Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines E3 2004 Preshow Impressions

Even though it looks like a first-person shooter, this highly anticipated role-playing game will let you chart your own course.

Watch an exclusive developer interview with Troika games, and check the media section for the exclusive E3 Bloodlines trailer. Click the "stream" option for a closer look.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is one of the most anticipated role-playing games of 2004. After all, the game is begin developed by Troika Games, which is made up of some of the folks responsible for classic role-playing games such as Fallout, and it uses Valve's Source engine, the same technology behind Half-Life 2. As a result, Bloodlines combines the look and action of a first-person shooter with the rich setting and possibilities of White Wolf's popular role-playing vampire universe. In Bloodlines, the decisions you make will influence how the game unfolds. Activision and Troika gave us a look at their current progress in preparation for E3.

The game has come along quite a bit from when we last saw it; previously, Troika demonstrated only individual features of the game. Now, for the first time, we've seen actual uninterrupted gameplay, a good sign indicating that all the pieces are coming together.

You'll begin the game by creating a character, and you can choose from the seven vampire archetypes as defined by White Wolf. This means you can create virtually any kind of vampire from established lore, and the type of vampire you choose will determine your initial allegiance, or clan. You'll also choose which gender to play, which will affect how non-player characters interact with you. Put together, there are basically 14 combinations you can play.

We were among the first journalists in the world to see the game's downtown Los Angeles hub, or locale. Bloodlines is set in and around Los Angeles, and in previous previews we saw other hubs, such as Santa Monica. The Source engine is capable of rendering the tall skyline of downtown, and since you play as a vampire, you'll walk around at night; street lights cut through the darkness, and there are plenty of pedestrians walking around, most of whom are potential prey.

As a newly sired vampire, you'll be given orders from the Prince of LA, and in one of the early missions, you'll need to track down some information about a potential threat to the vampire clans. You're told you can get more information directly from a character named Venus, or you can get it from her laptop if you can access it. Venus is the proprietor of Confessions, a nightclub located inside a former cathedral. Inside the club are plenty of dancers and club goers, and the cathedral is dimly lit with chandeliers and candles.

You can try to find Venus' office and pick the lock, or you can talk to her. If you choose the latter option, you can try to persuade her to give you the information. Once you have the information, you'll learn that you need to go down into the sewers to deal with a rogue group of vampires and other creatures. If you hacked into the laptop, you'll also discover that there's a gargoyle that is impervious to bullets, so you'll need a blunt weapon to deal with it.

Venus will tell you that you can acquire weapons from Fat Larry, an arms dealer working out of a truck in a nearby alleyway. Fat Larry is, to put it mildly, quite a character, and his dialogue managed to elicit guffaws from the audience watching the demonstration. And to demonstrate how your gender affects the story, he'll try to pick up female characters, while he's all business with male characters. You can acquire armor and weapons from Fat Larry, including pistols, ammunition, and even a sledge hammer, which would be useful against the gargoyle.

Once armed, you'll go into the sewer, where you'll battle packs of strange creatures. If you have a combat specialist, you'll be able to use firearms relatively effectively. However, if you don't have high firearm ability, you can compensate by using blood buffs to temporarily boost your main stats, such as strength, or by using disciplines, which are like special powers, to slow down enemies to make them easier to hit. Of course, doing so drains your vampire's blood reservoir, and you'll need to feed on humans or rats to replenish your powers.

After navigating through the sewers, you'll find your way up to an abandoned Chinese theater that also serves as the home to the gargoyle. As you enter, the gargoyle will crash through the ceiling, roar, and demand to know who dares to violate his domain. You have a couple of options at this point; you can try to talk your way past the gargoyle, or you can battle him. Once again, the game will offer you the chance to choose your own path, and the decisions you make will have repercussions later on.

Bloodlines will have a multiplayer mode, and Activision and Troika say that they're going to integrate role-playing elements into the gameplay. For example, you can have vampire against vampire hunters in team-based multiplayer, with an ability to level up between rounds. There will also be more traditional combat and familiar modes. The game appears to be on track, and if everything goes according to schedule, we should see Bloodlines in stores by the end of the year.

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