GGOAT: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

Well, now that I’ve kinda teased it I guess I’ll have to follow through, don’t I?

So…welcome to another episode of Greatest Games Of All Time, my highly subjective compilation of the best video games ever made.

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Astonishingly, in all those years I’d never noticed that scrolling title screen

Unlike most of its fans my first experience in the World of Darkness setting wasn’t with one of its Pen & Paper RPGs, but the trading card game Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. The bits of story and background woven into that game were enough to intrigue me though, so I dug deeper and liked what I found.

Consequently I was eagerly anticipating the PC release of single-player RPG Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption in 2000. Unfortunately it disappointed. It wasn’t a truly bad game, but in my opinion it wasn’t very good either. It was buggy, controls were clunky, combat frustrating. Even worse, the uninspired German voiceovers managed to undo every bit of atmosphere that might have been there (the English tracks weren’t included). I didn’t even make it far enough into the game to see the plot’s transition from 12th to 20th century, although I would have quite liked that.

Hence when the sequel, Bloodlines, was announced for release in November 2004 I was rather sceptic. Previews looked promising though, features like being able to choose a clan and having different ways to play the game seemed tailor-made for me. That Troika Games had decided to use Valve’s brand new Source engine instead of a homebrew was another reason for optimism.

So yeah, I bought it as soon as it came out. One of the best gaming-related decisions I’ve ever made.

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I recommend a Tremere (ranged) or a Brujah (melee) for your first playthrough

Character creation is pretty good overall. The seven main Camarilla clans are available to play, either as a male or female. You can’t alter your appearance at all though, your male Tremere looks exactly the same as mine for example.

Thanks to a couple of fanmade patches you can now also choose a little bit of backstory for your character from a small selection, which even has some impact on gameplay because it changes your options for distributing your starting skill points and/or gives you small strenghts and weaknesses. On your first playthrough you probably won’t make very wise choices here anyway though because you won’t know yet which skills and disciplines will turn out to be the most important ones.

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You’ll want to invest into strenght and scholarship, no matter the clan. Trust me on this…

The game starts with a pretty long in-engine video sequence setting up your character and the story. Fortunately I had the option to play the English version this time, and the voice acting is terrific all around.

The first 15 minutes or so of actually controlling your character constitute the tutorial. It’s rather light gameplaywise, but teaches you everything there is to know about your…umm…condition, and it’s also very entertaining thanks to your guide.

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He’s a legend amongst vampires, believe it or not

The storytelling really is one of the game’s strong suits. The second one becomes accessible to you right after finishing the tutorial: virtual Los Angeles.

It’s not actually huge by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the beginning when you can’t yet leave the first locale, Santa Monica. Nevertheless it never felt too small to me.

I think the reason for this is that the game made me feel like the world was my own personal playground right from the start. Although the story is mostly linear I was always eager to stray off the path and explore every nook and cranny. For example, when I received an assignment to break into the local hospital and make some evidence disappear I’d long since raided the place and taken everything that wasn’t bolted down, just because I could. Oopsie.

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You don’t need to see his…err…my identification!

The thing is, even as a very young and inexperienced vampire you’re immensely more powerful than any normal human being, which lets you get away with stuff like that. It’s extremely fun to try out your vampiric abilities and test your limits against different enemies and environments.

There’s also a lot of replayability, which is why I reliably come back to the game every few years without getting bored. Which clan you choose makes a huge difference, obviously, as having or not having disciplines like Obfuscate (which lets you become invisible) or Celerity (turns you into The Flash) changes how you play the game and tackle different challenges dramatically. Some clans even have their own special advantages or disadvantages. Ventrue can’t feed on rats, Tremere can get a special, fancy hideout (and make people explode, so there’s that) and Nosferatu can’t show themselves to humans at all lest they break the masquerade each and every time.

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Because they basically all look like this…

Additionally, many side-quests have different possible outcomes. Mostly the consequences of choosing one over the other doesn’t have a bigger impact than, for example, gaining more money or XP but losing a point of humanity in return (which can be regained elsewhere if you so wish), but it’s still nice to have that variety.

But wait, there’s more. Every now and then a quest sends you off to a new, insulated set piece that offers a story of its own and also somewhat different kinds of gameplay. An abandoned hotel haunted by ghosts, the mansion of a Malkavian (= crazy) vampire, a house completely twisted and perverted by a powerful Tzimisce (vampires with the power to sculpt flesh and bone at will).

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DIS-GUS-TING

You can only go to these places when you’re at the right point in the story, and only once, but they’re so great that these alone are enough to get me in the mood for another playthrough time and again.

Depending on whom you side with towards the finale there’s at least four different endings to the main story too. It’s never been more satisfying to kick some dead people in the proverbial nuts, let me tell you.

The game also has a really dry sense of humor which I like a lot. Many quests and dialogues are hilarious, even more so if you choose to play as a Malkavian. Other funny bits are hidden where you’d least expect them, like in various item descriptions.

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I’d never thought about it, but now that you raise the question…

Unfortunately the game also has some serious weaknesses.

Despite using the Source engine it isn’t exactly a looker even by 2004’s standards. It’s pretty clunky, animations are wooden and collision detection is weird.

Much worse are the bugs though. At release it was a total mess, bugs ranging from merely annoying to gamebreaking were everywhere. Word spread fast, resulting in less than stellar sales numbers. Troika managed to deliver a couple of patches, but their support for the game dried up quickly due to financial troubles. They had to close up shop in February 2005, seemingly dooming the game to stay in a poor state forever.

Fortunately it has a loyal, active fanbase to this day, and the aforementioned unofficial patches squashed many bugs and even added some new content. By now it’s finally in a technical state that can be described as “quite ok”. Of course a 15 year old game won’t attract droves of new players no matter what, but I for one will happily revisit it a couple more times in years to come.

I still haven’t played it through with a Nosferatu after all…

IntPiPoMo – Horror edition

I like it when games are a little scary. Or more than a little. Hence I’ve played quite a lot of horror games during the years, among others most Resident Evil issues, Dead Space, The Evil Within, F.E.A.R., and of course my all time favourite, Silent Hill.

Most of those games ran on various older consoles though, so I don’t have any screenshots.

Fortunately there are many PC games that also have some ‘scary’ in them, and naturally I’ve always been drawn to those too.

As a die-hard MMO player I have to start off with The Secret World of course. In terms of conspiracies, fairytales and horror it’s the mother of all MMOs.

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One of the coolest, spookiest places in the game – which is saying something – is the haunted amusement park in The Savage Coast. Here I’m taking a ride on its roller coaster. Of course I expected something to happen, but it gave me the chills nonetheless, and I jumped in my seat when that apparition lunged at me just as I was about to pass her.

The next one is from a quest in Tokyo. Imagine you’re sent into a parking garage to investigate something. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, and something’s clearly not right. You walk down the ramp to the next level when suddenly what little light’s there goes out. It’s pitch black, but not for long. Before you can decide what to do next a blood red light turns on and you’re greeted by this:

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I didn’t watch any videos, I swear! I don’t even own a VCS player anymore…

Then there’s the James Bond-esque mini expansion A Dream to Kill, which towards the end has you investigate a nursery. Evidently something’s gone horribly wrong here.

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Yeah, I think I’d rather leave now…

One of my favourite games of all time is Vampire Bloodlines. Despite being a buggy mess and looking anything but fresh even when it came out in 2004 it’s so great that I still play through it every couple of years. I guess I have to talk about it in more detail some time. Until then you might enjoy Rakuno’s walkthrough series of the game, if you don’t mind spoilers that is.

Anyway, Bloodlines also has some seriously eerie sequences.

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That’s gotta be a haunted house if there ever was one

Actually the quest giver flat out tells you that a ghost is making trouble in that old hotel, and your mission is to put an end to that.

What you don’t know is who the ghost is and why it can’t find rest. During your investigation you find more and more clues about what happened. Apparently a family of four stayed at the hotel for it’s grand opening, and due to jealousy – and maybe also some otherworldly reason – the father’s mental state got worse and worse. He – spoiler – eventually killed his family and set the hotel on fire. I found this image drawn by one of the kids to be the most disturbing clue:

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In the end you can put a stop to the father’s haunting, and his wife’s ghost can finally rest in peace. At least there’s that.

Next up is Batman: Arkham Asylum. We have seen so many versions of Batman’s origin story by now that it’s gotten pretty stale. In this game though it’s done quite nifty (and short). During the course of the story Batman gets drugged by Scarecrow a couple of times. Sometimes it makes his worst fears become (perceived) reality, at one time it forces him to relive his parents’ death. Visually this is done exceptionally well, and the most emotional realization of the scene I’ve seen to date.

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Path of Exile makes you fight lots of big bads during the course of its storyline. Among the most sinister is Piety of Theopolis, the right hand of the game’s former end boss Dominus.

When you first enter her lair in Act III, The Lunaris Temple, the set pieces make it abundantly clear that she’s really, really evil.

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Yep, definitely evil.

I played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 with a couple of friends after it came out. It wasn’t really all that scary, but it sported pretty much the highest gore factor I’d seen up to that point to compensate.

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Rochelle and the guys having yet another bad day at the office

To end the post on a lighter note, here’s a shot of some rather unthreatening ghosts you’re probably familiar with:

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Yo ho ho and a bottle of…grog?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 9 (this post); 26 (total)