Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption is a great-looking action-packed role-playing game based on the White Wolf pen-and-paper RPG. It's got a great premise and an ambitious design, but the game is mired by its repetitive and often frustrating combat, ill-fated design decisions, and forgettable characters and story.
The graphics in Vampire are unmatched by those in any other computer role-playing game. You play the game from a third-person perspective, which is zoomed in fairly close and raised slightly above your main character. Up to three other characters will join you and follow as you travel around on foot across medieval Europe and beyond, and you can choose to directly control a different member of your party at any time. Vampire's fully 3D environments look remarkably realistic because of their stunning detail and moody, subtle lighting effects, which remain consistently impressive through all the game's many varied and interesting settings. As crusader-turned-vampire Christof, you'll travel through Prague and Venice and into fearsome catacombs or thereabouts. Later in the game, you'll find yourself in modern-day London and New York. All these cities, as well as all the outlying corridors and hallways you'll explore, are uniquely rendered to an extraordinary level of quality. Although you'll sometimes travel through such typical settings as abandoned mines and sewers over the course of Vampire, even these overused set pieces look good in the game. Some of the best of Vampire's environs include a hollowed-out, magical tree that's home to an ancient vampire clan; the decadent, gilded mansion of a vicious vampire lord; and the rain-soaked, neon-lit streets of London.
The characters in Vampire look equally good. They're stylized to move with an exaggerated gait, and can brandish a wide variety of great-looking deadly weapons, which they'll use in the game's frequent combat sequences. Switching weapons and armor will affect your character's appearance, and even his 3D animated portrait at the bottom of the screen. Yet although Vampire's characters are lavishly detailed compared with those in virtually any other computer game to date, you'll still find that they could have looked a little better. Specifically, some of the texture mapping on the characters looks too flat, particularly Christof's own flowing cape - otherwise, the vampires' animated faces are offset by their perfectly still posture during the game's dialogue sequences. The in-game cinematics lack any sort of dramatic tension, as your characters will merely stand still and deliver their lines - and often poorly, on account of the game's almost uniformly bad voice acting. If any action occurs during the cinematics, it's marred by stilted animation and bad camerawork. As such, it's surprisingly disappointing how weak a lot of Vampire's presentation is, in light of the overall quality of the game's appearance.
The weak cinematics and voice acting might begin to explain why the game has comparatively little dialogue overall, and why it has almost no character interaction whatsoever. You'll occasionally be faced with choosing from two different options during the dialogue, but in hindsight - or in replaying to test the other alternative - you'll realize that most of these decisions are trivial. Though the game's script uses a lot of fancy language and generally reads well, you'll likely find yourself growing weary of the game's typically static, drawn-out monologues. Thus, you'll find that you'll meet very few interesting characters through the course of the game. Even Christof himself fails to develop into a strong protagonist, despite the fact that he's got a perfectly good dilemma to work with as he struggles with his vampiric existence in the wake of his devout religious upbringing. But by much later in the game, Christof merely comes across as having grown used to being a vampire rather than discovering anything about himself, which is disappointing. Therefore, just as Vampire's dialogue sequences are largely clumsy and forgettable, its plot is basically boring. And that's a shame - especially considering the scope of the game's source material, which along with the fact that the game is entirely linear, should have allowed for a more interesting story.
But because there isn't much of a story in Vampire anyway, what ought to have saved the game was its near-constant action sequences - but unfortunately, they're every bit as weak as the plot. Vampire's real-time combat is simplistic and often chaotic. The game's point-and-click interface requires you to merely keep clicking on your target until it dies. If you have one to three other members in your party, they'll join the fray and attack with you. Unfortunately, since the game's characters take up so much space onscreen, your companions will have a bad habit of stepping right in front of your mouse cursor, causing you to halt your attack against your intended target. Similarly, you'll have to navigate through fairly narrow corridors a great percentage of the game, and in such cases your party members will have a lot of trouble getting past you to face your enemies. In later portions of Vampire when your group is armed with guns and such, you'll witness your companions wasting plenty of ammunition while foolishly trying to shoot their enemies through walls - and the guns themselves are awkward, underpowered, and slow. The game's transition from the Dark Ages into contemporary times is certainly its best moment, but you'll find that a lot of the modern-day gadgets and weapons aren't as well designed as they could've been.
But perhaps the biggest problem with the combat in Vampire is the game's collision detection - it can be very difficult to tell whether you're hitting your target, because your weapons will pass through the enemies' bodies in just the same way, regardless. The action happens quickly, and keeping track of four different characters ends up being nearly impossible, especially when the three characters you're not directly controlling keep making mistakes.
That's not to say combat is especially difficult in Vampire. Nine times out of ten, you'll see your enemies standing 50 feet away, and they'll never approach you until you walk within a particular range. So you'll frequently find yourself luring one or two foes at a time and dispatching them easily. It's a time-consuming and repetitive process that's necessary for playing through what's otherwise a rather short game. What's worse is that you'll face only about two types of enemies in each area, so whatever specific tactics you learn, you'll apply repeatedly.
It's true that there's some nuance to fighting in Vampire. Each of your characters commands a number of different disciplines - effectively, magic spells - that you can use to bolster your strength or to weaken your enemies. Some of the powers cause you to move at faster speeds and to hit harder, while others let you change shape, summon creatures to your aid, wither and burn your foes, or increase your perception. However, you'll find that many of these powers are redundant and basically useless within the game, as they're all holdovers from the pen-and-paper version of Vampire and thus not all practical for what's essentially an action game. You'll use certain disciplines over and over, while your experiments with many others will usually fail. In Vampire, you'll get to do battle with a host of different vampire clans and other sinister foes, but that's the only appeal of the near-constant combat. Meanwhile, you'll find that the game's seemingly interesting character-building system is actually rather limited, as it's ultimately useful only for letting you upgrade the few disciplines you'll keep using. And you'll also eventually become annoyed with the game's simplistic inventory management, and with the game's various oversights, like how it's perfectly permissible to walk past London police officers while brandishing firearms. Even Vampire's save-game feature is cumbersome, because you're permitted to save only in certain specific areas - but the game also automatically saves between level transitions, so you'll learn to abuse the auto-save function by returning to a scene exit whenever you think you're in for trouble.
Vampire's ambitious storyteller mode is the only way to play the game with other players, and it effectively lets one player manipulate the game world on the fly for the other players by granting them rewards, giving them quests and surprise encounters, and so on. It's a great idea that doesn't seem effective within the game itself, as Vampire's single-player mode's own inferior storytelling is suggestive of the shortcomings of the storyteller mode. For one thing, there are few character models and settings for you to choose from, and for another, effectively manipulating the storyteller tools is difficult, especially compared with the basic challenges you'll face throughout the single-player game. Vampire includes a couple of prefabricated multiplayer scenarios, but it would've been much better had the single-player game been playable with up to four people; that way, at least, a lot of the bad pathfinding and micromanagement problems would have been resolved. Some players, especially fans of the White Wolf source material, will doubtless struggle to create scenarios using the available scripting tools and the forthcoming editor, but as it stands, multiplayer Vampire is much more appealing in principle than in practice.
It's unfortunate that such a great-looking, ambitious game falls so short of its potential. Vampire seems to have a lot going for itself, and its graphics are second to none. But its gameplay will be disappointingly familiar to virtually anyone who's played an action role-playing hybrid, while the game's numerous problems are just barely offset by the quality of its presentation. Similarly, Vampire's thin plot will likely frustrate those expecting the game to take fuller advantage of the fiction that inspired the game.