(This is part of my journey going playing through 2004’s Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
With the recent announcement of Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines 2’s development and personally coming off of a streak of adventure games in this series, I thought it would be the perfect time to open the crypt back up for one of the more unique CRPGs I’ve ever played. Now, you know that I’m not much of a vampire fan — I am in the camp that thinks that they’re kind of gross, oversexualized, and overrated — but the late, great Troika Games managed to create a genuine cult classic with its 2004 vision of urban vampires waging a power struggle in a gloomy city.
While it’s been many years (a decade? more?) since I played this game, I actually did fully complete it and found that it was one of the more unique RPG experiences. So why not do it again? Let’s go!
So what really sets this game apart (other than genuinely good quests and setting) are three factors: the fact that you play AS the monster in a horror game, the selection of a specific vampire clan to play as (which lends itself to different playstyles), and the effort to keep “The Masquerade” going (basically, no killing in plain sight or revealing your vampire nature to the normals).
I’d always regretted not rolling a Malkavian when I played this last, because it seemed like the most interesting clan, so I’m doing it this time. Malkavians are stealthy insane lunatics that hear voices in their heads and have bizarre dialogue options. Like being a blogger, really.
My only complaint with the character creator is that you have no option for how your character looks — or is dressed, for that matter. I’d prefer not to be a goth cheerleader, but that’s the hand I’ve been dealt.
The game opens with a vampire transforming me into one of his own (the Embrace, it’s called), shortly before a bunch of goons barge in, stake us (which doesn’t kill us, apparently), and then take us to a meeting of the clans. There, the Prince Whatever says that my sire never got permission to make a new vampire, and so while he’s sentenced to death, I get clemency if I prove myself. Me? I just want a pair of pants. Getting cold outside and I’m not going to any Halloween parties here.
At least I get some whacked-out dialogue options from the get go! And the font even suggests insanity, although it’s probably going to be a little tough on the eyes after a while.
Now I get to do what vampires do best: act like giant mosquitoes. The key here is not to fully drain victims and thereby risking breaking the Masquerade and losing humanity points (which is important to keep high in order not to fall into an uncontrollable frenzy).
As I go through the tutorial, I have to say that for a game from 15 years ago, it doesn’t look half-bad. Oh, the character models are a little more chunky than I’d prefer, but there’s decent lip-syncing and the environments are moody and immersive. It really reminds me of the look and feel of Max Payne from around the same era.
A way that Bloodlines really gets you into the roleplay spirit is that it pays a lot of attention to constructing a believable world-within-a-world and having the player live within it. For example, right from the start I get an apartment (a cruddy one, but still) and can use emails, get mail, and start living my new un-life as I explore the nighttime streets.
These zones are well-crafted areas that feel much bigger than they are due to the number of interactive locations. This is the starting area:
Not huge, but hey, 16 notable locales, plus a sewer system, plus other transportation options. It’s a lot to explore at the start, but it doesn’t let you get too lost or out of bounds. I like that.
So in my wanderings as a fledgling vampire, I learn more about this world and what it entails. There’s lots of politicking and rules, but among some of the early discoveries I made are that there are confused semi-vampires (with “thin blood” who are abandoned by their sires) and then ghouls (who drink the blood of a vampire and gain some measure of power without becoming a Kindred). In the health clinic, I keep a girl named Heather from dying by offering up some of my blood, thereby turning her into my pet ghoul. Does this make her my… ghoulfriend?
I’ll be here all night, folks, because I’m a vampire!