Monday 14 January, 2008
Here we are again for more vampire shenanigans. So following the tutorial level I am sent to Santa Monica to help out my new prince with some undead chores. Thing is, there are so many side attractions and folks running around that I think I’ll go ahead and let Mr. LaCroix sit on his thumb for awhile. Truly, just walking out of the 0-star apartment (oh, haven, excuse me) the brass provided for me, I was immediately presented with the opportunity to accost some poor fellow, that wandered into the wrong part of town, for his money and Rolex.
The game play itself is not terribly complicated and has combat reminiscent of Bioshock (or maybe Bioshock has combat reminiscent of Bloodlines?) if you trade plasmids for vampire powers and Eve for blood (which you have to periodically drain from any human who happens to be walking home alone) and add more of a focus on melee combat. The conversation tree structure would be familiar to anyone who played RPGs like the Baldur’s Gate series or the Neverwinter Nights series only it is completely voice acted down to the last random peon like Oblivion, so on some levels it manages to trump all three in that regard.
The quests I mentioned earlier are quite different from the usual RPG fare, if only because it’d be hard to justify running around forests, killing monsters in Southern California, vampires or not. In all seriousness, the quests are quite intriguing, well written, and really demonstrate why this game deserves its M rating. I realized this around the point when I was ambushed by a mad prostheses specialist who was clutching a severed arm by its protruding humerus and wielding it as a macabre club. My counterattack of course consisted of repeatedly making him vomit up great gouts of his own blood. When the battle ended I took the severed arm as a grim trophy that I had finally made it in the world. And that’s just the beginning! Did I mention that this is a game where you have to periodically stalk people into alleys and make them unwitting blood donors so you can heal your wounds and power your abilities?
Bloodlines is a scary game. There is a profound sense of unease that permeates everything you get yourself into. This is because it doesn’t take place in the Southern California that I know and love, rather it is in a corrupted and, dare I say, gothic version of my home state. Santa Monica is a set of slums lit up only by the vampire-run night club where unspeakable acts are performed in the dark. Los Angeles is dominated by towering edifices with gargoyles (both the inanimate kind and the animate kind) staring down from their perches. Hollywood is a land of broken dreams and lechery, so it’s more or less the same as in real life. As for Chinatown, well, “forget it, Jake, its Chinatown.”
What Bloodlines accomplishes in spookiness is hurt by how rushed the game feels at times. The load times are long and plentiful, and you occasionally find graphical laziness as the ‘seams’ between different parts of characters can be seen at times. As I mentioned in the earlier entry, the animations range from amazing to comically inept. Where many of the faces are superbly animated and in sync with dialog, people frequently move around in either a twitchy or ham-handed manner. This disparity is especially evident is some of the cut scenes. Thankfully most of the problems are graphical in nature, so at the very least you can console yourself with the other aspects of the game that mostly run smoothly.