|Being a Londoner I must say Hollywood looks an awful lot like Soho|
Bloodlines is a single player first person RPG from Troika Games, a company made up of numerous RPG gods who originally developed Fallout. In it you play a newly sired vampire out on the prowl in modern day Los Angeles. As you may not know though, it uses Valve's new Source engine at its base, obviously modded and tweaked here to allow all the extra niceties we expect from an RPG, such as player classes, conversations and levelling up via experience points.
On the whole though, as much as I love it, it's a game that could have used a lot more work. There's greatness bubbling just beneath the surface, vigorously enough as to froth over regularly, but it's smothered by numerous unfortunate technical glitches that hold it back.
At the start of the game for instance, you're asked a series of multi-choice questions, and your answers dictate the type of character you then get to play - yet I noticed numerous spelling mistakes almost immediately. Then there's the opening cinematic which details how you became a vampire...complete with shoddy, incomplete animations. Rather than walk properly from point A to B, characters merely glide across the room. The bugs and errors sadly don't stop there either. It's not that this stuff looks bad...it's just that it's not finished. Given three months more development time, we'd be looking at a much more impressive game I feel.
After the somewhat boring opening tutorial that follows, things get infinitely better, and you're let lose into Santa Monica to do as you please. The first thing that strikes you at this point is the sheer freedom you have at your disposal.
The Initial Dump
|This shot perhaps more than any other sums up Bloodlines as a whole|
For those who felt let down by the Deus Ex sequel, Bloodlines offers a spiritual successor that despite being set in a completely different universe, has huge amounts in common with the seminal RPG. There's the extensive stat system, the special abilities, the enormous dialogue options, and the deep, involving plot. It's worth noting though, that unlike Deus Ex, Bloodlines can be switched to play from the third person if you choose, and it makes melee combat a lot more bearable.
I hate to start off negatively though, but as Troika's first attempt at a proper 3D game, it certainly shows. Texturing is somewhat bland and inconsistent, a far cry from Half-Life 2's photorealistic detail, and the worlds can feel a little cramped towards the start of the game. There are also frequent loading times, and worst of all, the combat is lacking in execution - it's just too unresponsive for the most part.
As the first third-party game to use Valve's ground breaking new engine, it never quite fulfils its potential. Dodgy performance is a problem on low-end systems, and the kick-arse physics of HL2 are also stripped away for the majority of the game. The special effects are amazing though, as are all the human facial animations. On the whole it's great to see Source used in a deeper, more immersive genre, but it's hardly pushed to its limits from a technical standpoint here.
Believe it or not though, I really do love Bloodlines. It certainly grows on you immensely the more you play, and by the time I reached the Hollywood section about halfway through the impressively long campaign, I couldn't tear myself away...which explains why this review is going up at 3am on a work night.
Juicy Vampire Goodness
|Source's animation system gives characters an eerie life-like quality|
For a start, although the graphics are a let down, the sound fairs much better. Music is nice and dark, reminding me of the kinda spooky trip-hop stylings of Massive Attack and Portishead, and it provides the game with a sombre, evil undertone that's just perfect for its seedy L.A. setting.
Then there's the characters, which play an important part in making Bloodlines work so well. As mentioned, the animation and lip-synching really help bring them to life, and whereas in HL2 all you could do was watch and listen to other people, it's great to finally be able to interact with them properly through the extensive dialogue choices Bloodlines offers. The result is one of the most mentally engrossing games from as far back as I can remember, and although it may be only an average first person shooter, it's a truly exceptional
|The kind of language to be found in Bloodlines. Best put the kids to bed first|
In fact, the dialogue is the greatest part of Bloodlines. With an incredibly dark script that covers everything under the sun from lesbian sex, to bestiality, to molestation, to snuff movies, it definitely doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing you the more "adult" side of L.A. life, but at the same time it has a great sense of non-PC humour and some hilarious lines that had me giggling like a gay little school girl. Coupled with the very impressive voice acting, you find yourself actually starting to care about these characters the more you get to know them throughout the game.
Considering that the combat is sadly nothing to shout about, the dialogue and RPG elements are therefore what stand out most about Bloodlines, and if you play a character more rooted in social skills than fighting, Bloodlines feels like a much more impressive game. The story is interesting, there's tons to do, and just the concept as a whole is pretty damn marvellous.
|Oh yeah, we're in L.A. baby. Do you wanna be in my movie?|
The subtitle of "The Masquerade" refers to the lie vampires are forced to live in order to fit into every day society. By hiding their true nature and walking around as humans, vampires are free to survive in relatively undisturbed peace from humans and more importantly, vamp hunters, and all of your fanged siblings want to keep it that way. This is an important idea to grasp, as it's ultimately the central core of Bloodlines; you have to abide by The Masquerade at all times and not let people discover your true identity as a creature of the night.
More specifically, you have to feed off humans regularly, but at the same time you have to be smart enough as to not get caught doing it. This results in some great little sneaky feeding methods, such as following dudes down dark alleyways when they want to take a leak, or paying street hookers to follow you into secluded parts of town. If you're caught in compromising vampire situations, you'll use up one of your five masquerade points - once all five are gone, it's game over. This is a great idea in and of itself and adds a lot of richness to the experience, stopping you from just tearing around town covered in blood with your fangs hanging out.
|Save us both the embaressment and don't ask. We all experiment when we're young|
There's a flip side to that coin though. If you fail to feed for a long enough period, you'll eventually lose all control and the beast within will take over, grabbing the nearest human and tearing them to shreds in search of precious blood. At one point in the game while wondering around a hospital, hacking computers and reading emails as you do, that very thirst took over me in fact, and after blacking out momentarily, I came to to find myself surrounded by dead bodies. Wonderful!
This constant tussle between falling into darkness, yet still trying to stay in touch with your humanity is another cool feature of Bloodlines. Through sparing lives and showing compassion, your humanity level will improve, but it'll similarly decline if you kill, maim and generally act like a psychopath. You therefore have the choice between donning your best Angel impression and becoming a vigilante hero of the night, or alternatively being a cruel, sadistic bastard, pulling off the kind of deranged selfish acts that prompt an immediate quickload out of guilt. Your dialogue choices will even change as you slip more and more into darkness.
|Allow me to put your mind at ease once and for all; yes, you can|
The greatness doesn't stop there. Early on in the game your skills are enlisted by a pair of sexy but somewhat disturbed Vampire Twins, with subsequent twists and turns that I could never have seen coming. Among other jobs, there'll send you off to investigate a haunted hotel down on the beach, and if I'm perfectly honest, it was one of the freakiest fucking video game experiences I've ever had. One specific moment actually made me jump so high I physically yelled out loud in fact (sparking flashbacks to the timeless classic Mesh Playing Doom III
for those who've seen it). I'll say no more other than avoid going down any sinister looking corridors with dead ends...
Fang Theft Auto
The game uses a hub system where you're free to roam the streets and head off wherever you want at all times, whether it be to clubs, hotels, apartment blocks or even down into the sewers. Three much larger city hubs also open up as the story progresses, and you're then free to travel between them all at will. This ultimately results a game world that's bloody enormous, and ripe as hell for exploration.
|Cities are suitably large and populated. Shame about the loading times, mind|
There's a central storyline to Bloodlines that has to be followed, one of rival vampire clans vying for control of L.A., but the sheer amount of side quests and bonus areas that are also available possibly outnumber the core game in all. In most RPGs, it can be tempting to skip the optional side missions, but believe me when I tell you, such quests in Bloodlines are by far the best part of the game. Among other jobs, I had to setup webcams in a super model's bathroom, then murder a vampire hunting stripper. It certainly shows you things you don't see every day...
Many of these sub-quests even have overbearing and long-lasting consequences on the rest of the game, resulting in a wonderful sense of reality and persistence to the world. I want to tell you all about the young college student Heather who's life I saved in the hospital, and how she impacted the rest of the game, but it'll be much more rewarding for you to uncover this all for yourself.
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
After these many genius moments and ideas, it's a shame to then find yourself in yet another
conversation plagued with spelling errors, coming across more unfinished, stilted animation, and worst of all, crashing out to the desktop yet again. You subsequently find yourself embroiled in such a love 'n' hate relationship with the game thanks to this kinda thing, and it's a real pity because when it's good, it's really
If you're the sort of player who's perhaps a little more open-minded than most and can overlook these minor yet constant bugs and distractions, I can certainly recommend Bloodlines as an enticing experience. In fact, RPG fans in general will have a wonderful time with the game I'm guessing.
If however, you want a polished title crammed with full-filling combat and fast paced action, Bloodlines is perhaps not the game for you. I really had this one pinned down as possible game of the year material before it arrived, yet sadly it's held back by niggling little problems that could have been avoided so easily. Fingers crossed on a multitude of future patches, as they could boost this one's standing considerably. It's a marvellous game...but it could have been near perfect.