Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, for the PC

Presentation

Very strait forward. You'll find a great interactive tutorial, with the hilarious biker-lookin' vampire Jack teaching you the ropes of the demon lifestyle. He lays out the do's and dont's in a way that makes sense with the controls. Pretty much anyone can play this game if they dedicate up to an hour on this tutorial.

The menus all do a great job of making the process simple for those who are new to the genre. Everything on your character customization screen will display an explanation inside an info box. And all items will have full descriptions and specs when needed. The only thing I was left a little confused about was how your weapon's damage was calculated. There are many numbered statistics to them, and I am still clueless on the formula it uses. So sometimes it may take some trial and error to find your best weapon.

I found the story to be fantastic no matter which path you take. You play as a freshly converted Vampire, converted that is...by means which are frowned upon to say the least. The egotistical "Prince" of Vampires, Sebastian LaCroix, decides to let you live, despite what their laws would otherwise say. After a little guidance and some dirty work, you'll soon realize that LaCroix isn't the only one with a following in town. There are 3 other extremely varied groups, should you wish to join their ranks. Regardless, there is one consistant plot device between them all, and that is the desire for an item known as the Ankaran sarcophagus. It is said to contain the corpse of an ancient but powerful Vampire.

Graphics

Great texture work on all the areas and main characters. Very convincing lip-synching. Absolutely stunning environmental design. Characters animate well during cutscenes, but they sometimes seem a little stiff in gameplay events. Most of the disciplines (spells) use pretty original effects. The game uses the Half-Life 2 Source engine, so you can expect it to look almost as good as HL2 did back when it launched.

Regarding performance, everything ran smooth, aside from any performance related bugs mentioned below. If you have a system similar to mine (scroll to the bottom), then you will be fine on the highest settings, and highest level of anisotropic filtering.

Sound

Aside from two or three extremely minor characters, the voice work in this game is outstanding. The actors bring these characters to life just as well as the actors for Metal Gear Solid did. The soundtrack is also flawless. I can't form a complaint here. There's a wide variety of dark-themed music in this game, from licensed tracks, to original BGM, to subtle ambient noise. Each one is placed in a very appropriate area. All your weapons sound great too. In fact, this game has the most satisfying katana slash noise ever, especially when clashing against a hard surface.

Gameplay

In terms of the first-person shooting, the game handles well. As long as you raise your character's gun skill a little, aiming will not be a problem. If you've played any other FPS such as Half Life, the controls will be no problem. The third-person aspects are fine too. If you played Max Payne or Star Wars: Jedi Outcast, you'll be used to the perspective and movement.

When it comes to the Action-RPG elements, the game truely shines. Bloodlines has a mission-based gameplay most similar to the recent Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. Take that concept, then imagine a smaller, but more interesting environment, more lively and worthwhile dialog, and the vulgarity of GTA: San Andreas.

You begin by creating your character. It's not too complex. You pick a race of vampire, gender, and assign the experience points it starts you off with. As with Oblivion, you could make a character who is physically strong or weak, smart or stupid, sane or insane, social or anti-social, magical or not magical, just to mention a few paths. You can mix things things up as well. Perhaps you want stealthy Malkavian bookworm, with an experienced trigger finger and a lack of sanity. Maybe you want a big meathead Brujah, flawless in all forms of combat, but retarded in all other ways. You'll gain more XP through the many quests in the game, and if you're real careful in your choices, and succeed in all your missions, you might wind up with a well balanced god-of-a-vampire to play as.

Most of the game consists of exploring the cities, chattin' it up with the locals, doing tasks for them, and dealing with merchants. Each mission is unique and memorable due to the wide variety of objectives. There are some truly hilarious events in this game. For example, a stubborn Nosferatu girl misses her former human days of beauty, and is enraged with the new top model in town. She asks you to sneak into this girl's appartment, and plant cameras all over her place, in hope that any perverted acts of her's will be caught and shared with the world, thus ruining her career.

Many of the missions contain puzzles you need to get past too. For example, you can't get through some door without a password, but if you go backwords a bit and start hacking some computers and reading people's emails, you might find the password mentioned. Similar to Splinter Cell, yes, but there's many other types of puzzles too, often related to dialog. You can really play with people's emotions in this game with the right skills. On top of the generic conversation choices, you can pick statements that might persuade, intimidate, seduce, or even pull off some Jedi Mind Trick type stuff if you are a Malkavian or Ventrue. What you say and what you will hear in these situations is often entertaining.

Stability

When it launched, Bloodlines was a very buggy game. I gave up on it very quickly, only to return to it now, 2 years later, to give it an honest second chance. Things have improved majorly, with the help of the official and unofficial patch. Still, you might suffer some of the following technical issues, if they haven't already been fixed with the unofficial patch:

It's recommended that you install the official v1.2 patch, and then the unofficial v2.4 patch, or whatever version it happens to be up to as you read this, in that order. You can find them both here.

Overall

A 20+ hour adventure that begs for at least two more playthroughs. I can praise this game until the end of time, but those bugs will always bring the entire experience down. But who knows? The unofficial patches continue to roll out, and perhaps as time goes on, those patches will continue to improve the game, and we will find ourselves with a perfect title.

**Originally, I had some major issues with the game crashing. However, after I reinstalled from scratch, I did not have a single crash. I played from start to finish on a new character and it was 100% solid. I still had some of the minor bugs, but that's not such a big deal.**

Considering the bugs: 9 out of 10
Ignoring the bugs: 10 out of 10

Be sure to check out the game's soundtrack here. Rik Schaffer himself helped me on this one. Big thanks to him.

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