Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines – Staff Review

In popular culture, portrayals of vampires as protagonists tend to swing towards the tragic. The dark, brooding anti-hero with the mysterious past and a serious case of ennui tends to be par for the course, but with Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines, the tragedy has less to do with the characters in its story than it does with the criminal lack of stability in its code. Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a game with some serious, serious issues, the worst of which will prevent a player from finishing the game, or even playing it at all. And this is a sad thing, because under the layers of bugs and seemingly unfinished sub-sections of the game, there is an unusually open, fairly well designed RPG to be played. Bloodlines has an interesting cast of characters, some solid voice acting, and a sense of atmosphere that, while somewhat cliché, still manages a few moments of genuine creepiness.

The plotline of Bloodlines is mostly concerned with a shift in vampire politics that happens in California, with the game taking place mostly in and around Santa Monica. Players take charge of a newly created vampire whose progenitor, or “sire”, has been executed for creating you. The Prince of Santa Monica, a slick politician of a bloodsucker who has control over most of the city, decides to spare your un-life on the condition that you’ll be working for him. Most of the story is just running around doing errands, grunt work, and general thuggery for the city’s many different factions, and a lot of the game is taken up by somewhat predictable political maneuvering. A somewhat more engaging part of the game has to do with an ancient sarcophagus found in Assyria by the Church, and the idea that it heralds an impending disaster known as Gehenna, a vampire apocalypse in which it is said the first vampire will return to destroy every living and un-living thing on Earth.

The game feels like a bit of an overt pander to outsiders everywhere, as it presents vampires as an easily-relateable symbol for culture’s fringe elements – anarchists, hackers, and madmen, for example – and gives them supernatural levels of power. Everyone in the game with any amount of power, it seems, is either a vampire or will shortly become one, while humans are presented largely as sheep to be fed on, or as dangerous religious zealots. As a whole, the story works reasonably well as a combination of Gothic horror and undead political saga, but the oppressive cynicism may turn some off.


Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines has two major kinds of combat, long range and short range. Long range combat, and indeed most of the player’s exploring and wandering around in the course of the game, takes place in first-person perspective, and feels very much like a FPS with RPG conventions tacked on. Short range combat, on the other hand, switches the game over to a third person over-the-shoulder perspective. Where long range combat is largely a matter of pointing a gun at an enemy and clicking, short range combat is an intricate dance of slashing, blocking, counterattacking, and dodging. Unfortunately, that complexity isn’t very well managed, as the different attacks a player can pull off seem to be managed more by luck than actual input. Short range combat often degenerates into wild slashing or punching matches, especially in fights with more than one opponent.

Combat in Bloodlines, however, is often the mode of last resort. Statistics are set up in such a way that a player who doesn’t want to fight through hordes of foes doesn’t necessarily have to; raise your Stealth skill enough and you can sneak past guards in broad daylight. Or increase your Appearance stat, and seduce the guards before draining them dry. The strongest part of Bloodlines is undoubtedly the huge number of choices a player has, even right from the beginning. The game features six kinds of vampires, called Clans, which are roughly equal to character classes. Each Clan has its own specialty, such as the slick, political Ventrue, or the blood magic-wielding Tremer, and players can decide how to develop their new vampire by deciding which stats grow by spending EXP. This level of control can produce some interesting situations, such as an insane Malkavian vampire becoming a class A hacker, or a member of the animistic Gangrel becoming a seductress. Overall, though, the level of customization available to players helps make the game an engaging and entertaining experience, despite the occasional difficulty in actually landing a blow on a foe.

Make no mistake, Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a solidly designed, engaging piece of work. If it were free of the unbearably huge number of bugs present, it would undoubtedly be much more well-remembered than it is today. To put it simply, Bloodlines is a bug-infested mess, to the point where it can be a challenge to complete without meeting at least one error which will prevent you from finishing the game. Thankfully, the game has an extensive cheat menu, which can allow players to prevent or at least get around some of the more common ones, such as doors or elevators that refuse to open when they should. There is also an extensive fan community which has been working to rectify some of the bigger errors in the game code, and the use of at least one of the fan-made patches is highly recommended, as the company patch leaves an unacceptable number of potentially fatal bugs in place.

Most of the music in Bloodlines is fairly background stuff, though there are one or two standout tracks. Overall, though, the background nature of the soundtrack works in the game’s favor, lending it a creepy atmosphere that a bolder or more orchestral soundtrack simply couldn’t achieve. The high-quality sound effects back this up wonderfully, especially in some of the more survival horror-styled segments, with quiet footsteps and muffled screams in the distance. In the end, though the sound and music aren’t terribly good on their own, they back up the rest of the game so well that it is difficult not to enjoy them.


Understandably, the game’s visuals are a bit dated. Still, the biggest issue isn’t the overall appearance or character design, but rather the choppiness and long, frequent loading times, despite a system with well above the recommended requirements. Otherwise, the game’s visuals are fairly solid, presenting a world that is very much in line with the oppressive darkness presented by the story. Character design is a little bit off, with some fairly realistic overall design married to faces that appear lumpy and waxen. They animate fairly well, with a range of expressions and mouth movements that tend suit the situation well, but the overall appearance is still slightly off-putting.

Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a game that will challenge people in very different ways. A player going through the game as a melee specialist is going to have a much easier time against the hordes of smaller foes in the later half of the game, while a stealth expert will be able to get through many of the dungeons without firing a shot, only to have serious trouble with bosses. With such a wide variety of ways to complete the game, setting a definite level of difficulty is nigh impossible. Still, the number of missions a player has to complete to finish the game is set, meaning the game will probably take around 25 to 35 hours to complete.

Vampirism in pop culture has changed quite a bit in the last decade or two, and the way Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines presents the age-old bloodsuckers is very much a modern take on the old myth. The game treats vampires not as metaphors for sexual predators, or even for the act of sex itself, but rather as an entire sub-culture of misunderstood anti-heroes, more interested in keeping their culture hidden from a world that might fear and kill them for being different than they are in actually drinking human blood. This disconnect from the history of vampire mythology makes Bloodlines feel less like a game about vampires and more like a game about gangsters, but the dark style of the game’s visuals and sound go a long way towards achieving a Gothic air. In the end, though, the biggest question that hangs over the game’s head is this; how willing are you to slog through an abusive interface, untold game-ending bugs, and frustrating errors in order to play this game? Because of the frustration involved in getting the game to work properly, Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines will probably appeal most to fans of the pen and paper game, or those who have the fortitude to dig through the slag to the solid game beneath.


  1. randar23rhenn:

    I’ve always wanted to try this game. I have a couple questions about the system you ran this on though- mainly, what version of windows was it? I’m on Vista and God only knows if it would run this bug-ridden game.

    Also, did you download/install any of the patches? I’ve heard they fix a lot of the issues. I’m just wondering because I doubt I’d have the patience to play a game with a lot of bugs as described.

  2. Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett:

    I played it on an XP system, and yeah, I had to patch it pretty extensively. I have no idea how compatible it would be with a Vista system, but I’m betting the answer is “not very”. :/

    The patch I used was the Dan Upright unofficial patch, and it seemed to rectify a lot of the issues I had when running under the company patch. I still had a couple instances where I had to use a cheat code to get into plot-essential elevators and suchlike, though.

  3. randar23rhenn:

    Yeah, I’m guessing Vista would eat this one.

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