As promised, I’m writing a full article on VTMB for my series of Video Game Rewind posts. For those of you who are wondering what VTMB is, it stands for Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines. It’s a supernatural themed role-playing game that focuses on the world and lore of vampires in modern day Los Angeles. It was developed by Troika games in 2004. The game is based on White Wolf Inc.’s table top or pen and paper role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade or otherwise known as World of Darkness. While critics were divided on the game’s reception, Troika’s adaptation still maintains a popular cult following. Usually video games with mixed reviews generally tend to lean on the average side of the ratings. However, VTMB is one of the exceptions. The game might have suffered a blow because of the numerous bugs and its lackluster combat, but it shines when it comes to every other aspect- particularly the writing. Sadly, Troika closed down and the bugs were never addressed but players loved it so much that they eventually created and shared a patch themselves.
To summarize, VTMB truly epitomizes the popular phrase “a flawed gem.” With most role-playing and “choice” focused games set in either the fantasy-medieval or sci-fi genre, it’s refreshing to see a supernatural themed game in a modern setting and be successful at the same time.
Before you begin, the game gives you the option of either taking a personality quiz or to select and customize your character to your own liking. Personally, I think the quiz is rather fun and I almost always get the clan I wanted. In this game, clan is the counterpart for class or specialization with each one bearing their own pros and cons. Whenever I play, I’m always a vampire of the Ventrue clan. The Ventrue are the elitists or nobles of the vampire society. They are manipulative and ambitious for their own gain. Other vampire clans might despise them for their arrogance, but when it comes to getting the job done- they’ll do whatever it takes no matter the cost. As a Ventrue, I get powers that enhance my unique skills like ‘Dominate’ which basically compels mortals to do anything I ask. Despite having the gift of a silver tongue, The Ventrue are very selective when it comes to feeding. I don’t get much from feeding on bums and prostitutes. Rats from sewers make me puke, so it doesn’t help at all. Consequently, I have to feed on ‘rich’ or ‘elite’ mortals to be thoroughly satisfied.
Aside from the Ventrue, there are six other clans to choose from. The Malkavian are the eccentric bunch as their dialogue is often phrased in metaphor and if you’re lucky, you’ll get weird but hilarious instances where inanimate objects start talking to you. The Nosferatu are hideously deformed vampires, which forces you to travel underground in the sewers since you can’t blend with mortals. So forget seduction as your primary method of feeding, The Nosferatu have to settle with feeding from rats for the most part.
The story starts with your birth as a ‘fledgling’ vampire after getting jiggy with one yourself. He/She (depending on your gender) decides to ‘embrace’ or sire you right after your roll in the hay. Yet, you immediately find out that vampires have a society of their own and that it’s illegal to embrace a mortal without gaining permission from their government called The Camarilla. Sadly, your sire failed to follow the protocol and they are punished to death by the ruling prince of Los Angeles Sebastian Lacroix. Your character is about to suffer the same fate, until the leader of the Anarchs Nines Rodriguez intervenes to push Lacroix into sparing your life. Consequently, a vampire named Jack (voiced by the awesome John DiMaggio) shows you the ropes in the proverbial tutorial mission after the introduction. I’d like to say more about him, but it’ll spoil the sweet reward of gradually getting to know him in-game.
In this game’s universe, the existence of vampires and other supernatural creatures aren’t exactly public knowledge to mortals. Thus, vampires like you are expected to uphold the ‘masquerade’ to maintain their existence. This basically means being discreet about your true identity as a vampire. You can’t just go ‘Grand Theft Auto’ on the streets of LA to feed on people. You’ll have to feed on them either in the alleyways or in the sewers. It’s also possible to seduce them in nightclubs to mask your feeding. Interestingly, you can also violate the masquerade through dialogue by revealing too much. The game gives you five Masquerade points, and if you lose all the game ends.Vampire hunters also appear when you’ve nearly lost all. If you lose a point though, you can regain it through being discreet.
In addition to the Masquerade, I enjoyed the element of Humanity in the game. Humanity points will be awarded to you through being kind in dialogue options and if you find alternatives to killing during missions. Alternatively, doing the opposite will result into losing a point. If you lose all five points, the game doesn’t end but you are involuntarily entered into a state of frenzy wherein you start killing people indiscriminately. Consequently, you lose masquerade points because of this which can result to the game ending. Your dialogue options can also change depending on high or low your humanity is.
The humanity and masquerade elements are one of the enjoyable factors in this game since it makes the storyline and environment dynamic to your actions. VTMB is also a game that boasts a high rate of replayability. Each respective clan offers a unique deviation to the game’s storyline and gameplay. The cast of characters in the game are highly memorable and they are brought to life and given depth by the power of compelling writing and voice acting. If I’m not mistaken, Courtenay Taylor (voice of Jack in Mass Effect and Ada Wong in Resident Evil 6) voices 3-5 characters in the game and each one had their own unique voice… I couldn’t tell they were all voiced by one person. The story does not a fashion a typical black and white morality scenario. It’s up to you to decide what is right and what is wrong.
In the end, this game does have its flaws that might be a deal breaker for some. However, the compelling nature of the writing, world, lore, and the consequences of your actions reels you in. I definitely urge you to give this game one more try and let me know what you think!