Vampire Bloodlines: Fire and vamps don’t mix

(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.)

Downtown’s nicer facade doesn’t do much to cover the atrocities that happen just beyond its surface in this game, and by this point, I’m up to my neck in cults, monsters, and all sorts of sordid affairs. The question that persists is, how much do I embrace my own inner monster — and how much do I try to hold on to my humanity?

The plaguebearer storyline eventually led to a hotel populated by misguided fools (aka zombies) who thought they’d be better off being infected for some reason.

Morgan Freeman’s voice-over: They were not.

Bloodlines does have a streak of fantastic black humor that runs through most of the game to offset the unrelentingly grim atmosphere. Such as allowing the player to play basketball with a severed head (I didn’t sever it) and then hear a buzzer go off if the shot is made.

The more I replay this, the more I’m convinced that The Secret World’s designers drew a lot of inspiration from Bloodlines. Because yet again, I’m plunging myself into a monster-filled underground parking garage and going through all sorts of PTSD flashbacks from Funcom’s title. Wasn’t quite as scary, but the deja vu was uncanny.

In one of the most unsettling missions of the game, there’s this creature that lurks deep inside the bowels of an abandoned hospital. She’s not a vampire, but rather… some sort of spider thing that looks like a human. Human-ish. There are a lot of webs and I kind of didn’t want to know more. There’s a choice here to either work as her agent or kill her, which brings us back to that “monster vs. humanity” theme.

I eventually hopped back onto the main storyline to investigate the mansion of Dr. Grout for more information about this sarcophagus. The Anarchist Nines wanders out of the mansion, dazed, and I have no idea what to make of that before I’m plunged into madness.

A common horror trope is that of the mad doctor who experiments on people with the thought that the ends justify the means, somehow. Dr. Grout took this on a different track, experimenting on ghouls to somehow help his wife. He makes a deal with the Malkavians and gradually goes mad because of it.

The mansion itself isn’t scary, just a little eerie and weird. It tilts a little toward puzzle-solving, but nothing really that complicated.

The gradual progression of the mansion leads up to a double tragedy: Dr. Grout, now a vampire, has been chained to a bed and staked, and his wife, frozen in suspended animation, doesn’t look as though she’s going to be making a recovery any time soon.

Plus, a vampire hunter shows up and torches the place, forcing me to evade the “quick to kill me” flames and jump out of a window. While I normally use a combination of my knife and the Visions of Death skill for combat, in this instance I switched over to a shotgun because I didn’t want the flaming ghouls to touch me and light me up.

Speaking of black humor, I love this guy. Always has a weirdly oblivious comment at hand. I’m rooting that he wins the game.

Vampire Bloodlines: You can always go downtown

(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.)

Bloodlines is roughly divided into four acts, with each one taking place in a different L.A. setting. As I moved into the second one, Downtown, I traded the more run-down streets of Santa Monica for a more posh — but no less seedy — upscale district.

As you can see, Downtown is roughly laid out on a single street that winds its way from east to west. I like it less than Santa Monica, mostly because of the amount of back-and-forth running that takes place. Oh! It’s also a place where I’m able to trade up my clothes, and here I breathed a sigh of relief to finally get rid of the somewhat embarrassing faux-cheerleader outfit that my Malkavian was wearing. The heavy clothes, I discovered, ended up being a leather outfit with chaps that I can’t actually show you because I have some decency standards here on this blog. At least the game lets me play in first-person mode and I can ignore what my character looks like for the most part.

Roaming around the streets, I kept on seeing these CDC hazmat people standing all about. You’d think that would disturb people, but no, everyone else is like “business as usual!” and ignores them. Me, on the other hand, gets another jolt of Secret World vibe from this game and gets intrigued at the notion that there’s this supernatural plague that’s ripping through the area.

Turns out that some vamp is doing all of this intentionally, and my new contacts make it very clear that it’d be a good thing if I put an end to it for everyone’s sake.

Bloodlines really does have a great design in terms of plunging players into this (probably) unfamiliar setting that’s brimming with all sorts of lore. Santa Monica was mostly about getting used to being a vampire and what that means, while Downtown then transitions into explaining (and showing) the different vampire clans and factions. By the way, clan is like a “race” that confers different approaches and styles, while the three factions (the rule-following Camilla, the anarchist Anarchs, and the savage Sabbat) take in any who share their viewpoint.

The above picture was from a Tremene mansion that had a cool effect — you could only get to the heart of the mansion if you took right turns at every intersection. Otherwise, you’d just end up at the start over and over again.

Me? I just started chewing into the various side quests and worked on establishing myself in this region while gathering up all of those precious, precious experience points. Plus, I keep getting a kick out of choosing the (red) Malkavian crazy dialogue option when I want to convince an NPC by way of madness. It’s very unique for RPGs.

Eventually I do find — and kill — the plaguebearer who’s been infecting everyone, but the bad news is that she’s only one of at least two (maybe more?) that are doing this for some unknown reason.

The Camilla Prince sends me on his own quest, which is to sneak onto a container ship and investigate a sarcophagus that has the entire supernatural community in an uproar. I only confirm that it’s there, which feels like a letdown after spending a lot of effort trying to get through this level without hurting any cops or being seen.

Oh hey, it’s Heather! You know, Heather, the girl from the clinic that I turned into a ghoul in order to save her life. She’s now completely in my thrall without understanding why and following me around like a puppy dog. There are a lot of moral options to pick when dealing with her, from shooing her away to taking advantage of her to using her as a spare blood pack. Personally, I found it quite creepy how entranced she was with me, because it kind of reminded me of Overly Attached Girlfriend.

At least all of my sneaking and kow-towing to the various leaders paid off handsomely in an upgraded apartment! I love the huge aquarium. Kind of wish there was more to do in this place, but it’s still nice to have a “home” in an RPG like this.

Vampire Bloodlines: Boom goes the dynamite

(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.)

Part of the reason that so many people have come to appreciate Bloodlines over the years is probably because this game actually does put the “roleplay” back in RPG. It’s a remarkably adaptive game in terms of choices, dialogue, and approaches, and I love getting into the mad humor of a Malkavian.

Still trying to appease Theresa after pulling off the hotel exorcism, I run over to the local art gallery and slash up paintings of the original vampire (the biblical Caine, if you wanted to know) before fighting off a blood-thing that comes out of it. By now I’m slashing so hard and fast with a knife that battles rarely last more than a few seconds. I’m a terror.

I do take a detour to off an Asian vampire that’s been harassing Knox, although I quickly learn that Knox is very manipulative and is trying to get me to play assassin for his master’s purposes. I guess I should’ve listened to the oracle on the beach who told me that I could pretty much trust no one.

As Theresa and Jeanette’s “relationship” continues to deteriorate, I’m given one final mission by them to go to a diner and basically be jumped by a swarm of thugs. Unfortunately, fighting them off summons the police, which introduced me to Bloodlines’ primitive GTA-like threat system. If you do something that earns a police presence, then you’ll start getting hunted by cops for a while until you find a place to hole up until the heat dies down. I… didn’t wait, and I paid the penalty for it.

Back at the Asylum, Jeanette and Theresa go into a full-fledged dual personality breakdown, showing off the half-and-half natures at play here. I didn’t have the stats needed to make them both happy, so this playthrough I ended up appeasing Theresa, which meant that Jeanette got killed by her sister. Somehow. Don’t ask me, the game wasn’t very clear on that part.

The final mission of Santa Monica is to blow up a Sabbat warehouse. By now, I’ve accrued so many character points that I was able to buy the Vision of Death skill. This is, as the name implies, an “I win” button. It kills any human with a single use and hurts supernatural critters something fierce. I had a lot of fun running into a pack of bad guys and alternating between slashing and visioning them to death.

At the end of the mission — warehouse successfully ka-blooeyed — a werewolf bumps into me and we have a chat. This is Beckett, supposedly some big figure in this game universe, but to me he’s just a guy with a penchant for history and some 90s-looking sunglasses.

With that, it’s off to the downtown area! There’s an unfortunate intermission in which I’m ambushed by a gang of Sabbat and nearly killed. Nines, an Anarch vampire, comes along to save me and start moving the game into a tri-faction direction. Three factions plus numerous vampire clans makes for a confusing narrative foundation.

As an aside, this fourth wall breaking line is pretty funny, although the Sabbat here might just be a little crazy.

The Prince summons me upon arrival and tasks me with another big mission — to investigate an abandoned ship that’s apparently carrying a very important sarcophagus that’s freaking everyone out for some reason. Guess it’s time to explore my new setting!

Vampire Bloodlines: Grim grinning ghosts

(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.)

Every good RPG has at least one area that helps to establish the game’s legacy, and for Bloodlines, it has to be the Ocean Hotel. While slightly hokey and crude by today’s standards, back when this game released it was a genuinely terrifying level that was right up there with your Silent Hills and Resident Evils of the day. It had me pretty freaked out playing through it when I was younger, and even now I can appreciate it as a second cousin to The Secret World.

Anyway, what we have here is a mission to enter a haunted hotel that is definitely, certainly, most assuredly not trying to be the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. Except it totally is, and that is OK.

There are no enemies to fight anywhere in this place, although you don’t know that the first time going in. No, what this level is about is trying to unsettle you through jump scares and excellent sound design. The hotel seems hellbent on keeping you away from the pendant you’re tasked with retrieving, and it’s not above flinging furniture, slamming doors, and playing with light switches to accomplish this.

Every once in a while, you get a flash of a ghost running through the place. This is not a very welcome scene, as it typically happens when you’re navigating the dark shadows of the basement. I had to reload a couple of times to be fast enough on the screenshot key to get her. Looks like she’s being chased, doesn’t it?

Through a handful of newspaper clippings littered around this burned-out hotel, a backstory starts to emerge. Looks like a whole family died here, and they did not die well.

Even as the hotel works against you — and it really does, from floors opening up under you to elevator cars crashing down on your head — this female ghost gradually makes it clear that she’s kind of on your side. She wants you to make it, and as such, she appears to point out places for you to go and things to see.

Hey! It’s the Happy Grinny Family!

So yeah, this being the Shining and all, apparently this locket ended up corrupting the mind of the dad over the course of a vacation and turned him all murdery. He went after his wife and kids and… well, there was an axe involved. Plus fire. The moral of this story is, don’t ever trust jewelry with cursed stats.

The dad — now an evil poltergeist — isn’t too pleased that I keep making progress. While the things he flings at me hurt, my ever-regenerating health bar (thanks, vampire blood!) keeps it from being an actual threat. It’s more psychological than anything else.

Probably the coolest part of this entire level is when I got to the kitchen and the poltergeist goes NUTS, flinging everything all around the place while playing with the gas jets on the stove. It’s pretty crazy to see in action, and it goes on for a long time. Guess that’s what happens when you have a hissy fit.

Eventually I get to the penthouse, where I’m thrown back in time (?) for a brief moment before the murders and am able to grab the pendant. Does this mean that I changed the course of history? From returning to the present to see the hotel — now empty — as much in shambles as it ever was, I guess not. Hopefully I put some spirits to rest, though.

Here’s a fun Bloodlines fact: This room is the ONLY place in the entire game that shows sunlight/daylight. Drink it up, you creatures of the night!

Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines: Blood dolls and bounty hunters

(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.)

And welcome back to the freakshow that is Bloodlines! I really like how this game excels in starting you at the very bottom of the ladder in this new-to-you and mysterious society and then encourages you to work your way up. So while the opening area isn’t as high stakes nor too difficult, the quests and characters still manage to be pretty interesting. Honestly, it reminds me a LOT of The Secret World’s approach.

The centerpiece of Santa Monica is the Asylum, a club for vampires and their lackeys. It’s a nice safe zone with a couple of “blood dolls” who don’t mind being fed upon and filling up your blood meter, which takes a lot of the pressure off of having to maintain this. Plus, I met Jeanette, one of the twin sister owner/operators of the establishment. She’s easily the most recognizable character from the game, having been featured on the box and promotional art. My character calls her a “two-faced daughter of Janus,” which is a lot more shrewd than you’d think for a crazy Malkavian.

Among my humble origin quests include working for a local bounty hunter to track down a few people, which is well and fine with me. I also help out E, a “thin blood” vampire who wants to find his sire, who turns out to be captured my the local blood bank for forceable extraction. She gets hers, though, by going totally feral on a nurse when you release her from the chair.

Going back to the bounty hunter, one of his quests sends me looking for a guy who vanished — right into the basement of a very suspicious prosthetics dealer. So yeah, the guy not only sells prosthetic limbs, but he kidnaps and amputates from others for some reason. Maybe to drive up sales? You’d think that people would be a little reluctant to return. Anyway, he’s dead now, so don’t worry on that front.

There are a lot of side quests to do (which I attempt, because I need the XP to level up my skills), as well as a main storyline to follow. This begins with a beat-up ghoul named Mercurio, who asks me to recover some stolen explosives from a local drug den.

Much like Deus Ex, Bloodlines offers many approaches to level objectives based on your play type and skills. For example, the drug den level can be cleared out by force (the obvious choice) or by social skills (seduction/intimidation) or by stealth. I was going to stealth, but I got spotted and decided to see how many I could take out with just a knife.

All of them, it turns out.

Next on the main storyline is a quest to make peace between a local Nosferatu (super ugly vampires) and Theresa, the other owner of the Asylum. She’s willing to forgive and forget if I’m able to help her secure a spoooooooooky haunted house that she wants to renovate and flip on the market.

OK, so spoilers in this last paragraph, but this whole series is spoilers so oh well. The big reveal that will happen later is that Jeanette and Theresa are, in fact, the same person. I forgot this until I got to this room and heard the arguing through the door, then saw the one room split into two for each personality. Then recall happened, and I have to say that when you know this fact, talking with either one or listening to them “argue” takes on a whole different subtext.

Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines: I’ve gone batty in the head

(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!

LeChuck’s Revenge: What a Big Whoop!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

LAST WEEK ON MONKEY ISLAND 2: Guybrush cleverly infiltrated the fortress of the feared pirate LeChuck — and then got him and Wally captured in the process. Way to go, Guybrush! This week’s episode begins with LeChuck explaining the very elaborate death trap that he’s constructed for Guybrush, which is then foiled by some spitting and deus ex machina.

It seems very common in adventure games with “chapters” that the earlier ones take the longest while the later ones are much more truncated. This is true here, as the third and fourth bits go by fairly quickly, including Guybrush’s adventures on Dinky Island. Somehow, Herman Toothrot — the castaway from the first game — has made his way here, but he features not very much into this tale.

In one highly amusing, fourth wall-breaking bit, Guybrush finds a phone in the middle of the jungle maze and gets to contact LucasArts customer support. It’s useless, naturally, but it did make me chuckle. I have no idea what “SWOTL” is supposed to be — at least until I googled it. That would be the 1991 flight sim Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. Good to know.

Guybrush does find the big X that marks the spot of Big Whoop, but due to some TNT usage and failed Indiana Jones-eque heroics, he ends up dangling while Elaine pops on by to listen to his three-day story. And then he falls, and she exits the story.

This is where the game seriously starts to get strange, because Guybrush ends up in some maintenance tunnels, where LeChuck shows up, tells him that he is Guybrush’s brother, and then proceeds to torture him with a voodoo doll.

Mom? Dad? This room is very confusing for either interpretation of the game’s ending, but we’ll go into that in a bit.

My favorite bit of the game: Guybrush obtains some much-needed dirty underwear by giving LeChuck a really nastie wedgie. This is high-brow, mature humor, people. Anyway, Guybrush eventually gets the upper hand on LeChuck with his own voodoo doll, pulls off LeChuck’s mask, and reveals… a kid underneath.

So here we get to the touted/controversial ending — Guybrush is revealed to be a kid with an overactive imagination who wandered off in an amusement park and was tracked down by his somewhat overzealous brother Chuckie. In light of this, some of the locations and events of the past two games make a lot more sense, if you look at everything as Guybrush going around an amusement park and overlaying his imagination on top of it.

But that discounts the sequels (which don’t reference this) and the dead parent skeletons — which are shown twice in the game, I might add. Another theory is that this amusement park ending is a hallucination of sorts (similar to the tree episode that Guybrush had earlier). Both times, he thinks about his parents, who are obviously deceased. There are two more factors to consider here: that “Chuckie” is shown as having magical glowing eyes in this scene, and afterward, Elaine is shown outside of the hole, wondering if LeChuck had cast a spell on Guybrush. So I guess you can interpret as you like.

And that is LeChuck’s Revenge: Monkey Island 2! Some players hold this up as superior to the first game, and while I’m not prepared to go that far, it certainly is a highly clever adventure game with some gut-bustingly funny moments, agonizingly tricky puzzles, and a variety of interesting locations. It certainly is a classic and one of the better adventure games I’ve ever played, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to complete it.