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Vampire role playing games - whatever will they think of necks?
Vampire - The Masquerade - Redemption (PC)
Member Name: Hannard
Vampire - The Masquerade - Redemption (PC)
Advantages: You play as a vampire who doesn't sparkle. Multiplayer is good.
Disadvantages: The game is really just a boring dungeon hack.
Vampires have long been a favourite with horror fiction writers, from Bram Stoker's Dracula, to Anne Rice's turgid and dull Vampire Chronicles books and beyond. Many vampire tales have a romantic element to them, borne out in many stories which involve the protagonist receiving the attentions of a vampire, often ending with them being turned into a vampire themselves. However, while the idea of immortal love and bounding around the night with not a care in the world is certainly appealing, the idea of vampires as fanged creatures with emotional desires and drives is not a universal one. It was Dracula, featuring its so stupid as to deserve a punch in the neck hero, that was responsible for spreading the image of vampires as most people imagine them - as fanged, formerly human, but intelligent creatures. But virtually all countries had their own spin on the vampire legend. Very few authors have picked up on any alternative views of vampirism - Poppy Z Brite's Love in Vein being the only anthology I know of that does not plump for the traditional view. Still, once an idea or image has become rooted in the psyche of the public it's very hard to dislodge so it should come as no surprise that Vampire: The Masquerade - Redeption, the PC game based on the neck-biting RPG of the same name features, er, expertly preened vampires with fangs. Ah well..
But that's no bad thing in this context as controlling a shambling rotting zombie-style vampire would be difficult to say the least. To start on a positive note, I have to say that Vampire is a superb looking game. All the areas of the game, both above and below ground, look wonderfully gothic in the medieval first half of the game and suitably gritty and urban in the second modern-based half of the game. And the storyline itself is very well written telling the tale of not only Christof, the 'hero' of the game, but also the various other characters and warring clans, creating a darker but entirely plausable world for the game to take place in. You really do feel for Christof as he desperately searches for the woman he believes to be his one true love, and who he thinks he must find or else face an enternity of loneliness and sadness (and presumably go on to become a self-bemoaning character in an Anne Rice book.) There are actually a few interesting plot twists in the game as it becomes clear how little regard some vampires have for mortals and their own kind and how the life of Christof's beloved hangs by the thinnest of threads. Plus, aside from Christof himself, there are no obvious clues as to which of the in game characters will survive the machinations of the vampire kindred and the perils of Christof's quest - only the Gabriel Knight games and Planetscape Torment have had such a rich backstory as the one one you find in Vampire: The Masquerade.
Another positive point is that the characters in the game do feel like vampires rather than just bog standard RPG characters with vampire like skills. Your characters have to feed to survive and while putting the bite on buxom milkmaids and leaving them dead on the ground may stop you getting peckish it's not good for your soul. The more you kill without provocation, the lower your humanity falls and the more prone you are to going psycho in battle. If any character loses all their humanity, they become little more than a beast and you lose the game. There's another penalty if you don't keep your characters savagery in check too - you may just find them running off and attacking any mortals they come across unless you're controlling them directly, not a good thing to happen in a busy and heavily guarded town. Their humanity does slowly climb as they assist Christof in his quest, but care is still needed. I for example managed to turn one of the characters, Wilheim, from an upstanding member of the relatively controlled and peaceful Brujah clan (in their medieval days anyway) into a complete nutter intent on smacking his mace into the head of any non player characters within his field of vision. This really does drive home the idea that the characters vampirism is both a blessing and a curse, more so the latter if they abuse their immortal powers.
Well, that's the good out of the way - now for the bad and the ugly (and I'm not talking Nosferatu here). The bad is that this superb backstory and humanity respecting gaming system has been wasted on what boils down to a basic dungeon romp. Vampire the Masquerade is a popular RPG with a large and usually quite creative following, some of whom even go to the extent of dressing up (presumably the gothier-at-heart players) to take part in an adventure. Players can create their own adventures or take part in the several pre-constructed adventures available on RPG store shelves - and while Dungeons and Dragons may well be a dungeon trawling dragon bashing game, Vampire games are generally more sophisticated. Diplomacy frequently comes into play, and while combat takes place, every single confrontation does not result in the vampires having a set to. Unfortunately, in Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption diplomacy goes out of the window. Instead of being able to persuade vampiric princes and other leaders to aid you, you always end up being asked to wander into some dungeon or other to defeat a boss and bring an object back. Then you go back to the person in question, they give you the clue you require, usually asking you to speak to someone else, you go to speak to them and they, er, give you another quest. And so it goes (to quote Kurt Vonnegut completely out of context).
And then there's the ugly - the various flaws with Vampire: The Masquerade's mechanics. The AI is isn't massively bright - characters often bump into each other and walk into walls and just get stuck as well as standing stock still while other characters get their faces kicked in by monsters. This is a tad annoying at the best of the times but when you get to the sunlight stages where you have to walk your characters past patches of sunlight, the characters run around all over the shop, so even if you're leading your lead character to safety you can't order the characters to follow you in a line so they end up getting fried. This leaves you with half your characters dead as you bump into the big boss monster just waiting round the passage for you.
Vampire The Masquerade's main redeeming feature is the multiplayer game - this is indeed a revolutionary feature since it does away with the messing about with dice and other gubbins usually involved in Vampire the Masquerade game. Though obviously you can still dress up if that's your thing. It offers flexibility and freedom for the Gamesmaster while taking most of the dull work out of setting up a Vampire game. Again, Nihilistic are apparently working on a program to make setting up your own games easier, which is laudible. However, Vampire The Masquerade - Redemption does still disappoint in single player mode. If you're the kind of person who likes their RPGs to be nothing more than a rather linear dungeon hack then by all means pick up this game. But serious or even casual Vampire: The Masquerade players who played the non-PC based game and are looking for a PC based equivalent will find the lack of real adventuring and openness rather disappointing, and are best giving this monster-bashing game a wide berth. You're betting off taking a look at the semi-sequel Bloodlines instead.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
Summary: The multiplayer's okay, but the single player game is pretty poor.
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