What is it about really thick white make-up and too much eye liner that appeals to the undead? If only we could unlock the mystery of the walking dead’s love of gaudy, trashy apparel, then maybe we could get one step closer to understanding how to fight them. When Troika released Bloodlines, most people saw a game… but not me. I know a social experiment when I see one. Let me be the first to congratulate them on making a “live action role play” simulator. The only thing that doesn’t really fit is that all of the people in the game are basically attractive, which stands in violently stark contrast to real life LARPing.
What I’m really trying to say here is that the sheer amount of melodrama captured in this game is akin to viewing (and smelling) a live action game. The only things really missing were the dice and the palpable loneliness. So really, the target market was recognized and officially won over, and to be fair there really isn’t a better Vampire game out there right now. So lets dig into this big pile of blood sucking.
So yeah, they licensed the Half-Life 2 engine. You know the one. It’s called Source and it looks mighty nice. Well, it looks mighty nice when being used by Valve but so far, not so nice by Troika. The textures all look muddy and the facial animation is bizarre and unsettling (though not intentionally). Bloodlines suffers from a bad case of “plastic world”, which is to say that everything looks overly fake and rather boring. Now, in any other year this game would easily be the nicest looking game around, but not so much the case when you release it at the same time as Half-Life 2. Is that a fair comparison? Maybe not, but it’s definitely a necessary one due to the amount of attention paid to the Source Engine license.
The game looks nice, overall, but it just doesn’t have that feeling of life that Half-Life 2 managed to convey. Yes, yes, they’re undead. That’s not a valid excuse. The water looks good, and when the faces aren’t going all “goofy-eyed”, they look nice as well, but there’s just something off about it. Other than the faces, that brings us to the basic character models. I’m not talking about the in-game ones (though some of those should be criminal), I’m referring to the player character models. Never has a basic character design choice been so horrific. Let’s see… who should I play? I know, I’ll be the horrifying mouth-breather with an incredibly extended abdomen. No, wait, I’ll be one of the girls with the extreme jiggle-riffic rendering routines! This is the only role-playing game I’ve ever chosen a character based on the fact that he looks the least idiotic instead of going by stats and abilities. Yes folks, even an extreme power gamer can’t overlook how ridiculous some of these guys look.
Once you get past the extreme ugliness of the player character model, you then have to deal with the eye-rolling sadness of the rest of the models. I’ve never understood why vampires are either vapid ravers or cloak-wearing nancy lads. Also, apparently in vampire fashion there are no such things as top buttons on shirts. Seriously, people, button up your shirts.
Other than the graphic and design presentation, the game itself is a mixed bag. The RPG elements are pretty ok overall and there’s a ton of side-quests to take part in, but then there’s also the game crippling bugs. There’s quite a few bugs in Bloodlines, but those seem to be getting addressed a little at a time by Troika as well as a rather comprehensive fan-made patch.
Combat is completely terrible in Bloodlines. I’m serious here. I know what everyone’s thinking: “Hey, it’s the Source Engine so it has to be awesome!” Wrong. WRONG! It’s bad. I understand the need to have skills to base your gun usage off of, but man is this ridiculous. The power balance between weapons is completely thrown out of whack. Basically, if you have a baseball bat, you INSTANTLY own anyone using a weapon. You might as well just be batting the bullets back at them because you become Dolemite remixed into even MORE of a badass. Not even a regular badass, a super badass super ninja. Insanity!
After disliking the combat system immensely, let’s see what we can find about the quests to bother us. Oh, I know, how about outstanding load times! Always a crowd favorite, the outstanding loading time is definitely a deal breaker in the fun department. If you can overlook the extreme area transitions that lead you back and forth through the valley of the shadow death like Kanye West with a ton of clown make-up on, then the quests are enjoyable. Not to say that they aren’t well thought out and mostly enjoyable. Well, I say that until you end up eating rats in a maze for a million years, but you know. The haunted hotel is cool though.
Overall, this isn’t the game you’re looking for unless you are Vampire: The Masquerade obsessed or just completely strung out on buggy RPGs. There’s a lot of nice elements hiding under the hideously overwrought surface, but it’s hard to say that they’re worth digging for. Maybe it’ll be better after a few patches.