Vampire: the Masquerade is a series of vampire themed PC role playing games based on the pen-and-paper role playing game created by White Wolf Studios. These games are often set in the contemporary gothic-punk universe known as The World of Darkness. These PC adaptations contained some of the finest RPG narratives and engaging gameplay mechanics in the genre. Let's look at the various titles in the series to date.
Vampire: The Masquerade : Redemption
In June 2000, Nihilistic Software released the first in a series of games based in the popular world of Vampire: The Masquerade. This was created using a heavily augmented version of the Quake II engine - titled Nod. It combined extensive character building and Diabloesque hack and slash gameplay in a 3D environment. As I began to play this title, I found myself immediately hooked by the storyline. The player takes on the role of a Crusader Knight, Christof Romuald, in the year 1141. He is wounded in a battle against Saladin's army and is forced to convalese at a nearby nunnery. As the story progresses he falls in love with a young novice - Anezka and she for him.
Christof encounters a group of hideous vampire creatures that infest the nearby silver mines. He defeats their leader, Ahzra the Unliving, attracting the attention of the local Vampire clans who wish to embrace Christof as one of their own. Christof eventually accedes and becomes a creature of the night, lost to his faith and his beloved Anezka forever. The storyline takes many twists and turns and eventually brings the player to the present day. This was one of the most exciting developments for me, having swung swords and axes for most of the game, I could now use powerful guns. The progression of the plot was well paced and the dialogue, at times could be described as hackneyed but always managed to keep my attention.
Christof is a likable character, he is drawn into a world that he cannot understand, tormented by thoughts of his own damnation and compelled onward by his love for the fallen nun. The other NPC's are a little less realized and have little more substance than being there as the parties Mage or Thief.
Vampire is an incredibly combat heavy title. Every action is performed in real time (with the ability added to allow the player to pause issued in a later patch - adding a more tactical approach). Like Diablo, the combat and movement are based around a point and click mechanic. Left click an area to move to it or attack, hold the mouse button down during combat to continually attack. It's fairly basic in it's mechanic, which may frustrate long time RPG fans, but is perfect for those who are used to more action oriented gameplay.
The interface feature three bars, these represent health, blood and frenzy level. Your frenzy increases with the amount of damage you take, or if an enemy vampire increases it using a discipline, and if it hits max your character goes psycho (with accompanying facial animation) and attacks/bites/kills anything near him or her, including allies
Your blood meter relates to being able to utilise disciplines. Every character can achieve disciplines, which are different categories each containing unique abilities. Animalism allows you to change into a wolf, and protean allows you to change your hands into claws, ripping into your targets and causing extreme damage. To activate a discipline requires blood, which plenty of enemies are full of. You can suck someone's blood until it kills them (with vampires turning into dust, a very cool looking death), but if you kill an innocent townsperson, you'll take a humanity hit. If you lose all humanity, you turn into a raging beast and lose the game.
At the time of the game's release, the graphics were highly praised. Each city has beautiful backgrounds, from run-down apartment buildings to huge cathedrals. The FMVs might not be the most exciting ones ever, but graphically they're up to par. The monsters look sharp, the characters look detailed, the disciplines look great and the weapons look nice.
This game hasn't aged well, but if you choose to delve into it, either as a returning player or for the first time. You will uncover an interesting plot which spans over 800 years of history, engaging character design and at times a worth while game challenge - especially concerning the boss battles.
Vampire the Masquerade : Bloodlines
In 2004, Troika Games along with publishers Activision, released an atmospheric sequel of sorts to Redemption. Using the Half Life 2 engine to great effect, this RPG has, in recent years gained cult status and regularly appears in lists exploring the best RPG's on the PC.
You begin Bloodlines by crafting your own Vampire, which you'll do by conforming to the seven major vampire types found in the original pen-and-paper game. You can create a vampire suited to your style of play. The options range from sophisticated vampires that can talk their way past most situations, to burly vampires who like to intimidate people and pick fights, to demonic vampires who prefer to skulk in the shadows. And while you can select a gender for your vampire (which affects the kinds of characters you can seduce), you won't actually be able to customize your vampire's appearance, aside from the kind of clothes he or she wears.
Bloodlines takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, in four major sections of the city. You'll start the game in Santa Monica, carrying out all sorts of low-level missions for your vampire lord. But before too long, you'll be drawn into the game's overarching story, which deals with the vampiric end times. The story itself is filled with all sorts of intrigue, and you'll be caught between the major vampire factions as they battle for supremacy. Part of the fun is figuring out which of the factions you want to ultimately align yourself with. The game also has a cool twist of four different endings, so you can decide how the story will eventually conclude. This makes for added incentive to go back and replay the game to check out different story paths. In turn, this gives the game quite a bit of replay value, as it will probably you take at least 20 to 30 hours to get through Bloodlines the first time.
One of the strongest aspects of this title is the characterisation of the NPC's. The game is populated by all sorts of interesting characters. These come to life, thanks to source's amazing facial animation technology. The dialogue scenes are written with panache and evoke a sense of really conversing with a three dimensional character.
The quests in Bloodlines range in quality, though for the most part there are some excellent missions in the game. On the low end, there are some standard fetch-style quests that populate most role-playing games--the kind where you simply have to find and retrieve an object for someone. But on the high end, there are very interesting missions, such as an investigation of a haunted mansion. The haunted mansion level is eerily atmospheric, filled with all sorts of scripted events that will keep you on your toes, as well as a fair bit of puzzle-solving. Along with the main storyline, there are many little side quests that you can pursue for amusement. These side quests also allow you a chance to gain more experience, though you don't "level up" like you do in traditional role-playing games. Vampire uses a simple point system where you allocate experience points in various stats and abilities. You can create a very balanced character or you can specialise in certain abilities, so you'll probably want to go through the game a few times to experiment with different skills and approaches.
Perhaps the best quests in the game are the ones that require you to use stealth, as the combat missions are fairly simple to carry out. There's a strong undercurrent of Deus Ex and Splinter Cell in the stealth missions, as you can sneak past guards and security cameras, pick locks, and try to hack into computers along the way. Some vampire types specialize in stealth, but it's not too hard for other vampire types to skulk quietly in the dark.
Bloodlines is a fantastic title and I highly recommend it. It's one of the original RPG's to include a first person perspective. It was superior to what the Elder Scrolls series offered at the time and with recent fan patches remains a solid title with impressive visuals and an immersive experience.
Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood and All Our Friends are Dead
Now available on the Utomik subscription platform, this is a text based game played out through a series of text messages. Through these and by making basic choices, you begin to uncover your own personal story. For such a limited game type, the story isn't half bad. You wake up and immediately begin texting out what happened last night, and slowly from there, it turns out that you're a vampire and LOTS of people are interested in this. Rather than be reliant on images, it plays out solely through text messages, sent pictures and pretty much anything you could do on your phone pre-iPhone era
The graphics for these games aren't bad either; It's a phone, some pictures, and not too much else. The artwork is a little "out there" in terms of style, but it fits well with the game, although it can be hard sometimes to actually know what you're looking at. If I had to find something to complain about, I'd say the phone in the game doesn't act like a phone sometimes – there is no such thing as 3 second turnaround in text messages. But it all fits and adds a little to the growing darkness of the tone of the game.
Gameplay is pretty simple – you follow text messages and pick your own way. It helps to be logical about it, but it also grants freedoms in regards to what you want to be in the game. It was hard to get invested at some points because, you know, it's text messaging. But it also gave some tension – you can die if you go down the wrong path. The choices you make became more complex and difficult, and that makes for a good game. There aren't any points you collect and the story goes as you text. It's very much comprised of personal decisions.
Available on Utomik
This was a whistle stop tour of the PC iterations of the Vampire: The Masquerade world. If you have enjoyed this or have memories of these games, let us know in the comments below.