A decade ago Activision distributed the PC title Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines, a role-playing action adventure where you—a new vampire—must adapt, feed and survive on the harsh streets of America. To make your un-life difficult you must not violate the masquerade …
2004 was a Fine Year
Troika Games used an early version of Valve's coveted Source Engine (Half-Life 2) to develop their first- and third-person action adventure, which at the time of release was panned by critics for its technical bugs.
Ten years later, Troika Games has since disbanded however the fans continue to support the game.
There is an unofficial community patch that rectifies a long list of known issues that were never treated by the developers. And then there is the graphics patch that enables higher resolutions and wide-screen compatibility for modern operating systems and monitors. I recommend applying the community patches.
Play Bloodlines for the story. The visuals are secondary. Ignore the bizarre character model issues (weird arm shapes and shoulders clipping) and the streams of water in the sewers that defy physics on an aesthetically pleasing scale because after a while you won't notice. If poor graphics really get to you, though, then perhaps Bloodlines is not for you.
Pen & Paper
Bloodlines is based on the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG penned by White Wolf Publishing (founded 1991). For more information see their other World of Darkness core rulebooks (urban-gothic themed stuff) now available via print-on-demand.
Why do we mention the old RPG? Well, Bloodlines draws heavily, and faithfully, from the source material and for those already familiar with the pen & paper stuff you may be in for a treat.
White Wolf excel at providing a rich backstory and a variety of different types, or bloodlines, of vampires via novels and rulebooks. Troika Games spins an excellent web of political intrigue, drama and violence with the jigsaw pieces at their disposal.
When you start a new game of Bloodlines you allocate attributes and construct the sort of vampire you want to be. Lazy gamers can run with the survey/questionnaire that automatically fills the character sheet based on how you deal with a range of hypothetical scenarios.
Each vampire bloodline offers a slightly different experience. Think of bloodlines as classes in a more traditional RPG. Tremere are wizards; Nosferatu are rogues; and Brujah are fighters. Toreador are the most humane of the lot and flaunt their gifts to seduce their prey. Gangrel have long and curly arms ... Play the game to see more.
Every vampire has access to bloodline-specific disciplines which are supernatural abilities. You can hide in the shadows (obfuscate), hurl blood spells (thaumaturgy) or mentally coerce (dominate).
This is where some of the replay value is at as each bloodline has three disciplines mostly unique to their own kind. There is some overlap here and there. These tricks come at a price though. Instead of expending mana you draw from your own blood pool. When your blood meter is low there is a high chance that you will succumb to your baser instincts and frenzy so always satiate your blood thirst.
Bloodlines drops your newly sired vampire into the heart of Santa Monica where you quickly learn that there are tensions between two major vampire factions—the conservative Camarilla and the radical Sabbat. Other organisations and individuals are also plotting and scheming in the dark. Prepare yourself for moral ambiguity.
Exploration is encouraged. There are locks to be picked, unique items to be found and plenty of hobos and rats to be exsanguinated.
Blood Hunts and You
The opening level is a tutorial that feels a little forced however the instant slaughtering lets you get all of that stuff out of your system. This neat experiment also prepares you for the consequences of revealing your monstrous nature to law enforcement, the general public and even the Kindred.
The concept of the masquerade is simple: behave in the presence of mortals. If someone sees you feeding or using your vampiric powers that's a strike in the eyes of the Kindred. Five strikes and game over. The Kindred will declare a blood hunt and vampire hunters will come after you.
The masquerade mechanic is clever. If you get all Call of Duty and start shooting innocent people on a busy street you will not last very long. After all, there is a time and place for everything. Save your ammunition for boss fights.
The best part about upholding the masquerade is experiencing this strange sub-culture while working in plain sight. Other locations will appear on your taxi map as you complete quests such as Downtown, Hollywood and Chinatown. And then there are those special missions in between to satisfy your blood lust.
Silver Tongues and Trigger Fingers
Choice is a big deal in a RPG. Some situations can be solved diplomatically. You may need to lean on a discipline, have the gift of the gab to pull some strings or a little cash may keep some people happy.
The dialogue, and the writing in general, is superb. Talking your way through Bloodlines is entertaining (for one particular individual waffling on can reward you with stat buffs). Immerse yourself in the plot, the characters and learn everybody's motivations. This adventure is as deep as you want it to be.
The combat system is great. This action adventure pre-dates the iron sights of modern shooters and instead opts for that Counter-Strike reticule where the longer you wait the smaller the spread. This targeting method works well with the RPG stats because the better your firearms and perception skills are, the better your aim will be.
The guns available throughout the game are standard fare: pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns and sniper rifles. The flamethrower is super effective however the fuel exhausts itself after a few clicks.
Melee forces the camera angle to revert to third-person which works well when you're surrounded by baddies. My favourite blunt instrument is the severed arm. Other varieties include knives, sledgehammers, batons, bats and tyre irons.
A memorable horror film has high quality music and sound effects. Bloodlines is often a cinematic experience and it too has a brilliant score. Each location has its own special theme, which can get repetitive over the course of the chronicle as you tend to go back-and-forth for quests however some songs never get old. The first club you enter in Santa Monica, Aptly titled The Asylum, blasts 'Isolated' by Chiasm which sets a hypnotic, entrancing vibe whereas the Anarchs, a bunch of angsty hippies based at The Last Round, a bar found Downtown, rock out to 'Lecher Bitch' by Genitorturers.
The dynamic music for generic combat gets you pumped every time and can make tough fights truly tense. To contrast: there are eerie, spooky tracks that accentuate the more terrifying and atmospheric portions of the chronicle like when you visit a haunted mansion or infiltrate the home of a Malkavian Primogen driven mad by his own demented condition. You will not hear a violin the same way ever again.
The main quest is linear, with over 20 hours of fun; however there are multiple endings and different ways to complete quests.
Ten years on and this gem is still being polished by dedicated fans worldwide.
In the generation of kickstarters and turning dead franchises into cash cows: please save Bloodlines from a final death.