You're out partying at a club one night, and a stranger catches your eye. He (or she) is impossibly beautiful, or maybe that's just how you're perceiving them. Either way, this person sweeps you off your feet with just a few words, and before you know it you're back at their place. One thing leads to another, and they say they want to show you something. This is about to get kinky, right? Sort of - suddenly you're waking up from a blackout, your neck hurts, and people are barging in through the door. They drive a sharpened piece of wood through the chest of the person who brought you home, and through your chest as well, and it's lights out all over again.
This is the opening sequence for Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, based off of the pencil and paper game Vampire the Masquerade by White Wolf. VTM is one aspect of World of Darkness, which encompasses mages, werewolves, fae, Frankenstein-esque creatures, ghosts, and who knows what else. It's a vivid, rich world that draws from mythologies all over the globe. This is especially evident in VTMB: in the game, the player can choose to enter into one of seven clans, each representing a stereotype in vampiric fiction. The most easily identifiable is clan Nosferatu, who shares a similar physical appearance to the character played by Max Schreck. The Ventrue are posh, upper class monsters, while their cousins the Malkavians each suffer from acute insanity. Gangrel hold the power to shift into different animals, while Brujah are anger-driven killers. Tremere are blood mages, and the last are the Toreador, who have a deepseated passion for art and all other things created by humanity. Each clan offers a variety of different ways to play the game: the Nosferatu require you to be incredibly stealthy, Toreadors are lovers rather than fighters, and getting people to understand Malkavians is a job in itself. But all of this makes the replay value of the game extremely high.
|A Tremere using blood magic, breaking the Masquerade.|
Developed by Troika and built on Valve's Half Life 2 engine, the game does suffer from the fact that Troika closed its doors before even completing the game. It's rife with bugs and a few incomplete aspects that were tucked away by developers who were doing their best to get the game out the door as quickly as possible - but with such a rich and colorful world to draw from, even with these flaws the game still manages to highly impress. Following your character, you are pardoned by Prince LaCroix and sent on a variety of missions to prove your worth - for, you see, siring a new Childe is frowned upon, especially when not given permission by the local ruler. How's that for birth control? You run around various locations in Los Angeles, starting in Santa Monica and eventually finding yourself in star-studded Hollywood, all along the way meeting a cast of characters that range from blood thirsty killers to just outrightly bizarre. Just remember to uphold the Masquerade, a law enforced by the Camarilla - essentially what that means is to not let the humans around you find out what you really are.
The main plot of the game is to stop the opening of the Ankaran Sarcophagus which, if legends are true, will release an ancient Caanite who will bring about the destruction of modern times. These vampires are all heavily drenched in Biblical stories, and despite trying to fit into the present day world, are too easily sucked into the ideas of the apocalypse. After all, wouldn't you be as well, if you were an immortally damned creature? Your ticket has to come up sometime, right? The mythology of the game ties heavily into Biblical interpretation - following the cursing of Cain by God for the slaying of Abel, Cain goes on to end up founding the various clans of vampires who live through into the modern day. There's even speculation that Cain himself shows up in the game, in a somewhat trivial role, something that has irritated purist fans of VTM since the release of this video game.
|Meet Jack, your guide to the World of Darkness.|
And where the developer failed, the fans of the game have triumped. A group at Planet Vampire have done their best to develop, test, and eventually release patches that fix or smooth over various errors in the game. Some have even developed new content in the way of added quests, and an AI system for gaining NPC companions throughout the game. Obviously this game is deeply loved if the fans are so willing to put their own time and effort into finishing what the creators could not!
My personal favorite level when it comes to this game is the house of the Malkavian primogen, Dr. Grout. The Malkavians are simply my favorite clan overall, and the twisted insanity that these vampires are capable of is really showcased in this house - it's almost like the Winchester Mystery House, where you've got staircases going into ceilings, doors that go no where, hallways that seem unending, hidden basements and attics; all the while you're trying to stay clear of the primogen's many insane ghouls, who will slit your throat if you so much as startle them. Puzzles line the walls, forcing you to try and understand this madman's terminiology and interpret just how his mind works. And of course, the ending of that particular level is a key moment in the game, revealing some new players when you thought that you were already halfway home!
|Dr. Grout's mansion, a Victorian get-away for the mentally insane.|
I will say that Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is rated M for Mature with explicit reason - swearing, graphic violence, and revealing costumes are just the tip of the ice berg when dealing with various characters in the game. This is a dark and gritty world that won't cater lightly to those who are faint of heart. If you think about it, though, since the game is set in Los Angeles, it's certainly not a board game meant for the kiddies.
Even though we're living in the ditigal age, Vampire the Masquerade isn't available on several game hosting websites. Steam offers it for the low price of $19.99, but I wouldn't recommend purchasing the game through it due to issues that stop the game from working at all. Direct2Drive carried it, though after being acquired by GameFly, the title seems to have disappeared from their shelves. You can purchase a copy through Amazon for the rather high price of $69.99 - this copy comes with the soundtrack for the game, which is chock full of great gothic artists like Tiamat, Daniel Ash, and Darling Violetta; but I'm not sure if it makes it worth that price. A quick search through the shopping aspect of Google reveals hardcopies available for lower prices from various retailers, but their reliability is something you'll have to decide on for yourself. I highly recommend this game, and wish that things had worked out better for it when it came to development and release.