Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004) Review
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (VTMB) is a vampire and gothic themed action-RPG and narrative-driven game developed by Troika Games and published by Activision in 2004.
“The moon is a mysterious mistress, who walks the night with demons of dread.”
The story of VTMB begins after a night of debauchery wherein the player finds themselves inflicted with the ancient curse of vampirism and finds themselves kidnapped and at the mercy of the Camarilla, a secret society of various vampiric clans led by the vampire prince La Croix. Upon sparing their life, the player becomes ‘indentured’ to the vampire prince who pits them against another vampiric faction called the Sabbath.
The Camarilla seeks to instil order in maintaining secrecy among human society and as such administers punishment for breaking the ‘masquerade’, any public display of vampiric power or unsanctioned reproduction, often by death. The Sabbath on the other hand revel in their unholy power and are seeking world domination.
Upon the discovery of an ancient sarcophagus believed to contain a sleeping Antediluvian, a very old and powerful vampire, all hell breaks loose as the different factions fight for control of it. You are placed in the middle of rising tensions that threaten to destroy the Camarilla and perhaps even the world.
VTMB is primarily an action-RPG with stealth and shooter elements. Upon the beginning of the game you can customize your character by selecting one of seven vampire clans they belong to, each having their own advantages and disadvantages, and choosing which starter skills they would like to improve such as skills in stealth, persuasion, combat, lockpicking, and computer hacking.
Each clan offers a different gameplay experience if you can stomach multiple playthroughs with some being more combat, stealth, or rhetoric focused. Of the many clans available to choose are:
- Brujah – Vampiric anarchists with high strength and fighting capabilities.
- Gangrel – Vampires of a feral nature with the ability to take a bestial form.
- Malkavian – The ‘lunatics’ of vampiric society who gain unique dialogue options throughout the game.
- Nosferatu – Deformed monstrosities who must hide from humanity and as such have high stealth and the ability to turn invisible.
- Toreador – The most human-like of vampires capable of blending in with ease.
- Tremere – Vampire mages capable of utilizing blood magic.
- Ventrue – The vampiric ‘high-society’ with skills in persuasion and manipulation.
The different clans available to choose gives your playthrough a unique feel as each has their own set of special abilities called disciplines. These disciplines come in the form of powers that can only be used by certain clans such as Dominate – the ability of mind control available to the Tremere and Ventrue clans, Obfuscate – the power of invisibility for Malkavian and Nosferatu clans, Animalism – the ability to summon bats, ravens, and wolves to attack enemies for Gangrel and Nosferatu, among others.
Essential to the wellbeing of your character is the act of feeding – drinking the blood of unsuspecting victims. The player uses this blood to perform their discipline powers and to prevent their character from entering frenzy – a state where control is taken away from the player and their character will feed on and attack any nearby NPCs prompting combat, a loss of humanity, or a violation of the masquerade (too many violations of the masquerade will prompt a game over). The humanity value sort of reflects the player’s morality and self-control and can be lost or gained depending on the actions they take.
Combat in VTMB utilizes a mix of melee weapons, such as knives, baseball bats, and swords, various guns, and your vampiric disciplines. Your skill points in these areas determine how effectively you can use them. As a vampire you are much harder to kill than a regular human and can take a lot of damage before succumbing to final death, however certain elements such as fire and sunlight deal extra damage to you.
My overall experience with VTMB was mixed. While I enjoyed the story, characters, and lore of its universe, the core gameplay left much to be desired. Combat in VTMB comes off as very clunky and unsatisfying. The melee combat is floaty and often amounts to nothing more than button-mashing while the shooting mechanics don’t work very well unless your pour all your experience into ranged weapons and even then it feels sluggish and unresponsive. This becomes very apparent in certain sections of the main storyline where you mash your way through hordes of repetitive enemies in an effort to get from point A to point B. The game works much better in its main hub areas where you are free to explore the level to discover new characters who will often give you a new side quest and where combat is used sparingly.
Upon playing the game for long periods it breaks down, some problem with memory allocation I think, this leads to some of the most bizarre occurrences of glitches that can be quite hilarious such as random items spawning all over the place and other items being replaced with a million tables. This is easily fixed by restarting the game and only happens after some hours of constant play. Much more detrimental to the game is its constant hitches and in some cases game-breaking physics collision. I was constantly getting stuck on doors and in-between NPCs and having to reload a previous save to free myself.
Where VTMB shines is in its overall story, the many interesting and varied characters you’ll meet, and its many quirky side quests. A lot of choice is given to the player regarding how they approach and undertake these quests, often effecting the outcome and attitudes other characters have towards you.
This game is very flawed and can be downright annoying at times (that goddamn sewer level!) and its many technical glitches and bugs mixed with some poor level design can steer most players away. The first couple of hours is where the game is at its best, the initial venture into its dark, brooding world and learning the ins and outs of the various vampire factions, supported by a great cast of characters and voice acting. Sadly the fairly linear experience quickly loses steam and becomes very repetitive in its later stages.
I could definitely recommend Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines for those interested in a gothic, narrative-driven experience. The combat system and general bugs and glitches undoubtedly mar its overall quality but in some cases the narrative, combined with decent voice-acting and supernatural lore of its dark fantasy world manage to shine through and make it worthwhile.
Overall I’d say it’s a very niche game that tries to do a lot but doesn’t always succeed and it would be very interesting to see a modern or improved take on the format in terms of a sequel or spin-off with modern motion-capture and game engine capabilities.