VAMPIRE THE MASQUERADE: BLOODLINES / Activision / PC
Bloodlines is one of those games that gets hyped to hell and back by the PC Gaming Master Race on the various forums where you can find such types. A month or two ago it went on sale on Steam for 5 bucks for a few days, so I figured now was the time to jump on it.
There's a lot that I like about it. I like the atmosphere, the writing, the characters, the overall concept. But I don't like the combat. It's atrocious. It's so bad I quit the game about halfway through. If I were more of a "vampiaaaar" fan maybe I would have stuck it out, but I pretty much hate the whole vampire genre, exception of Castlevania, in which you mostly just kill them. Anyway.
You see the game often described as "Deus Ex with vampires", more or less. Which is kinda accurate in terms of the framework, but instead of Deus Ex's linear series of levels, it's more like a "hub world" structure centered around various major areas of Los Angeles. As in the Grand Theft Auto games, there's a series of plot-related missions you have to take on to open up new areas, but there's plenty of sidequests and things to piddle around with when you don't feel like advancing the story.
The action/combat is also somewhat different. You're not stuck in first-person mode here, you can pull the camera out to third-person at any time as you move about. When you fight with a melee weapon, you're forced into third-person view, but when you fight with a gun, you're forced into first-person.
The biggest thing that pisses me off about the game is that it pulls that old Fallout bullshit where it gives you this amazing range of non-combat stats and abilities to interact with the world with, but then piles so much mandatory and difficult combat on you to progress anywhere in the game that you might as well throw most of that stuff in the toilet. You're forced to be some sort of a combat build and dump most of your points into that just to survive countless overpowered and frustrating boss battles that bottleneck you from opening up new areas and getting to anything interesting. This just gets worse and worse as the game goes on and on, from what I'm told the point past where I quit is a nightmare of janky, over-difficult combat all the way to the end (which finalized my decision to throw in the towel early and move on to something else, since I was already loathing the combat up to that point.) Boss battles also pop up suddenly and they pull the garbage of locking you in some building, springing a vastly overpowered boss on you, and if you were only using one or two saves up to that point and can't get out of there, you're just fucked and have to start over. I guess that's the one benefit to the game obnoxiously auto-saving in a new file seemingly every ten seconds.
THIS CLUB CANT EVEN HANDLE ME RIGHT NOOOW
It's a damn shame because the game has a rich backstory and world based on the Vampire: The Masquerade tabletop game created in the early '90s. It's a world where vampires walk amidst a human world that largely has no idea that they're there. A vampire society called the Camarilla holds power over the creatures of the night and enforces a code of behavior designed to keep the vamps alive and well, since vampires are quite a bit more fragile here than in most fictional incarnations, and having the human population become aware of their presence and hunt them would mean a quick death for them all. So you get to choose from a bunch of different vampire Clans and back-stories for your character, each of which impart different abilities and restrictions. Some radically change the gameplay, such as playing as Malkavians or Nosferatu. Malkavians hear voices constantly that tell them secrets of the world and glimpses of the future, which makes them more than a little insane. If you play as one you have to actually deal with all that as the game goes on. And while most of the Clans look human enough to move around in human society at night, Nosferatu look like those ugly mutant vampires from From Dusk Till Dawn, and so can't walk the streets normally. They have to use the sewers to get around the game world and vastly change their approach to many problems.
When you're just walking around talking to people, exploring the game world, or in a combat area where stealth is emphasized, the game is wonderful. It all goes to shit when heavy combat starts up. The combat is so janky, it's like a late 90s Tomb Raider 3D knockoff game. Compounding this problem are the fact that nearly every enemy vampire you face is faster than you, hits way harder, and has ridiculous "buffs" that let them do stuff like teleport around and run around the room like the Flash. This is where the Deus Ex comparison falls apart, because Deus Ex's masterfully designed "multiple approaches" levels that let you come up with a way to get through any problem with whatever skills you happened to have on hand are miles beyond the amateurish design here. Oh, they nailed atmosphere, but enemy design, placement, thoughtful positioning, is not nearly at the same level.
One final issue with the game is that it's virtually mandatory to install a suite of fan patches that have been collected since the game came out. In fact, the game will refuse to run on Windows 7 without them (at least the Steam version.) If the diehard fans hadn't done all this work the game would be virtually unplayable and get a Meh face at best, as apparently it was rushed out the door due to budget problems and came out with tons of crashes and glitches originally. Most of that has been fixed at this point but there's still some hinky weirdness to deal with, especially with how your character reacts to "loose" objects they're stepping on or near.
As such I give it the Good since apparently lots of people have more tolerance for the combat jank than I do (I have piles of games to play here, if a game gives me any bullshit it's out the door), and there's still so much about it that is enjoyable. I just wish they had had the time and budget to take the final step and polish it to the level of something like Deus Ex - more ways to negate toe-to-toe combat with clever use of items and explosives and secondary skills and such, stealth segments being much better thought out, etc. As it is it's a pretty rough gem, and may give you nearly as much frustration as enjoyment.
* Gameplay Video