Game Over Online ~ Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption

GameOver Game Reviews - Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption (c) Activision, Reviewed by - Adam Fleet

Game & Publisher Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption (c) Activision
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 3D Accelerator, 8x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Tuesday, August 22nd, 2000 at 09:38 PM

Divider Left By: Adam Fleet Divider Right

I am going to try and give Vampire: The Masquerade a fair shake. In doing so, I will try and steer clear of the obvious puns that so many others have gleefully crashed into at full speed. At no time will I refer to anything as "sucking". I will likewise try to avoid using words like "anemic", "pale" or any other gratuitous references to the word "blood". It's the least that I can do. That said, Nihilistic took on a lot when they agreed to work on this project. Taking any pen and paper role-playing system and turning it into a successful computer game is a daunting task. When that role-playing system just happens to be White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, complete with its cult of fanatical loyalists, things become that much more complicated. But Nihilistic took the bull by the horns (Or you could even say they took the vampire by the fangs. Sorry, couldn't resist), and quickly announced that they would design their own engine to run the game.

The result of all of this was a good-looking game with an involved plot and a lot of problems. There's no denying that this game looks great. It suffers from a little bit of polygonitis, but what you get is a fully rendered 3D world with tremendous textures and lighting effects. The plot, though extremely linear and largely without surprises, draws you into Vampire's eerie World of Darkness. There is an overabundance of in-game dialog, but it is well written and thankfully you can fast forward through each line by hitting spacebar if you just can't take it anymore, or you've already gone through the game. The voice acting is good, if more that just a little melodramatic.

Sadly though, as is the case with way too many games these days, the gameplay is where the quality of Vampire starts to spiral downward. The first casualty was the simply dreadful computer AI. Vampires who wander into the sunlight, party members who either stand around doing nothing or waste precious resources swatting proverbial flies with rocket launchers, and enemies who look bored while you kill their friends just steps away are only a few of the tragedies I saw while playing this game. Even worse is that without an option to pause combat you find yourself constantly at the mercy of the computer's abject stupidity as there is no way to keep up with the actions of four party members during the endless steam of furiously paced combats that make up the majority of the game. Adding insult to injury is an infuriating save system where the only times your game is recorded is at your home base between missions and an auto-save when traveling between areas. The result, constantly run back to area transitions or be prepared to lose long stretches of gaming time in the case of your party meeting its final death (and with the AI being the way it is, accidents will happen).

Another promising game struck down in its prime. Another looks good/plays bad catastrophe. But wait, what's that? A light at the end of the tunnel? Hope springs eternal, and Nihilistic has released a patch to fix some of the problems. Standing tall at the front of the pack of fixes is the ability to pause the game anytime. Hallelujah, someone out there was listening. Though your party members are still dumb as dirt, as least now you can stop for a second and tell them directly what to do. The best approach I found was not to allow the computer to use any special powers on its own and set the combat AI to a neutral stance. The drawback is that this slows down the pace of the game dramatically, and you have to keep a careful eye on what's going on. By stopping frequently and surveying the action, there's finally an opportunity to use some of the cooler vampiric powers that are more situationally specific.

The other patch bombshell is the ability to save any time. While I still have trouble wrapping my mind around why this feature was left out of the game initially, the addition of it in the patch is a lifesaver. No more running all the way back to the beginning of the level after every other fight, no longer do little accidents spell the loss of hours of play (unless you don't save often, and then you've nobody to blame but yourself). There are some little quirks. Some abilities don't work properly right after a game is loaded, so saving in the middle of a fight isn't a good idea. Still, this is a big improvement.

Included in the patch are a number of other fixes and added features. Enemy's health is indicated now; their names in the display get progressively redder as they get progressively deader. The level of difficulty in some parts has been balanced somewhat; the first boss now puts up some kind of fight instead of instantly taking a dive, and the last boss seems to have been downgraded from nearly-impossible to merely very hard (I shamefully admit that I had to use a cheat to beat him the first time I played because I got so annoyed with his nigh-invulnerability combined with the utter brainlessness of my party). The enemy AI is somewhat improved, but don't expect them to win any awards for smarts, or even tie their shoes very well. Some technical fixes were made, but mostly minor tweaks.

By far the most intriguing aspect of Vampire, though, is the multiplayer feature. In what is sure to become the next wave in online role-playing (for better or for worse), Vampire includes the ability to play online or over a LAN in a multiplayer game with one person acting as the Storyteller. The Storyteller can create NPC's and possess them to interact with the players, create and drop monsters for players to fight, and otherwise tell a story for the players to act in. Whether you think that making computer games more like pen and paper role-playing is a good idea or not, Nihilistic has broken ground in this new area with a fairly strong showing. Without a party of blockheads to baby-sit, the player is free to fully use the powers of one character, significantly improving the fun of playing the game. As with any multiplayer game, the quality of players varies in skill and attitude, but the potential is there for a very entertaining role-playing experience. The tools available to the Storyteller are adequate for the job at hand, though there is certainly room for improvement. Unfortunately the patch does very little to fix the problems with the multiplayer game, and you may sadly find it difficult to play a stable game online without it crashing occasionally.

The subtitle of Vampire: The Masquerade is Redemption, a major theme in the story of a former holy warrior who is cast into a never-ending night. But redemption is just as good a word to describe the patched version of this game. Whether the absence of these features in the original release was a result of a rush to get the game to market or just a horrible oversight, I don't know. Neither one is a very good excuse. But seldom do game designers go as far to fix a game as Nihilistic went in patching Vampire: The Masquerade. By fixing two of the biggest problems, they breathed new life into a game that had disappointed a lot of people. Where there was mostly frustration before, there is now more room for fun and creativity. Nihilistic should be praised for sticking with their game and caring enough to give it a major facelift. Gamers have long memories, and this won't be forgotten. More companies should take the extra steps, go the extra mile to show some pride in their product and support the people who paid good money to buy their game. I tip my cap to you, Nihilistic, but next time please try to get it right the first time, okay? You'll save us all a lot of trouble.


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