Vampire gets in your blood

Vampire: The Masquerade
Reviewed On
Available For

I thought perhaps I would have to take on the curse of unlife to wait for a quality RPG with a good storyline to come out for the PC in the United States. Thankfully, I have found one, and I didn’t even have to wait a thousand years, though it seemed like it at times.

I must admit I was a bit wary of a game titled Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption. After all, I have never been into vampires. But the graphics on the box looked so appealing, I had to give it a try. If I was willing to spend 60 or more hours playing Fallout 2 with a graphically poor top down interface, I should be willing to do the same type of thing with a full 3D environment, vampires or not.

But while the amazing quality of the graphics lured me in, it is the storyline that kept me playing night after night into the very early morning hours. Finally I retired, like my characters, when the sun arose.

The story and plot of this game are amazing. This is the most involved plot I have ever seen with any computer game, and propels the title instantly into the "best of all time" list, at least for me. The plot follows the life, and eventually unlife, of a holy crusader named Cristof.

As the game begins you are wounded in battle and end up staying behind in the little medieval town of Prague, resting in a convent, while your legion moves on to fight more barbarians. It is here that we learn that Cristof is a deeply religious man. Just about every sentence out of his mouth is "praise God" or something similar. Cristof ends up staying in the convent disabled for apparently a few months, all the while being taken care of by a nun named Aneska. Cristof might be holy, but he is all of about 19. It is inevitable that Aneska and Cristof fall in love.

But life intervenes. The town of Prague is under assault each night by ghastly creatures, and one evening Aneska is attacked in the convent. Cristof comes to her aid, but knows the beasts will be back. So he decides to go into their lair, an old mine, outside of town to be rid of them once and for all. If you are smart enough to do some exploring and investigating first, you will learn of a gypsy that knows much about these creatures, which are the minions of vampires. Seeking her out on the far side of town, Cristof learns a bit of information about vampires, or Children of Cain, though he is not too accepting of this new information, as the existence of these creatures would be an affront to God. Still, he takes the advice on how to kill a vampire to heart. Good thing too, cause at the bottom of the mineshaft is a big old bloodsucker. It’s a tough fight, but one you can win.

The only problem is that vampires belong to clans mostly, and if you kill one then the others come out for revenge. A clan of "good" vampires sees that Cristof, a mere mortal, won’t be able to fight them all, so they embrace the warrior (make him a vampire).

This causes serious moral problems for Cristof, who now believes he is distanced from God, and can’t be saved. Mostly the game deals with Cristof as he tries to maintain his humanity, but Aneska becomes the target of the rival clan’s anger, so a lot of the game is spent trying to rescue her. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but Cristof really is a tragic hero of Shakespearian proportions.

The graphics are some of the best I have seen on any PC game, let alone in the RPG genre. Characters look lifelike, and their facial expressions and body language match their mood and their speech. When magical spells are cast they are brilliant in most cases, depending on the spell.

Combat is pretty good, and in medieval times mostly consists of sword fighting, though you can also use magic and bows for ranged attacks. Heads lop off, blood sprays and generally it all looks pretty realistic. The real-time combat interface takes a bit of getting used too. You have the option to do different types of swings, and if you have a fast weapon you can actually interrupt an opponent during one of their attacks.

Eventually, something happens that makes Cristof fall into topor, a kind of vampire coma. When he wakes up it is modern day, and everything looks quite strange to him. You can eventually make new friends and continue your quest to find Aneska, who you suspect is now also a vampire. Cristof is a bit of a blockhead on this point since vampire babes all seem to fall in love with him, yet he will have none of it while he is searching for his true love, who by all accounts wants nothing to do with him after being corrupted by evil vampires. I told you he was tragic.

Anyway, the modern nights are very cool, as you have access to modern weapons. The game even pushes you to get rid of your medieval weapons in favor of deadly modern killing devices, like assault rifles. The problem is that guns are woefully underpowered. I walked up to a normal human with a shotgun and blasted him about 10 times before he finally went down. The same human was easily slain with one hit of my old battleaxe. I ended up equipping my party with guns and leaving the hand-to-hand stuff with Cristof, though I eventually gave up my axe for a modern chainsaw. Used correctly, the chainsaw can cut vampires and humans alike to shreds and not give them the chance to attack back. (It interrupts their attack if you hold your attack in place, as I am sure a chainsaw to the gut would.)

The only real problem I have with the game is the artificial intelligence that runs your party members when you are not directly controlling them. Sometimes they can’t figure out how to walk around each other to attack an enemy, and once in a while they just plug each other in the back. Sometimes they also charge into battles and get the entire party into a fight we can’t win without some major preparation. The monster AI, especially the bosses, is also weak. Often times I would get a large monster stuck in an archway or a door, and then just beat them up while they could not harm me.

It is worth noting that the sound is amazing. I’m not sure if Activision is selling the soundtrack to the game separately, but if they are you should buy it. The medieval music is particularly brooding and scary, and if played through headsets or on good speakers can really put you on edge. Mix in a lot of ambient sounds like creaking doors, footsteps coming down dark hallways, and the distant screams of hapless victims, and you have a ride that would spook Steven King.

As icing on the top of the cake, there is a multiplayer option that lets players actually create levels for the game. In this manner you can use the engine to create adventures without a vampire in sight. So if your friends like to play Dungeon and Dragons-type games, this is a perfect tool. The Storyteller, or master of the game, can monitor the players as they go through the game, adding random monsters or treasure as they see fit. It’s role-playing for sure, but nobody has to leave their own computer room. This could really cut down on the host’s chips and soda budget, though making the levels takes time.

In all, Vampire delivers what few computer RPGs ever could: an engaging story, wonderful graphics and even a full editor. Don’t let the vampire angle scare you away from this title. (If however you like vampires, you will be in heaven.) This is THE RPG that most of us have been waiting to play for years. It earns a perfect 5 GiN Gem score, because it is simply the best in its category, and probably will be for some time.

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