I feel like me and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines got off on the wrong foot. I bought the game just over a year ago after experimenting with the many vampire mods for Skyrim and Oblivion without really doing all that much research. As a result, my first half hour or so consisted of me browsing forums and desperately trying to find a way to get the damn thing up and running – spoilers: it involved installing some obscure fan made patch from some obscure website, and although I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I did at last reach the title screen, I still wasn’t happy.
You see, I came to Bloodlines anticipating a similar, but more dedicated experience of vampirism to what was offered by the Elder Scrolls modding community, and that just wasn’t the case. There is no character customisation, there is no vast open world for me to mess around in, and although those expectations were unfair on my part, they coloured my experience from the off. After disappointedly selecting the race that looked the least grotesque, I was dropped into a confusing, but enthralling cutscene that detailed my character’s background and worked towards doing some world building. I didn’t know what was going on; this world was foreign and I was treated more like an ignorant victim than a fellow kindred, and I was okay with that. At those early stages of the game, everything was jaded and sardonic; swap out any mention of vampires with gangsters and it probably wouldn’t have been any different. I didn’t have anyone to rely on, and I barely had a roof over my head, and despite going into the game expecting marvellous roleplaying opportunities and build variations, I didn’t feel completely let down.
Bloodlines was both fantastic in creating atmosphere and in making the player feel completely immersed in their experience, but it was also able to have a laugh at its own expense. While investigating the disappearance of a wanted man on behalf of a bounty hunter, a phone started ringing and I somehow found myself sitting in the waiting room of a prosthetics surgery, while a humorously bizarre man set up a photo shoot. I decided to take a look around, and descend into the bowels of this grimy, gruesome building, and before long, I found myself brandishing my pistol and hitting save like there was a monster on my tail. I was a terrifying creature of the night, but the game still managed to make me feel powerless in the face of this unknown mortal – who was he? Why did he bring me here? Why does a prosthetics surgeon do photo shoots? All these questions pounded through my head as I opened the final door, and there ensued an admittedly comic boss fight between my cowardly vampire and the man with the ridiculous voice using a severed arm as a sword. The game was filled with levels that managed to invoke fear in me as a new player, regardless of whether or not the monsters I could see in my mind were real threats to my character or not, and that kind of design really is something to be applauded.
But a lot of these “levels” were really just buildings that could have existed in the real world, and that meant that quests could often be completed in a variety of ways. If I wasn’t interested in stealth, hacking or lockpicking, a lot of the time I was able to persuade or hypnotise people into letting me pass an area unhindered. Likewise, if I wasn’t big on the combat, there were vents and light switches that would allow me to creep around breaking necks and biting jugulars without needing to wrestle with the awful melee controls. It’s a real shame that this diversity died out somewhere about the midpoint, and the fact that bosses were impossible to escape from once they had been entered – it’s the same criticism I had for Deus Ex: Human Revolution; if I’ve been stealthing it up this whole time, I will not be equipped to deal with the minigun-man. Later parts of the game always forced me to fight, and I was just thankful I had enough spare experience points to pump up my combat capabilities. I don’t know whether it was a lack of time or a waning of patience, but what started out as feeling somewhat refined and open turned into something that was more linear than the game already was.
And yet, I’ll lay my hand on my heart and say that I loved Bloodlines. The story was exciting, the characters were colourful, and the quests involved me in their lives as though I was, at last, one of them. As the game slowed to its end, I was denounced by my king and rendered alone once more. I walked the streets of Downtown and Santa Monica, watching the people I helped from a distance as some final token of farewell, considering with a heavy heart the laughs we shared together… or perhaps I’m getting too sentimental.
Yes, it was a bumpy road for me and The Masquerade, but it was a pleasant one filled with fear, regret and ecstasy. I won’t play again for some time if ever, because my character’s story has been told; so I say with tears in my eyes that this truly is game over.