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Vampire the Masquerade | Redemption | review | game | Lollipop
Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption
(Activision for the PC)
by Eric Johnson
Sidetracked from his holy quest to preserve the Christian kingdom of Palestine by catastrophic injury, French crusader Cristof Romuolt learns of an unholy specter terrorizing the good people of 12th-century Prague. Nursed back to health by the fetching nun Anezka, he ventures into the nearby silver mine where these grotesque fiends have made themselves a home. Vanquishing this blasphemous horde sets off a chain of events in which poor Cristof is himself turned into a creature of the night and drawn inexorably into a war between vampire clans that will rage for eight hundred years.
Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is the first title inspired by White Wolf Studio's pen & paper role-playing game popular with the Gothic kids. The universe inhabited by these creatures mixes elements of vampiric folklore, popular fiction and film, with some imaginative speculation regarding the kind of society that would develop when clans of immortal creatures with conflicting agendas interact over the centuries. There is a ton of background material to draw upon, so it should not come as a surprise that Redemption has an excellent and engrossing story. It's the excessively linear and predominantly action-oriented presentation of this story that has led to some serious critical mauling.
Taking on the role of Cristof, the player is sent on an action-packed crusade through the voluptuously rendered streets of Medieval Prague and Vienna, as well as contemporary London and New York. The graphics are beautiful, stylish and moody, with an eye for architecture and texture unparalleled in other titles I've seen. The music changes with the era, classical symphony for the past, Gothic techno for the present, but it's all well done and the sound effects are excellent. Voice-acting is well done and appropriately pretentious - there are a few annoying characters and grating dialog, but not enough to effect the game.
Environmental interaction is rather simple: Kill opponents, cast spells, juggle items and feed are all accomplished by moving your ever-changing cursor over different areas of the screen. Your viewpoint is just over the shoulder of whatever vampire you currently command. First person viewpoint as well as viewpoint rotation can be accomplished with ease. You control anywhere between one and four characters at any given time, jumping between them as necessary. Fighting generally involves hacking at individual creatures or assaulting them with dozens of magic spells. Building your characters is the real focus of the game, but those efforts will mostly involve building combat abilities. The selection of weapons found throughout the quest is staggering, but I would've preferred more antique pieces - Roman, Gaelic, and Egyptian artifacts would've been a nice feature, and the firearms of modern times are virtually useless. Unfortunately, Redemption doesn't provide you with the power to seriously effect the overall storyline. It's a fundamental weakness of the game, and those shopping for something a little more interactive may be disappointed. In this respect, Redemption is more adventure game than true RPG or action title, but the plot is excellent and makes up for its inherent lack of flexibility by spinning a good yarn.
There have been many failures in the attempt to translate vampire folklore into electronic entertainment, and in my opinion, the reason so many fail - and this one succeeds - is they place you in the role of a reluctant bloodsucker. Cristof's quest to find the lost Anezka and keep his crusading soul intact beyond all hope of salvation is at the heart of this adventure. Dealing with the drawbacks of vampirism as well as the sheer power of it all is one of the title's most seductive features. Your humanity meter measures the amount of your human morality that has survived your indoctrination; it's raised and lowered according to the innocents you protect or kill and the amount that remains at game's end effects the conclusion. The blood meter works much like magic or mana would in other role-playing games, but will kill you if you completely bottom-out at any given time. Finally, a frenzy meter shows the amount of pent-up rage coursing through your vampiric blood. As incurable rageaholics, your characters will be drawn toward the dark side as they soak up damage and take this madness out on the closest victim. These little features help generate genuine sympathy for Cristof and the other immortal undead who aid him in his quest and keep the game engrossing throughout the single-player experience.
Overall, this is an excellent game, highly recommended to those drawn to vampire folklore, films, and fiction. Although it's far too short (twenty hours of playtime) and too linear for its own good, the story, characters, and overall experience more than make up for those problems. Additional playtime can be found in the multi-player aspect of the title which features a unique "storyteller mode" (where one player gets to play dungeon master), and additional quests that can be downloaded for free off the won.net website. Among a small number of minor criticisms, I would've preferred to explore multiple eras of history rather than merely modern times and Medieval. Leaving the twelfth century behind was a disappointment. As with all exceptional PC titles, the hunger for expansion packs and sequels is acute, hopefully an expanded universe and branching storyline can be featured in future releases. Redemption is a convincing fictionalization of vampiric society, more dignified and complex than that depicted by Anne Rice, and far more seductive and compelling than that found in Bram Stoker's classic novel. Cristof is a well-rounded protagonist, tortured by the loss of his innocence, haunted by desire for his lost Anezka, and drawn inexorably deeper into the conflict between vampire clans - a good character to experience the story through.