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Vampire The Masquerade | Bloodlines | review | game | Lollipop
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
(Activision for the PC)
by Eric Johnson
The delicate intricacies life presents to the newly undead is a subject rarely approached in contemporary fiction. In general, vampire lore focuses on fully or partially human protagonists, condensing vampiric anthropology into a few moments of tantalizing exposition. Vampire: The Masquerade is a pen and paper role-playing game that integrates the entire vampiric cannon into a single baroque mythology.
Bloodlines represents the second attempt to make a video game of the ultimate Goth kid fantasy. The first was a history-hopping diablo clone that I loved, the only reviewer in the Western hemisphere to admit so. This time, it's a beautiful first-person RPG reminiscent of Deus EX. Aside from a host of minor technical glitches, Bloodlines is simply riveting. While that's partially thanks to great dialog, story, pacing, and generally high production values, its primary asset is the positively Byzantine mythos lifted from the source material. Vampires are divided into clans, sub-divisions of a wider war between major sects. You play a newbie vampire from one of eight houses within a "good guy" sect, so you can be an effeminate artsy vampire, a bestial powerhouse, a grotesque sorcerer, or a snide punk kid. Each clan has assets and drawbacks that dramatically change the way you play the game. There are spells and guns and swords, but the combat kind of sucks. Most of the thrill of redemption lies in exploring and squeezing information out of more experienced bloodsuckers. While play style is flexible, morality is not: While you must feed, killing the innocent carries a heavy penalty, as does violating the masquerade, an elaborate system designed to keep humanity ignorant of the extra link in the food chain. While the combat is weak, it's often unavoidable, so stick to melee weapons and spells, and avoid firearms because the gunplay is positively terrible. Outside of combat, it never hurts to be pretty, since intimidation and seduction are both considered special powers and augment dialog options considerably.
Bloodlines is rich and immersive. It's long for a first-person shooter, but not particularly long for an RPG. The story drives everything, so if you don't like stories where the monster is recast as the protagonist, this probably won't appeal to you. Those who lost interest in Dracula after Vlad arrived in London, or who slogged through the gay porn Anne Rice tries to pass off as vampire mythos, will find a lot to like here.