I'm not sure how many other people bough the original Vampire game for PC, Redemption, but for those of you who played it, you know how horrible it was. It had a great concept, stemming from the same pen and paper RPG that Bloodlines comes from, and as such, should have been a total success. Unfortunately, it was poorly executed and turned into nothing more then a cheap every day 3rd person computer adventure RPG, with little originality and few innovations, plus, it had bugs out the wazoo. In Troika's attempt at the franchise, however, we finally get 'redemtion' from the terrible game the Vampire franchise originally allowed us to waste our money on. Using the Half-Life 2 Source engine, it is a gorgeous game - playable in 3rd or 1st person. As Troika is known for their RPGs, its no suprise that this is one of the most immersive games i have ever played - i find myself actually feeling emotions through the game, something i only ever felt while playing Deus Ex. It is obvious, however, that this is Troika's first first person perspective game, as there are numerous doors you just cant use, and several places where you can get stuck because of silly little glitches. That's another one of the few flaws i found in the game, the abundance of glitches - and Troika is also known for them too, unfortunately. Im sure most of them will be cleaned up in future patches, but there are some audio glitches where an environment sound might just stop playing for a few seconds, or while someone is talking it skips for a fraction of a second. The bugs that i found in the game were all ones i could easily shrug off, even the fact that occasionally the engine slowed down more then it really should have considering my cutting-edge hardware. As i said before, im sure this won't be much of a problem in the near future, Troika also has a reputation to patch their games well. The gameplay, and all the elements that come together to create it, is top notch, and in my opinion worthy of Game Of The Year consideration. First off, there are hundreds of NPCs who all have excellent voice actors backing them up. The only problem with such great voice acting, is sometimes the character cant animate enough to show the emotions that are clearly being displayed through his or her voice. But since this is the Source engine at work here, you do get to see lots of awesome facial expressions. The game also really gets you into being a vampire. I actually feel as though i am one while i play it. You have a small apartment where you live, and regardless of what tasks your trying to accomplish, you'll have to go hunt the night and feed. The game world also looks stupendous. You can really feel as though your walking down a back alley of downtown LA. If your observant, you might even get to watch some punk praying his tag on a wall, an old bum ranbling about her tin cans, some guy taking a leak, or perhaps a woman trying to get some privacy while she talks on her cell phone. Plus, when your inside various buildings, like your apartment, you can listen to the radio or watch tv, both of which have an extensive program to watch that changes fairly often. The combat system is admittedly a bit clunky - at first. Once you get used to it, or have invested proper skill points into your combat areas, it becomes much easier. If you dont put any skill into using guns, how could you expect to get a headshot with an old revolver at 30 yards from your target? And without proper knowledge of how to effectively use a knife, i dont think you can adequetely disembowl someone, either. When you think about it, it adds to the realism that pulls you into the game. Untill you add some experience to your skills, they're all useless, just like in the real world. But once you do level those skills up, watch out. In adding to the combat system, there is also a variety of both guns and melee weapons, including baseball bats, knives, swords, .38 specials, glocks, Mac-10s, and of course the ever powerful shotgun - which has a tendancy to blow vampire brains all over the place. The other part of combat, your armor, seems to be a little lacking. Though i havnt completed the game, i am fairly far into it, and have yet to see more than 4 types of clothes, and none of them, might i add, is a trenchoat. (which seems like a requirement for a vampire game, does it?) Speaking of the skill system, it makes a lot of sense. Its probably one of the best systems i've seen, as you cant directly level up your skills (Called "Feats" in the game). Instead, you level up attributes and other stats that then modify your skills. For example, adding to your dexteriety improves your stealth moving skill. VTMB lets you play as any group of vampires you ever heard about, taking them of course directly from the pen and paper game. You can be a manipulative Toreador, or the ugly and feared Nosferatu. If you choose the latter, you'll want to stick to the sewers, as your appearance tends to make people run for the hills. On top of all that, the veteren RPS developers at Troika have also put a lot of effort into making you feel like your decisions actually effect things in the world. That they do, and you have plenty of them to make. (Think Deus Ex, on an even broader scale) You can pretty much kill anyone you want to, but there will be repurcussions. Random things you do to NPCs, like helping them out when they're in a bad place, will effect later gameplay as that NPC will remember how you helped them out. Or, if your the malicious type, they'll remember how you made fun of them and kicked them while they were down. I was really suprised of the level of this type of choice driven immersion, as i was actually able to obtain my own ghoul (a human that i feed my blood to to make more powerful and essentially my slave) who then stayed at my apartment, let me suck her blood whenever, and who randomly did things for me - like getting me a pretty ring, and once she even brough me dinner (yeah, there was a guy in my bathroom free for the sucking). And yet again, on top of that, there is even more immersion fueled by the inclusion of lots of humor taken both from real world current goings-on, and the inclusion of a horde of real world licensed bands performing at the clubs and video games that you'll see in the arcade, curtesy of activision. (like the Call Of Duty pinball machine) I'd also like to point out that while many people claim that Half-Life 2 takes more advantage of the source engine, i would argue that Vampire just uses it in a different way. Go the the Vesuvious stripclub in hollywood to see what i mean. Hot jesus, those strippers are modelled perfectly, and the physics that are applied to them are just as good! If you can overlook the bugs that are present in VTMB, and have a system capable of running it with virtually no slow downs, this is going to be your best gaming experience for a while, especially if your into RPGs. Sure, Half-Life 2 might be the best FPS of the year, but Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is the best RPG of the decade. If it doesnt win any awards this year, id be really suprised.
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