Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Preview

This first-person game from Troika uses the Half-Life 2 engine and will combine fast action with deep, branching RPG gameplay.

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Vampires have risen to a special place in the pantheon of pop culture antiheroes. White Wolf's popular pen-and-paper role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade, took author Anne Rice's recasting of vampires as highly intelligent beings who align themselves into different factions a step further, collecting a handful of vampire classes, the clans, in a detailed game system with a rich back story that explains the coexistence of vampires and humans in the modern day. Troika's upcoming first-person game will be Activision's second game based on the White Wolf license and will be quite different from Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption from 2000. The new game is based on the Half-Life 2 engine and promises to create the excitement of controlling a powerful supernatural being in a new way, by combining the fast-paced combat of a first-person action game with the robust story and character interaction of a role-playing game.

This exclusive first screenshot of the game depicts the sort of detailed 3D environments we can expect in this Half-Life 2-powered game.

In White Wolf's dark world, vampires long ago realized that the best way to maintain power over humans was to fade into the background and avoid discovery. This pact of silence, the "masquerade," is enforced by the authoritarian rule of seven clans. Troika's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines starts you off as a fledgling vampire, recently turned from being human. You can choose which of the seven clans you wish to join, and this decision will determine what abilities and powers you can develop. You'll quickly become involved in the continual power struggle between the different clans, and you may not want to trust even your own clan, since different characters and groups within your faction may try to use you for their own ends.

Bloodlines takes place in Los Angeles, but as Leonard Boyarsky--the game's project leader at Troika--told us, it's not a Los Angeles we would recognize. There's a dark, gothic look to the 3D world that Troika is creating, something that's evident in the first images of the game posted above. For all the political wrangling that may take place in the safe areas where you're prohibited from showing off and using any vampire powers, there are other dangerous areas where you'll have to use all the weapons and powers available to you to survive. Boyarsky told us to expect the combat to be as fast and furious as a first-person shooter, and the game will have a wide range of modern-day weaponry that will be at your disposal, including katanas, Mac-10s, and Uzis, to name a few.

Troika has a track record for making vast, branching role-playing games, and while the first-person game represents new challenges for the studio, there's little doubt that Bloodlines will be densely packed with dialogue and character development. Bloodlines will stay faithful to the core of White Wolf's game; allying yourself with one of the seven clans will give you access to a huge range of powers particular to that faction. Choosing to play as a seductive toreador will open up different gameplay possibilities than playing the ugly and bestial nosferatu, or the gangrel, a faction that takes on animal shapes.

As you complete missions, you'll gain experience points that you can use to improve your attributes and abilities, called disciplines. To make a variety of play styles equally viable, the experience you gain is simply dependent on completing missions--it doesn't matter if you sneak by all the enemies in a level or massacre them all. Boyarsky specifically mentioned two of the many powers that will improve as your character develops, obfuscate and celerity. At high levels, the nosferatu's obfuscate ability can make you almost completely invisible, but a newly embraced nosferatu will have a seriously limited version of it, so you won't be invisible unless you remain in the shadows and stand still. Celerity is a discipline that speeds you up in relation to the rest of the world and can let you run rings around enemies in combat. Other abilities can give you superhuman strength or powers of mind control.

Bloodlines takes place in a dark, gothic version of Los Angeles, as seven clans of vampires vie for power and use you as their pawn.

Troika is known for serious RPGs, like Arcanum (2001) and Fallout (1997), which was designed by the studio's founders. But if the jump to a first-person 3D game is surprising, at least the team has some significant support for the engine: Valve's Half-Life 2 technology. Plans for Bloodlines had to be kept under wraps until now to wait for Valve to release all the recent details on its upcoming game, because many of Bloodlines' technical strengths are drawn directly from the engine. Troika is taking full advantage of Half-Life 2's advanced character animation system, dynamic AI, and its robust scripting tools. Boyarsky confessed that there will be some major world-changing scripted events later in the game, as well as many cool sequences along the way. One promising design element that's typical of Troika's work is the emphasis on dynamic conversations. When you talk to people, they'll know whether you're male or female and know your allegiances, then react accordingly.

Bloodlines is already well into development. Work started some 18 months ago, and there's a full team of 17 people working on the project. But if one thing is for certain, it's that Bloodlines won't be quite as huge as Arcanum, a game that kept dedicated players busy for hundreds of hours. Still, the design calls for roughly 60 hours of gameplay, including multiple endings, so it won't be a short game by any means, either. Unfortunately, no official release date for the game has been announced, but Activision will be showing the game off for the first time at next week's E3, so be sure to check back for more details. In the meantime, watch our exclusive video interview with project leader Leonard Boyarsky as he discusses the game.

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