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Game Review: Vampire the Masquerade

I’d like to take a moment to thank to Steam Forums, without who this review would not have been possible.  It’s not always easy getting older games working on a newer OS, especially when they need to be patched.  But thanks to the many knowledgeable people on the forums, I got things working with relative ease.  And thankfully as well, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is also worth the effort.

I guess Velvet didn’t wear enough clothes to make the cover

Bloodlines is a vampire-based RPG set in the WhiteWolf world of the supernatural.  Supernatural creatures exist side-by-side with humans but must remain hidden, waging hidden wars against others of their kinds, other creatures & using humans as pawn.  In Bloodlines, you play as a newly turned vampire who must navigate their way through the politics of your new life.  You start by working for Sebastian LaCroix, the Prince of LA, to track down an ancient sarcophagus that may house a corpse capable of bringing about the vampire apocalypse.  Of course, it’s never that simple.  And you’ll soon find yourself having to do favors for information, deal with the different factions of vampire society & maybe make a little money on the side.

The wallpaper really makes the blood splatter pop

A lot of the gameplay will be familiar for RPG players, but with an undead twist.  In the beginning of the game, you pick both your gender & your clan.  Not only does this determine what your character will look like, but also your special skills, attributes & weaknesses.  The Brujahs specialize in combat but go into a frenzy more easily, Gangrels are the shapeshifters, Malkavians can turn invisible & are both blessed & cursed with incurable madness, Nosferatu are masters of stealth but can never been seen by humans, Tremere are blood-mages with weaker bodies, Toreadors are adept manipulators but lose their Humanity more easily & Ventrue can dominate people but are picky feeders.  You gain experience as you complete objectives, which you can pour into a wide variety of skills.  These range from combat skills (firearms, melee, etc.), social skills (seduce, persuade, etc.), to investigative skills (hacking, lockpicking, etc.).  The difference with Bloodlines in comparison to other RPG’s is the emphasis on how being a vampire is a double-edged sword.  As a vampire  you have to keep track of your Humanity, lest you turn into a ravenous beast.  Killing innocent people & generally doing wicked things with lower your Humanity.  You also have to be careful not to violate the Masquerade by doing things like feeding on people in public or using obvious skills like super speed.  The wolf doesn’t want the sheep to know it’s there, right?

Story: For me, what really makes the story so good in Bloodlines are the characters.  Every single character you can interact with in the game has a unique personality.  And this isn’t limited to just major characters.  Here’s a short list of quirky characters: an overweight security guard who was sweet on my character, a Japanese girl needing help to kill a fish-demon, two retired hitmen & an ex-Chinese army “herbal remedy” salesman.  I can’t think of any character I didn’t like.  You’re not just taking quests from random, faceless NPC’s.  Even the villains are interesting.  My favorite was Stanley Gimble, a prosthetic manufacturer who attacked me with a severed arm.  What really impressed me is that none of the factions you can side with come across as completely bad.  If you talk to them enough, you’ll find some traits that are sympathetic.  Sure, LaCroix can be a prick, but he also comes across as straining under the pressure of even bigger jerks.  Yeah, the Anarchs act all uppity, but I can understand not wanting to deal with politics.  The game presents itself in a way that really let the player shape their experience.  As for the quests themselves, they’re pretty interesting.  Some are more basic, like sneaking into a building to hack a computer.  But a lot of times nothing works out the way you expect.  I’ve been through a haunted mansion, stole some guy’s eyeballs & killed a vampiress spreading vampire-AIDS.  So overall, everything is top-notch.  Score: 5

I like that the armors change based on your clan & gender

Gameplay: For the most part, everything in the game works well.  Bloodlines allows for a lot of freedom in how you do things.  You can go straight combat, you can be persuasive & avoid fighting, or sneak around.  The disciplines are a lot of fun to use.  Although there is some overlap between clans in the disciplines, each clan has a different way they can be played.  To give an example, there’s a quest early in the game where you have to get some explosives back from a gang.  Playing as a female Ventrue with high seduction & persuasion feats, I persuaded the guard to let me in, seduced the leader to get the explosives then drained him of blood.  Then I proceeded to sneak around, taking out the rest of the gang one by one.  Conversely, I could’ve used my Dominate discipline to make everyone kill themselves or make them fight for me.  And Gangrel may have turned into a beast & slaughtered them, while a Tremere may have made used Blood Boil to blow them all up.  There’s a lot of freedom.  That being said, I do think the game sets you up for trouble in the end if you’re not careful on how you build your character.  The last few quests are very combat-based, so if you spent the game working on a purely persuasive or stealthy character, you could be in trouble.  However, I don’t think this isn’t a major problem, because you should get enough experience to improve a range of skills.  But after such a glowing report, I must say that even with the latest stable unofficial patch, it’s still a very buggy game.  There were several times I got stuck & couldn’t advance without cheating.  In one particular section I was trying to crawl through a vent but my character wouldn’t go in it so I had to use No Clip.  Without the patch, I believe the bugs are game-breaking.  So that weighs down the experience a bit.  Score: 4

Nightclubs have the best music

Visuals & Audio: Given that this game came out eight years ago, it’s a given that the graphics would be dated.  Still, the environments look pretty good.  It has a lot of atmosphere.  Strangely, more detail has been given to the NPC’s than to the playable character models.  Maybe because you don’t have to stare at your character’s face during conversations?  And the female models always look better & more detailed than the males.  I also noticed animations get jerky when you’re farther away.  The audio fares much better.  All of the voiceacting is great in this game.  I especially liked Gary’s.  The only one that wasn’t so good was the Japanese girl, but I honestly can’t tell if her mispronounced Japanese was intended as parody or not.  The music is also really good.  The only downside there is that it repeats endlessly in each area.  And I think there’s only one soundtrack for combat.  Score: 4

Replayability: Very high.  Not only is the game a lot of fun to play, meaning you’ll play it more than once, but there are so many different ways to play.  I already want to do a straight combat run with a Gangrel siding with the Anarchs, then a stealth run with a Malkavian siding with no one.  Score: 5

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: I’m really glad I finally got the play this game.  It’s a lot of fun for those who like RPG’s but want to try something different from the standard fantasy setting.  The only things holding it back from a perfect score were the bugs & the dated graphics, neither of which should discourage you from trying this if you haven’t already.

– GamerDame

Title: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Console: PC
Rating: M
Developer: Troika Games
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 16, 2004
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Dissociative Identity Disorder as by Bloodlines

Sorry for the lack of post over the past few weeks.  With college starting back next week, I’ve been busy getting all of my stuff together & just haven’t had the interest to game any.  But with everything sorted, & this being my last free week, I’m hoping to get Soul Calibur V reviewed near the end of the week & Driver: San Francisco if I can get it done.  But in the meantime, I thought I’d post some discussion topics about different things I’ve noticed in the games I play.  Starting with a character study of a sort.

This weekend I made some progress on Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.  Probably the most famous character from that game — given that she’s on the boxart — is Jeanette Voerman, everyone’s favorite Malkavian.  Jeanette & Therese are the most interesting characters in the game, in my opinion.  I should probably go ahead & state that there will be spoilers from this point on if you haven’t already played through the game to know of the sisters’ real connection.  For those who have played the game, or don’t care about me spoiling it, you’ll know that Jeanette & Therese are in fact the same person.  Voerman (as I will refer to them as a combined individual) has a split personality, officially know as Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder.

I’ve seen many theories about Voerman.  The popular opinion seems to be that Therese & Jeanette were once two separate people, but at some point one of the twins (usually Jeanette) died.  Most believe it was during the Embrace, probably right before.  Due to the curse of the Malkavian bloodline, Therese’s insanity became expressed as adopting Jeanette’s personality into her own & thus creating two people in one body.

I, however, disagree with this.  I don’t think Jeanette ever existed on her own as a person.  She was always a creation of Therese’s mind.  It fits with the profile of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  Very little is actually known about what causes DID, but the main theory is that it comes about through a severe, often prolonged trauma.  The only way the person can deal with the trauma is to separate themselves from it.  This dissociation is a common coping mechanism, but when it’s used frequently it may result in a permanent separation of identities.  This explains why the secondary personalities are often incomplete & represent fragments on the host personality’s sides.

Although the game never directly states it, there are heavy indications that Therese was sexually abused by her father.  Given that a child can’t really escape from such abuse by a caregiver, it’s not unlikely that she would try to separate herself from the abuse, perhaps even try to rationalize the abuse.  Jeanette served this purpose.  Therese was the good girl, the one daddy loved.  Good girls don’t get hurt.  It was Jeanette who was the bad girl.  The one who made daddy drink.  I find it very telling that Jeanette is the one who seems to truly understand the abuse they underwent.

Jeanette may also serve as an outlet for Therese’s unacceptable traits.  Therese is very strict & uptight, & obviously can’t stand the idea of sexual relations.  The way good girls should act.  Jeanette is the wild one, promiscuous & flirty.  Unable to accept that sexual urges are normal, Therese has shoved those feelings off to Jeanette.

At the same time, Jeanette was Therese’s protector.  They mention that they were the only friends they had because their father wouldn’t let them outside.

It’s impossible to know what exactly happened to Voerman’s father.  Therese claims that he killed himself because of Jeanette’s behavior.  Jeanette says Therese killed him in a fit of rage when he tried to sleep with Voerman while Jeanette was… inhabiting the body, so to speak.  Given that Therese was so unable to deal with the abuse that she had to create Jeanette in the first place, I’m more inclined to believe that Voerman killed him but Therese can’t accept it.  Therese mentions in the game that people tried to “separate” the two, likely implying she was institutionalized.  This seems like a likely scenario if Therese killed her father & the police realized she had two personalities.

Basically I think that Therese was always crazy.  After all, it’s this craziness that must’ve attracted whoever their Malkavian sire was.

– GamerDame

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