Screw this for a game of vampires!

September 21, 2008

I will get on to my multiplayer exploits soon, but first I must relay a sudden turn for the worse in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.  Last week I reported that I had reached Chinatown, and that despite the constant glitches, I was having a good time.  That was the status quo up until a couple of days ago.  I was being assigned some highly original quests (one involving me fetching an eye from the corpse of an enemy of a deranged chinese shop owner) and taking part in the usual engrossing dialogue—the highlight being a fascinating conversation with Beckett, a vampire scholar (and also my favourite character in the game), in which he divulges his private thoughts on Gehenna (vampire armageddon) and a little of his own history.

The tragedy occurred when I returned to the main plot quest (there’s always one), first infiltrating a family gathering of the Giovanni for Lacroix, the vampire prince of Los Angeles.  The mission started very well, with a number of options available to the player as to how to gain entry to the Giovanni mansion, and thence to the inner sanctum in search of the mission objective (which I won’t describe here for fear of a spoiler overdose).

Naturally your clan (class) choice has a confining influence on those options, so for me (a Toreador) the straight-up assault approach was out of the question.  I got in by tricking a drunk couple (well I say drunk couple—it was in fact just the wife who had had one too many vodkas) out of their tickets to the gathering.  Once inside the mansion I once again went to work with my supernatural charm on the guests, currying favour, experience points, and, most importantly, access to the basement.

All superb RPG fare so far, but all good things must come to an end, and this good thing came to an end very quickly, at the mission’s conclusion.  Having gained access to the mansion depths entirely through subterfuge, I was forced to fight through a limitless reserve of zombies, and then engage in a dull and repetitive boss battle of the kind you’d expect to find in an old genre progenitor like Duke Nukem.  And that was only the beginning of my woes.

Next up was a mission impossible scenario—rescue an archaeologist from a fortress of the Society of Leopold (vampire hunters).  My well honed skills were useless.  Faced with a legion of trained killers aware of an impending assault my only option was to sneak my way in.  Sadly the stealth system in Bloodlines is a shambles.  The standard awareness meter, famously implemented in the Thief series, is what determines whether you’re spotted or not, but it works in such a retarded way that I could, with just one or two experience points spent in stealth, crawl past the hunters with them staring straight at me.  You have to see it to believe it.

Being someone who sinks into boredom and despair rather easily, I surprised myself by striving through the mission, and the next one, and the next, hoping for a return to some more satisfying and involving gameplay, an injection of riveting dialogue—some relief from the monotony of endless combat.  Grievously, nothing of the sort ever came.

Now I’m at another boss battle in the basement of the Sabbat headquarters, having gunned my way through three or four sprawling floors crammed with generic enemies.  It turns out I simply don’t have the hit points and firepower I need to get through the confrontation, and so I’ve decided to stop playing.  Having experienced the end-game twice before I know that things only go further downhill from now on anyway, so I won’t be missing much.

The fact that I will almost certainly return to Bloodlines at a later date despite all its low points is testimony to how unusual a case it really is.  I’ve only ever played as two of the seven clans—Toreador and Tremere (vampire mages)—and I’ve heard amazing things about some of the others. Malkavians are supposed to be particularly interesting, having been driven mad by their vampirism to the extent that they hear voices emanating from inanimate objects and persons alike.  I’ve no doubt there’s plenty of replay value to come.

Apart from its replayability though, I recommend Bloodlines to an RPG fan for its core brilliance.  I won’t repeat what I’ve said in my previous post, suffice to say that it’s a game that scores highly where an RPG most needs to.  It lets down its guard at times, with poor AI, frankly rubbish combat mechanics, and a platter full of bugs and unfinished content (neither of which taste very nice), but it’s still one of the best ‘serious’ games out there.  What’s more, it’s now on a Steam for an incredibly low price. Give it a whirl.

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You call this a patch?

September 7, 2008

Who wants to know what I’ve been playing recently?  No one?  Pah!  The absence of interest does not discourage me in the slightest!

These days there are four games on my playlist. My first single player experience of choice is Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, an RPG oddity that I’ve blogged about once or twice before on Imperium.

I’m playing as a Toreador, the “pretty boy” vampire breed in pen and paper RPG maker White Wolf’s campaign setting. My weapons are my seductive charm, my dazzling charisma, and my preternatural presence.  I also carry a Colt Anaconda in the rare case that my words fail me and I require a different kind of stopping power.

This is my third play through of Bloodlines, but the first time I’ve played with the unnofficial community patch installed, now at version 5.6.  I have to say I’m entirely unimpressed by the patch, having noticed no impact at all so far on the game’s stability or completeness.  I get prolonged stutter from the moment I try to load my save game, and glitching in facial animation, audio cutting short, horrendous crashes, and all sorts of other technical blips and immersion-breaking moments ensue thereafter.  I’m not just starting out either – I’m now into the closing chapters of the game in Chinatown, one of the four hubs constituting the backbone of the game world.

What sparkles underneath all that muck, and what makes Bloodlines a curious anomaly in its genre rather than a total failure, is the remarkable attention to quality in the dialogue, and a small (compared to shambling behemoth The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) group of superbly realised NPCs to interact with in a world that, at least at times, pulsates with heavy neo-gothic atmosphere.  When Bloodlines is good, it can stand proudly at the side of Planescape: Torment or Deus Ex; when its bad… well let’s not dwell on the bad.

Second in single player is a long campaign in Medieval II: Total War, with me playing as England (like you had to ask).  Having attempted and failed at this campaign before I know the dangers of lingering and not expanding.  The goal is to capture 45 settlements, including Jerusalem, before the time is up.

I was quick to remove the taint of rebels and Scots from the British Isles, having left them to develop in my previous game, much to my detriment.  I’ve still got problems-a-plenty though.  The inevitable war with the French is in full swing, and their allies, the Danes, are presently dominating my navy (for shame) with a fleet of longboats.

Medieval II Total War Screenshot

My greatest frustration remains the Pope and his twisted sense of justice.  On paper, the policy of the Papal States is that all catholic factions ought to get along swimmingly, march together into the Middle East and put the muslims out of their misery.  The way it works out is that the Pope picks favourites from among his flock—in my case the French (how I rejoiced)—allows them to wage war against as many catholic factions as they want, and punishes their victims (me) for daring to counter-attack.

The Pope is so talented at alienating catholics that I’m now on my way to join a crusade to capture Tunis, not held by African muslims as you might think, but by Sicily, whom the Pope has kindly excommunicated.  As long as none of the other factions capture the city before me, I should slip back into the Pope’s good books, at least for a while.  If not I’ll call my own crusade against the silly bugger.  No, that’s a bad idea – wouldn’t want all of Europe trying to murder me now would I?

I won’t keep you any longer.  Return here in days to come and I’ll tell you all about my multiplayer escapades in Team Fortress 2 and Civilization IV. Cheerio!