Third-Person Action AdventurePlayers:
M (Mature)Release Date:
November 16, 2004Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines. The end to the grand legacy that began with the likes of Fallout. Troikaís final stand. Or should I say, Troikaís final desperate gasp. Bloodlines truly was the last of a dying breed. Itís such a shame, then, that it is one f the worst, itís moments of shining brilliance overshadowed by its scores of bugs, poor pacing, and compromised design.
Bloodlines was the first non-Valve game designed on the Source engine and released before Half-Life 2. An RPG developed by Troika using the Source engine. It would be fair to say, I was excited. When I finally got my hands on it, I devoured it... Almost. Itís strange that, even at the time, I adored the game in spite of the fact that I couldnít even bring myself to finish the damn thing. In the face of the punishing technical issues, poor pacing, and excessive, mediocre combat that made me quit my first play-through, I still couldnít bring myself to dislike this game. Part of this problem was the problem I once faced with many RPGs: a lack of patience that causes me to design my character poorly from the start. That wasnít the real problem, however. It wasnít that I didnít design my character ďwell,Ē itís that I didnít design him ďright.Ē
Years later I gave Bloodlines another try with the help of the latest fan-made patch to fix bugs and balance the difficulty of the game a bit more fairly. This time, I did manage to finish it, but only with the help of a walkthrough to help my design a character suited to the awkward pacing and bad design choices. Even though some parts of the game felt like a chore (more on that in a bit... much more), and its problems were more clear to me, my view f the game was still very much rose-colored. In the end, it was time well spent.
Reading up on the most recent patch in a moment of boredom-spawned, late-night curiosity, I decided to give it another go. This new patch not only offered bug fixes and re-balancing, but also re-added features cut from the game, such as character histories. So, like the thick-headed masochist I am, I leapt back in.
Immediately, it wasnít hard to see why I once loved the game. There are moments--many of them--of genuinely brilliant game design here. The first 10 hours or so stand alone, and give us a glimpse of a full version of a game we never got to see. The dark alleys of Santa Monica, the seedy hospital blood-bank, the pawnshop, the whole roller-coaster relationship with the sister Jeanette and Therese, the haunted hotel--which genuinely frightened more than anything in a game has ever managed before--the pathetic Thin-bloods down by the beach, Heather the ghoul and her potentially sad but unavoidable fate-- Iím going to stop now before I get carried away and turn this whole article into a list. Trust me, though, that list goes on. The problem is that itís easy to remember the really brilliant parts, and there are more here and there throughout the game. Itís all the mess of bad design padding them that gets pushed to the back of my mind.
I was, initially, determined to complete my third play-through of this game, mostly for the sake of this article. And then I got to the sewers. Ah, the sewers; the most reviled portion of just about any RPG, and Bloodlinesí is truly one of the worst. A dark, meandering, labyrinth of false doors, dead-ends, backtracking, and monster closets that drags on for so long, the word redundant loses meaning. So sadistic is this grand experiment in how much longer the absence of anything can make a game, that I could not bring myself to do it again. I tried and I was soundly defeated by the realization that my time would be better spent trying to dig a hole to China. It says a lot, then, that this segment of the game speaks volumes about the bad design that is on display throughout the game, shadowing the brilliance.
I wish I could just pick out the few really bad spots of Bloodlines. Unfortunately, thatís not how it works. It saddens me to finally realize this, but Bloodlines isnít a brilliant game with some glaring flaws, itís a bad game with some gleaming moments. Thatís right, itís just not a very good game. Outside of Santa Monica, the atmosphere kind of gets thrown to the dogs. Hub areas become increasingly uninteresting and useless. Theyíre padded with dead-ends, false doors, and invisible walls all in an effort to make them feel bigger and more living than they actually are. Pedestrians wander the streets aimlessly, occasionally getting into fights for no reason. The mediocre combat consists of mouse-button mashing and is at the mercy of invisible dice-rolls and dodgy collision detection, boss fights are archaic battles of attrition, and the level design becomes multiple variations on the same meandering hallways and monster closets.
The atmosphere, which so successfully dominates the first 10 hours of gameplay, become small set-pieces and clever writing and smart characterization gives way to standard character archetypes. The genius of design and writing found in the early game is partitioned into set-pieces that are rationed out to the player as reward for slogging through the mess.
Like I said, I really intended to play through the entire game again for this article. I uninstalled it from my hard drive 3 days ago. I couldnít, and probably never will again be able, to bring myself through those God-forsaken sewers one more time. My only reward is a few beautiful set-piece, a few great characters, and Iíve seen it all once already. Itís sad to think back on what Bloodlines was meant to be. The final swan-song of a dying sub-genre. The first area of the game is a glorious realization of this. Sadly, this glory is fleeting.
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