Vampire: Bloodlines is without a doubt one of the best RPGs of the past several years. With a strong character generation system that has significant impact on game-play, it goes beyond being a first-person shooter with a storyline. Your selection of clan defines the disciplines from which you can choose. These disciplines, coupled with attributes and skills, dictate not only what combat and dialogue options you have available, but also how effective you are at each. As an example, a vampire that specializes in ranged weapons might choose to become a member of the Toreador clan, which has access to celerity (a speed buff), auspice (a wits & perception buff that improves ranged combat prowess and lets you detect auras), and presence (a short-duration, point-blank area of effect debuff that has a chance of instilling a mesmerizing fear into those around you). These disciplines work together with your weapon choices to directly affect combat. In the background, your attributes and skills impact the effectiveness with which you use your weapons in both obvious and subtle ways. Ranged combat doesn't just affect the damage you do - it affects the amount of time it takes for your cross-hairs to become centered on a foe. Troika has coupled all of this with a very detailed backdrop environment and characters that come alive. The Half-life 2 engine allows a significant amount of interaction with that environment, which leads to a game that feels like a blend of RPG, action, and sneaker. The open-ended feel of the game is also truly amazing. As an example, if you're attempting to get past a certain guarded location, you have a variety of choices: talk your way in; break your way in with a weapon of your choice; dominate or mesmerize the guard; snipe at him from long range; turn invisible; or simply pick up a plate, throw it down the alley, and slip in while the guard is distracted. The attention to detail is amazing - when you first appear at your safehouse, a well-scripted, well-acted radio show is playing in the background. You can turn on the TV for the news, but you'll find it difficult to hear unless you turn off the radio that's still blaring in the background. Voice acting is excellent, graphics are phenomenal and the ambience is impressive. I can see myself playing through this several times to try a number of different character builds. Value would have been significantly enhanced with the ability to take your vamp on multi-player, instanced missions or team-based combat with your friends, but we can always hope for mods. In the meantime, the original story is incredibly well done. Most RPGs that have attempted to implement action features either end up being RPGs with a "swing the mouse to the left and right as fast as you can" interface or being action games that casually wave at the depth of an RPG. Vampire manages to implement both quite nicely. If you're an RPG fan who either enjoys, or at least doesn't mind, a bit of action to go along with the story, or if you're an action fan that wants a bit more depth than your average frag-fest, pick up Vampire: Bloodlines. You won't regret it.
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