Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines - Reviewed by CarBoris
Graphics: (7/10) Let it first be said, that the machine I used to play VTMB on can no longer be called a top-notch machine, and is probably in below average end of today's spectrum. That said it is still no excuse for less than good programming. Whilst the graphics weren't bad, they could certainly have been better and less power consuming. To run the game at a playable framerate, I had to put the various effects down to a bare minimum. In comparison, the same machine is able to run Doom 3 in high resolution, and with most effects cranked up to maximum, with an average framerate of 30 to 40. Still, the graphics weren't bad, and I believe they would have been stunning if run on a better machine. But this doesn't cover up the fact, that they could have done a better job. Or used the Doom 3 engine.
Sound: (9/10) It is evident that Troika have spent a lot of time and effort on the sound aspect of Bloodlines. Fully voiced over dialogue, professional bands in the soundtrack and just general quality all over are the hallmarks of Bloodlines. The voice actors are great, with special mentions to he who did Gary's voice. No one got on my nerves, and there was never any doubt about what they were saying, so the subtitles were never more than just a nifty option. If there is anything I have to say didn't work as well as it should, it's some of the weapons. Many of the guns lack "oomph" when you shoot them, and it's hard to believe that they are supposed to be lethal weapons, when all you hear is something akin to a thunderous fart. Despite this however, the sound side of it all literally reeks with quality.
Interface: (7/10) The HUD is very good, giving a good and clear idea of everything relevant. A health meter, a blood meter, a visibility meter for when you're sneaking, a context sensitive use/talk/whatever icon, and a weapon icon that shows you the current weapon you're using, and how much ammo you've got left, if it's a gun. Add to this an icon that shows the active discipline, and you've pretty much covered everything a HUD needs to show. The inventory gives you a clear idea of all the stuff you lug around, and lets you use the items that are usable, and drop those that have served their purpose. Dull, but functional - nothing to complain about. The item hotkeys however (F1 for melee weapons, F2 for ranged, F3 for armour), are bulky to use, and are a real pain in the butt when engaged in combat. However, I can't really think of a better system than to manually assign hotkeys (which you can also do), and then just sticking to a few select weapons. The quest log works fine, with updated quests glowing green, and regular ones just showing up in white. It also contains all important information, so if you ever get stuck, or just cant remember what to do, just take a gander at the log. The level up screen looks more than a little intimidating at first, but after a while, you really start to appreciate just how well done it is. If you think that all those skills, talents and so on look like a morass of rules and equations, all you have to do is to hover your cursor over the feat you want to increase, and the skills or talents or whatever you need to increase glow green. For me, that was a tremendous help my first time through the game. All in all, the interface has its share of flaws, but is ultimately a solid piece of work.
Gameplay and Replayability: (10/10) This is where Bloodlines really shines. The game itself is massive, with an impressive number of quests, though never overwhelmingly so. The developers at Troika have really struck the balance, when it comes to dealing out quests - there is always enough to get a little sidetracked, but never so many that you get swamped, and seemingly never get anywhere with the story. The difficulty never gets out of hand, so if you get a quest in Santa Monica, you'll be able to finish it before you get to Downtown, and that's the way it continues for the entire game. The awarding of experience points is well balanced, though for a precious few quests, that I found quite difficult, I felt a little miffed, when I was only awarded two or three points. These, however, were the exceptions that proved the rule, and for the rest of the game I was very much satisfied with the pace with which my character progressed. The quests themselves are many and varied, with all but a few having several ways with which they can be completed - you can sneak your way past monsters and such, you can persuade them into letting you past, as a Malkavian you can turn them insane, or you can just unleash hell, and kill them with your weapon, or discipline, of choice. In some quests you are limited in the way that you can't kill anyone, but this is only where it makes sense not to, and most of these quests are optional. The dialogue is of exceptional quality. It is without a doubt the best I have seen in a role-playing game since Planescape: Torment, and the way it changes from character to character, depending on clan or skills is fantastic. I enjoyed myself immensely the first time I played as a Toreador, but the second time through, when I played a Malkavian; I had a hard time to stop myself from laughing out loud. The very best dialogue in the game, has to be when at first you enter Hollywood, you meet someone from before you were turned into a vampire, and you are able (through creative use of disciplines) to convince her that you are her long-lost pet turtle. I had to stop playing periodically, because I was laughing so hard, I couldn't see or hear what was going on. When a piece of writing manages to do that to a person, you know it's of the very highest quality. In fact, the only gripe I have with the dialogue is that sometimes the subtitles dont follow the spoken dialogue, but this easily fixed by turning it off. Apart from that, there is nothing wrong with it- AT ALL! As for how replayable the game is, well, I've completed it twice already, and I'm going through my third game right now. The first game was as a lean, mean fighting Toreador, the second a sneaky Malkavian, and now I'm trying out a fast talkin' Tremere. And after that, I'll probably try out all the other clans. Not to mention sects, since there are a total of four different endings, as far as I know.
Overall: (9/10) I think this is definitely one of the best games I have ever had the joy of playing. You can't help but to be overwhelmed by the sheer thoroughness that permeates the entire game. Nearly everything you do has some kind of consequence, and as of yet, not one game has been the same as the previous one. Troika have finally managed to fuse an excellent story (like they did with Arcanum) with a solid performance (as they did in Temple of Elemental Evil) into one, single game. For this, I give them a well deserved 9/10.