, physics engine and general jaw-dropping magnificence as Half-Life 2, Bloodlines is shaping up to be one of the most impressive releases of next year.
Before you start running around however, sneaking, seducing, baring your teeth at old ladies and working your way up through the pointy-toothed hierarchy, you've got some important decisions to make.
The character creation process and, above all, which clan you join, will have a huge effect on your game. You must first decide on your allegiance; there are seven clans available and each has its own set of physical attributes, disciplines and outlook on life. You could be a Gangrel. a vamp with shape-shifting abilities, animal instincts and a bestial lust for blood; a creature more accustomed to running free in the wilderness than stnp-joints in downtown LA. Alternatively, if you've always dreamed of being an ugly deformed monster, you could be an old-school Nosferatu with limited social skills, heightened senses, pointy ears and a talent for sneaking around and looking evil.
Taking into account the fact that you can play as either a boy or a girl vamp -an option that should provide some kinky connotations for one or two members of the team - this means there'll be a whopping 14 basic characters with which to tinker. And, as you would expect from the creators of the legendary Fallout series, there's more than enough character options with which to play.
You're given a set number of points to spend to mould your character as you wish,'' explains Leonard Boyarsky, the joint CEO of Troika. "At the bottom it's more like Fallout than a D&D game - the player is given points to spend in each of their Attribute and Ability categories, as well as points to spend on their disciplines. So you can play about with whatever you want your Vamp to be skilled at, though things like knitting, poultry-keeping and embroidery are unsurprisingly off the menu. Ranged combat, melee combat, sneaking, seduction and persuasion are the order of the day, as well as a variety of other roleplay stalwarts.
Paths Of Death
So far. so relatively standard RPG, right? A bunch of meaningless stats that have chuff-all effect on the game itself, right? Nope. What makes the concept of Bloodlines so fundamentally thnlhng is the way in which these attributes and skills are meshed with the FPS game and the multiple ways in which you can complete your objectives. There's this house you need to get into that's being guarded, explains Leonard, when probed about the open-ended gameplay. You can fight your way through the front, sneak your way around to the side (althouqh you'll need to pick the lock on the door) or go the easy way through the backyard, but then again you'd better have 'Animal Friendship' because there's a big pit-bull guarding the back door.
We're just taking all this in. when the man starts up again. Oh. and you could also talk your way past the guard by using your persuasion feat. Or your seduction skills if you're a female." Anything else? You could perhaps dominate him. or dementate him. In or out of dialogue."
Now I don't know about you, but personally I only have three ways of getting into my own house (in no particular order: keys, doorbell, bathroom window), and I've just been told about a virtual world in which there are about seven. That's pretty cool.
If you decide to go in all guns blazing, then there's a wide variety of weapons to dispose of the vamps and humans who stand in your way. Shotguns, flamethrowers, stake guns, sub-machine guns, sniper rifles and a variety of weapons like knives and katanas can all be utilised to make a member of the undead even more dead than he was before. The bad guys won't be stupid either. Enemies will dynamically adjust to certain changes in the environment," promises Leonard. They'll take cover behind objects and change their positions if those objects are destroyed. They'll work together in combat, and know when they're outmatched to flee accordingly." So the Al is sounding pretty hot, but then again if I was one of these poor bad-guys, faced by a vamp who potentially had a discipline like 'blood thaumatology' (the ability to make your enemy's blood boil inside his body), then I wouldn't fight at all. I'd be running over the green hills and far away. So the NPCs can't be that clever.
But what about the blood? Count Duckula aside, haemoglobin has always featured prominently in vamp escapades and Bloodlines is no exception. Humans are cattle," explains Leonard, but they are also to be feared and respected as there are so many of them compared to the vampires. But you'll need to feed on NPCs to get blood to power your disciplines." To successfully feed on an unsuspecting human you'll need enough brawl skill to overcome them. If you don't, the NPC will run away screaming or attack you, depending on their Al. Alternatively, if you're one of the more suave and sexy vamps, you could seduce your prey and convince them that it would be a great idea to open up his/her veins. Either way, a successful conquest will give you plenty of juice to let rip with your powers round the next corner.
Unfortunately there's a price to pay for this arterial promiscuity, if you completely drain a victim of their life juice or run around gunning down innocent bystanders then you will lose humanity points. If you stray too far away from what is morally human, you are more likely to reach a point of 'frenzy' - absolute bloodlust. In this state, you lose control of your character and he/she will home in on the nearest blood source, no matter what their relation to you or how big a gun they are carrying. In contrast, because of the open nature of the game, you can go against vampiric convention and do nice things to people (bake cakes, heal sick puppies, buy fags for teens loitering outside newsagents. That kind of thing. Maybe...) and stick points back on to your humanity register.
If your humanity points start getting low then there'll be less speech options available to you and even the most sophisticated of Toreadors will start grunting, scratching their arse and gesticulating in a brutish manner. In the past. Troika bods have proved to be absolute masters of character-dependent branching dialogue, above all in the myriad of sprawling conversations found in Fallout and Fallout 2, so dialogue in Bloodlines promises to be something pretty special. NPCs will react to your clan, your reputation and if on a previous visit you caved in their cousin's head with an iron bar then the chances are they wont be hugely receptive to you. In turn, you'll respond through dialogue options dependant on your clan's attributes and skills, your humanity rating, the way in which you distributed your character points at the start of the game and, if you did jam an iron bar into someone's brain cavity earlier, the naughty things you've been up to during the game.
Some of your lines appear in different colours and fonts," adds Leonard. This signifies that it's a line that uses one of your powers or feats." So you'll be able to Dominate, Dementate, Persuade, Seduce and Intimidate should you be good enough at each skill. In most cases a quick 'please' or 'thank you' would probably suffice, but I suppose the undead aren't exactly famed for their courtesy.
Making a hugely complex genre crossover title like Vampire: The Masquerade -Bloodlines is a hard task. There is no doubt Leonard and his buddies are juggling a lot of balls (dialogue, combat, Al. story, character creation etc), and all are so enmeshed by the nature of the game that even dropping one would cause untold damage to the end product. But Troika have all the right tools; they've got the most astounding engine in PC gaming history, they've got the rich backdrop of the White Wolf universe, they've got a team of established RPG gods and, well, they've got vampires which are always cool. (Apart from when they're crowbarred into The Matrix.) Bloodlines is set to be 60 hours of gaming genius that's going to make standing in graveyards at midnight and looking pissed off a fun and trendy activity. We can't wait.
The Source Of All Evil
Gordon's Shiny Engine Used For Nefarious Deeds
Purring sweetly in the background of Bloodlines lies the Source engine, purveyor of graphical genius to Half-Life 2. With its remarkable facial animation, DirectX 9 effects and a new lighting system devised by Troika, Bloodlines looks set to be one of the most graphically stunning RPGs ever. Above and beyond this, however, is a modified Havok 2 physics engine that looks to be so good it'll make your head bleed. If your vampire is strong enough, you'll be able to interact with the environment like never before - shifting crates, lifting small cars and generally making your presence felt. Meanwhile we shouldn't forget, as Leonard Boyarsky, joint CEO of Troica, himself points out, that physics objects blow apart real neat. They sure do.
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For years mortal propaganda has been chipping away at us, hoodwinking us into balieving that it's not much fun being a empire. "Your complexion will become pallid," they claim. "You'll develop severe allergies to common foodstuffs and sharpened pieces of wood." "You'll become a slave to an unquenchable th irst for human blood." Lies! Damned lies! Well, maybe not, but you can be ur dead and still be hip, and Vampire: The Masquerade -Bloodlines is going to show you how.
Put simply, if this til manages to pull off what it promises than the RPG world will be set on fire. It's still early days, but Bloodlines looks set tc intricately meld the traits of the traditic nal RPG with the intense shootery of the FPS. Stuff like experience points, character groups, quests and NPC inters ction are still here, but so is an arse lai of weapons that covers knives, submachine guns, flamethrowers and 'stakeguns'. If you add to the mix your 12 different vampire powers (supernatural speed, invisibility, mind control, superhuman strength and the like), then it becomes clear that we are looking at what might be described as a Deus Ex with pointy teeth. And it uses Half-Life's Source Engine. Excited yet?
Suck You Dry
So how does it work? We caught up with Troika bigwig Leonard Boyarsky and producer Thaine Lyman, and they told us all about it. "The main goal is to create an experience that has the spirit of the paper and pencil version of the game," says Leonard. "You can play as one of seven different clans, each of which represents a different part of vampire lore. For example, a Toreador clan member is suave and seductive - an Anne Rice style vampire - while the Nosferatu is a hideous beast stalking in the shadows."
The game itself is split into four major hubs: Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Chinatown. Each of these has multiple conflict areas associated with it. The player interacts with NPCs, receives quests and buys equipment in the safe areas of each hub before moving out to the action. From what Zone has seen, the environments that you'll be battling through are vast and wide-ranging, covering all the grubby aspects of the seedy American underground: nightclubs, dodgy hotels, Hollywood Mansions and the more traditional gothic caverns and graveyards.
What's more, these environments and the myriad characters that you meet in them will react to you according to the choices you make, your clan, your abilities and the reputation that you've developed through your (mis)deeds. So if you've recently sucked the plasma out of someone's virgin younger sister, they are unlikely to welcome you with open arms (let alone open veins).
And of course, throbbing beautifully in the background, lies the Source Engine. "When we first saw the engine demoed for us we were blown away by the facial animation," enthuses Leonard. "When you're talking with someone in the game you see their body language, you see their expressions, you see how they're dressed - you see their entire attitude projected towards you. When a character gets angry at you, you know it. When they're happy with you, you know it. When they want to make you dinner, you know it."
If Fallout is anything to go by, Troika is pretty much the best in the business when it comes to NPC chitchat. Armed with this technology we could be in for encounters and characters that are so immersive you won't be able to tell the difference between playing the game and going down the shops for a pint of milk (or a quart of type A-positive).
"A vampire has various disciplines that you can access through speech - you can choose to dominate somebody or perhaps intimidate them, and from this you can see how it is that they respond to you emotionally," says Leonard.
By their own admission, the 19-strong team behind Bloodlines found that "using somebody else's engine is like jumping into a cold pool." But on the evidence we've seen. 18 months of development have turned this pool into a spa-bath with three waterslides and a wave-machine. In most previous role-players, original designs and visions have had to be compressed into characters with pixels for faces, with even main characters being scrunched up into 2in-high models. These days every fold, wrinkle and zit in the artwork can find their way to someone's face, and the team is clearly enjoying the freedom that this affords. The visuals may not match those we've seen in Half-Life 2, but they're still out of this world. "We've added our own particle system," points out Leonard, "which gives us a lot more artistic control. We added our own lighting system too, because a game that takes place at night has very different demands from a game that plays out during daylight. We had to incorporate a lot more shadows and moody lighting. So there is almost a film quality to it."
In Your Face
Those of you with above-average memory will be aware that it wasn't always like this. V:tM - Redemption was an isometric party-based affair that started its story back in the dark ages: it was old school (that's old school with a beard rather than a tub of drugs and a whistle). So why the sudden shift in gears?
"There's an immediacy that a first-person experience can provide that the third person generally can't," explains Thaine. "With a shooter-style model you're actively engaging in stealth tactics or combat, and it's you yourself controlling the action. The stats affect the gameplay, but the player is the one who is actually responsible. This is clearly a far cry from the games in which you click on a beasty and back while your character cleaves mea from its ribcage.
"NPCs will take cover when you're fighting and they'll respond to factors like which clan you belong to, and what you say to them. They'll search you out.
They'll throw things at you. We used a lot of the Half-Life 2 combat Al, and a lot of their scripted stuff, but we had to add a lot of the RPG-specific stuff ourselves. There are multiple ways to get through our game, so we have to accommodate the fact that the player can have different experiences getting to a certain area."
If you've seen the E3 Bloodlines video you'll have noticed that it has a number of similarities with what we've seen of its ginger, radioactive step-brother, Half-Life 2. One notable scene has a monster picking up corpses and lobbing them at you, while elsewhere the physics engine shows off with an enthusiastic jiggle of an NPC's over-sized breasts.
Bloodlines will also have extensive Modding capabilities and epic vampire vs vampire hunter multiplayer battles. "We feel we are working on something that is going to open people's eyes", says Leonard. "Back when we made Fallout we felt we were doing the same sort of thing, almost like we are rejuvenating a genre that had pretty much died."
For us, Bloodlines carries with it big expectations. The right people are making the right game with the right source material. They are also using the most incredible game engine ever made. The colour of next season is undoubtedly going to be black.
No Game has ever come close to recreating the feeling of playing Deus Ex - no game has even come within a bio-modded sniff. The first time we saw Bloodlines though, well we wondered if it was possible... Some among our number have expressed doubts on exactly how free-form the final game will be, while others have wondered whether the stat-spliced combat is going to be fulfilling enough. However, we still have faith that this is going to be special.
It has the White Wolf RPG canon as its base and the Source engine as its steed, along with seven character classes. Plus, there are powers that let you boil an enemy's blood until they explode, or conjure up a giant spectral wolf to disembowel your fellow vampires. All of which means there's still a hell of a lot to hope for, even if it must have been a task and a half for isometric-roleplayer stalwarts Troika to stretch themselves into shooter territory.
What is certain though, is that there's going to be more swearing, blood-letting and mammoth breasts on show than we've seen in many a month. And for that, at least, we're very glad...
You haven't lived until you've played this game because:
While it wasn't as beautiful as Half-Life 2, Vampire made good use of the engine to create a nightmarish version of LA, based on the White Wolf PPG. And what a sense of humour too...
The amputation-fetishist attacking you with a severed mannequin limb; the Evil Dead mini-game in the graveyard; the werewolf, golem and Chinese-monster scenes where you realise you're not the nastiest thing this world has to offer; the four-way split-ending; the crazy combat and the multiple paths through every level; the enormously varied character classes; the endless moral and political content expressed through the exposition of the world. This is Deus Ex with vampires, and each time you play it rewards you.
People probably didn't play it because:
It was rushed out on the same day as Half-Life 2 was released! Duh, Activision! Also, developers Troika were shut down on the same day, so patches were left to the fans. Which was a problem because you couldn't finish the released version, due to a bug halfway through the game.
Stand-out moment of brilliance:
The old hotel in Santa Monica. This turns out to be a near-perfect in-game version of The Shining, full of poltergeists, kids' toys and a flashback that ends with you running through flames and plummeting through the vanishing ghostly floor of the hotel.
The panel's views:
Steve: "It's got that one with the big tits who looks like Britney Spears in it!" Dan: "And the twist with her, which I won't say out loud, is just ingenious." Will: "I like Vampire as it's been ignored: Troika have gone bust, Activision aren't interested - but there's a community that keeps it going with fan-made patches."
The best buggy game ever released. God bless Troika, wherever they are now.
The reason that Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines is picking up a lot of steam despite being 15 years old is quite simple. First of all, this is a real classic of an RPG, but also there is a sequel due out rather soon and that has got many people wondering what all the fuss is about.
Welcome To LA
When Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines was first released in 2004 part of what really made this stand out was the setting. Rather than being set in a fantasy world like most RPG’s or even in a gothic Victorian type setting like other vampire games. They went for a modern-day Los Angeles for the game and I think that is really cool.
I got very invested in the story and I am sure you will do. Basically, you create your vampire who is given eternal life, but you have to serve Prince Lacroix. The story is full of all kinds of excitement. You will end up on a quest where you learn about yourself, deal with betrayal, discovery if you are really a hero and much more.
The story goes in many different directions and one of the things I found interesting was the different vampire factions. You will have to talk to a ton of different characters and it is up to you to decide what side of the war you want to stand on. I really cannot say enough positive things about the story.
Your Vampire Your Way
The RPG mechanics that Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines ensure that the vampire you create and play as may be different from the one I did. The reason for this is that you do have a lot of choice at your fingertips. The dialogue options are quite vast and I love this! It gets you right into the character and makes you more invested. However, on the flip side of this, I think some may find it a little bit too much. Your vampire can specialize in different skills. I love the seduction one which is where you can use your vampire powers of persuasion to get people to side with you and do what you want. There are plenty of other skills for you to master as well, hacking and lock picking are two other ones that I found very useful. Ultimately the way that you will play dictate what kind of skills you decide to level up.
Fight Like A Vampire
I found Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines had excellent combat. It is up to you how you view the action, but I really liked the 3rd person POV. There are tons of weapons for you to use ranging from melee to firearms. Do not worry though there are plenty of vampire powers for you to use and snacking on people is something you will have to do! It is pretty cool how action packed the combat is, you do level up quite quickly which is something I really liked. There are on occasion a ton of monsters coming at you and it can feel more like an action game than an RPG, but that is just another aspect of the game I really like.
Even though that Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines is a game that is 15 years old as I write this it is still a great time. It is an RPG that is very heavy on the action, but the story is also fantastic. It is the kind of game that really does grab hold of you and never let go. Without a doubt, this is a game you have to play, especially if you like the look of the new one which is due out next year.
- It has a really interesting story
- Being set in a more modern time is great
- Become the kind of vampire you want to!
- You can play in first or third person
- The game has tons of different gameplay styles
- The presentation shows its age a little bit
- Some of the dialogue may go on a little long for some people
Although slow at first, Vampire: Bloodlines has to be one of the more enjoyable RPGs I've played in a long time. More like an FPS version of Fallout than a traditional RPG, the Vampire: Bloodlines developers have learned the most important lesson of all, freedom of gameplay. Mired in some less than impressive graphics, and an occasionally too campy tone, Vampire still presents some enjoyable gameplay in a setting that really deserves it.
Vampire: Bloodlines is based on White Wolf's popular pen and paper RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade. The beginning of the game puts you in the role of a newly created vampire, adrift in a time of chaos for the undead population of Los Angeles. Very faithful to the original system upon which it was based, you'll have a character sheet that looks very similar to the original book version, and you'll use various special powers, called disciplines, to dispense your particular brand of punishment. With seven different basic character choices, the first true strength of Vampire is the differentiation of gameplay each character will face.
Nosferatu, as disgusting to look at as the vampire from the silent film of the same name, are bound by the rule of stealth. Since their appearance can give away the existence of vampires, you must stealth your way through the game, rather than being able to walk through the streets normally. Brujah, young punk anarchists of the vampire world, can generally beat their way through any challenge, and the Ventrue, power brokers par excellence, can not only talk their way through nearly any situation enforcing their will with the powerful mental discipline, Dominate. Four more clans are available for your choosing, with even more gameplay options available therein. Say what you will about the storyline, but there are usually many different ways to solve most of the game's quests, allowing you to play whatever character you'd like.
Vampire's largest flaws are in its graphics. While developed with the Half-Life 2 engine, many of the character models can look very poor in some of the more strangely lit locales in the game. Additionally, there's very little in the way of actual freedom to move through the city, as at all times you're essentially stuck in four different zones that are mere postage stamps compared to other titles. Still, with the chance to play a myriad of characters in many different ways, this is my favorite RPG of the year.