Any game with the word vampire in it will usually get my attention as I like the horror genre whether it be books, movies or games. (Yes, I read the Anne Rice books) However, being an Activision title it rarely goes on sale and I did wait a long time before purchasing it. Supporters of the game love it, but after the first couple of levels I was wondering what the big attraction was. At that point, I found it all rather blasé but thought the fact that you could play this game numerous times simply by playing a different vampire clan might account for the appeal. Was it going to make much of a difference to the story and gameplay though? That remained to be seen.
The game begins by asking whether you want it to auto pick a vampire clan for you or whether you want to answer some questions that will determine the clan best suited to those answers. Once completed, attributes, abilities and talents available to you in the skill tree are unique to that clan. If you choose a different clan, your skill tree will be different. What this essentially means is that you approach your missions in a way that plays to your clan strengths. It could be combat, stealth, or persuasion, for instance, so that your experience and dialogue options could be quite different in each playthrough. You can also play as either a male or a female vampire.
As it turned out, this is one of those games that gets better and more interesting as you progress. There are basically four levels demarcated as cities and in each city you receive multiple quests by talking to its various occupants. You will deal with humans as well as kindred from various clans. Each quest gains you experience points, which you use to level up your abilities. You can use auto-level up or set these manually. There are also vendors for purchasing weapons, ammo and clothing, which acts as various levels of armor. You can also pick up items that you can sell to these vendors. In addition, you can find instruction books as well as be given special items that also add to your capabilities.
Before commenting further, a little history. The latest version of Bloodlines is officially patched to version 1.2. Due to the developer experiencing a myriad of problems, direct support for this game ended and many errors and bugs were not corrected. However, users undertook the task to fix these and restore unreleased additional content that was found in the game files. Many people install the well-known community patch and the latest edition as of this date, 7.8a, is what this review is based on. Therefore, I cannot comment on how the game looks and performs in its original form.
As to this user-patched edition, with the latest release the game performed almost flawlessly on my system. This is not surprising given it uses Valve's Source engine (Half-life 2). There are one or two minor problems with the camera in close spaces, but nothing very serious. As to the actual game, there are some things that don't make a lot of sense with characters not behaving in a very realistic manner, but none of it takes away from the experience being quite enjoyable. There is quite a good mix between role-playing, puzzles and combat. Boss fights are actually quite hard, but there is always a sweet spot where they can't touch you as you kill them. I don't know if this is a glitch or whether it is intentional. The graphics are very acceptable in the context of its age with a slightly comic book feel to them. Load screens are a little slow, but not irritatingly so and the time is used to give you hints and history of the vampire world and its clans.
The story weaves together the growth of your character from neonate to legend, defines the purpose of the missions and allows for some variety in the endings. Although the game is fairly linear, it's possible to miss all of its parts due to your choice of clan or choice of your actions, which gives the game some replay value. I would advise doing some research to discover which clan on a second playthrough would give you a different experience.
The menu interface is very friendly and smooth as butter. There is quicksave and load, always appreciated, and an option to play in first or third view. The only real complaint I had with the controls is the method of weapon selection, which is tied to keyboard numbers with a drop down menu. It was difficult to quickly change weapons in the midst of combat and these couldn't be re-keyed to the mouse wheel as this was dedicated to another function. There is also not as much freedom of movement during enemy engagement as one might have hoped for and can sometimes be quite restrictive, making it feel more like battling the controls than the enemy.
This is a game that is aimed at a mature audience, so I wouldn't be letting your children loose with it. It's not just the violence or I wouldn't be mentioning it as many games include violence, but there is also a lot of sexual stuff. In fact, the game is actually quite chauvinistic with a lot of scantily clad women running around offering sex. Some of it was actually quite tasteless, definitely sexist, and a throwback to stereotype. If this is something that would bother you, skip this game, but if not, it's quite fun.