Using the “Half-Life 2” engine and based on game-maker White Wolf’s popular pen-and-paper game, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is arguably one of the most anticipated role-playing games of the year. Coupled with rich and detailed graphics and taking place in the darkest alleyways of Los Angeles, “Vampire” seemed well-poised to blow away the competition.

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Goth is so hot now. (Courtesy of Activision)

Players start the game by choosing one of the seven vampire clans, each possessing its own subset of unique abilities. Choosing the grotesque Nosferatu, for example, a clan whose members’ vampirism twists their bodies into monsters, makes interacting with a shopkeeper a bit more problematic than with other clans because of their grotesque appearance. On the other hand, selecting the animalistic Gangrel might be enjoyable if gamers are keen of seeing a swarm of bats descend upon their enemies.

Depending on which clan players choose, gamers are able to become invisible, move exceptionally fast or even metamorphose into a terrible creature. The use of these powers, or disciplines as they are called, carry a risk that they might break the Masquerade doctrine if a mortal sees them being used. The Masquerade states that vampires must remain unseen to the mortal world. The Nosferatu, for example, will break the Masquerade simply by being spotted. If one acquires five Masquerade violations, the game is over.

The interesting part of “Vampire” is its reliance on a statistics-driven experience system. Gamers get experience for completing certain parts of a story rather than randomly killing; in fact, players who choose to use a bit of persuasion to get around an obstacle receives the same amount of experience as someone who uses brute force. This stat-based system is innovative as it prevents players from becoming especially powerful toward the end of the game — a common problem of many other PC games like “Murrowind” and “Neverwinter Nights.”

The dialogue in the game is packed with choices that draw upon “social talents” like intimidation and seduction. On the streets of Los Angeles, one can even purchase a prostitute, quickly reminding players that “Vampire” is geared toward adults. Aside from the nude women dancing in the strip clubs, “Vampire” has employed the use of heavy metal bands that work admirably to accentuate the dark atmosphere of the game.

Unfortunately, “Vampire” suffers from long and painful load times, voice stuttering, random crashes and memory leaks. The combat system is problematic since a vampire’s fist is far more efficient than any of the firearms available in the game. While Activision and Troika have made plans to release a patch that will mitigate these problems, it is unclear when or if these fixes will be available for download in the near future. It is unfortunate that the developers failed to fully meld the addictiveness of first-person shooters with the fluidity of role-playing games. Nevertheless, “Vampire” succeeds in the latter and does so with grace and style.

 

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

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