While some of the content I plan to provide on this site can be fairly obscure, incongruous or archaic as well as directly personal, in case of interest, don't be afraid to comment and/or criticize. The articles are also, at least for the time being, work-in-progress.
Additionally, this is not an unbiased review per se but more of a personal analysis of the backgrounds and features of the game. It does not attempt to have any kind of broader perspective but that of my own.
Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption is a "hack-and-slash" CRPG that was released by Nihilistic Software (originally an upstart of several ex-LucasArts members) In the Year 2000. Having wrapped up work on Jedi Knight, Nihilistic founder-president Ray Gresko decided to exit the company (along with other developers, with whom he eventually came to found the company) and started developing a concept for a thematically darker game.
First Steps of the Childer
After showing around the concept prototype, the project was finally transferred over to the "World of Darkness" when Gresko was able to strike down a deal with Activision, current owners of the White Wolf Vampire license. As it is, there are good game licenses and bad game licenses, and Vampire: The Masquerade is probably one of the best. Having secured funding, the team started converting and porting the existing material over to meet the requirements of the new framework.
Having read some retrospective production notes by Gresko, the process of creating the game (from a developmental in-team standpoint) was very smooth, not the least owing up to the fact that a large part of the engine was in fact based on existing (and well-tested/documented) tools: the team used QERadiant for creating the levels and basic Java for scripted sequences and dialogue trees.
Though the game was originally released as far back as June 2000, everything about it has stood the test of time very nicely; the graphical engine works fine in very large resolutions (I ran 1280x1024), running the game in Windows XP is possible with no hiccups at all and while the models and levels are rather low on polygons, they look fairly coherent and the graphics are well-made throughout.
In fact, Peter Chan (who worked on almost all major classic LEC adventures ) from LucasArts was hired to flesh out much of the concept art and it definitely shows big time - In fact, I'm willing to wager he is one of the primary reasons the game looks as good today as it does. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning, as it was made by Nick Peck (of Grim Fandango fame, like Chan) and the soundtrack seems to be held in high regard. It is non-intrusive at worst and gripping listening at best.
I do have a small gripe with the vampire designs of the game, as some of the more prominent Masquerade clans and sects aren't used all that well (Tsimicze, Tremere and Cappadocians are all more of a footnote in the Masquerade lore) - coming to Redemption from Bloodlines just underlines how excellent the character designs are in that one.
Holy haemophiliac, Batman!
Gameplay, if you can call it that, consists of three primary elements: Managing an inventory, moving characters and fighting. Each of these key elements is however severely flawed in execution and will present you with problems in different quantities and qualities that I will attempt to describe in the following paragraphs.
Firstly, the inventory system is gimped, and operates automatically by placing all gathered items in the inventory in a completely arbitrary manner (read: as poorly as possible). The act of buying, selling, managing your blood and money flow takes up approximately half of the game time: If you do decide to manually micromanage every item's position, you can easily cram in and carry half the more items.
Secondly, trying to move your characters from one place to another is extremely difficult as the pathfinding system could not be any worse; In a post-release article, Gresko described how the pathfinding-related problems were alleviated only with small iterative fixes in order to "hide the most extreme errors and turn what was an "A" bug into a "B" or "C" level problem."
While it would be rude to question the team's knowledge of the Greek alphabet, party members do get stuck behind chairs, pillars, corridor corners and most inexcusably each other in an excellent grade A manner. As most (if not all) of the game is set in narrow corridors, caves, tunnels and towers, your gameplay spirals to a halt all the time. Backtracking in stairs is impossible with NPCs blocking your way.
In fact, characters equipped with bows or guns will try to shoot enemies through pillars and corners too, and the only way to exhibit any control is to control the characters entirely by yourself, and in the heat of the battle, this is impossible. You can hardly control your main character, Christof the paladin, let alone the rest.
Drink, Don't Diablorize!
Thirdly, in an attempt to appeal to a certain set of gamers, fighting was hopelessly aped from Blizzard's Diablo titles, and consists of clicking repeatedly on your enemies and disciplines in hopes of progressing with the story. In order to survive, you wil have to resort to luring one enemy away from a pack at a time, and in fact working with more than one character (out of four in your team) is lethal as well - instead of being of any use, usually all the computer-directed NPCs do well is dying. You'll find the game insanely hard if you try to pursue several enemies with several characters of yours at the same time.
In fact, most players seem to find it more comfortable to finish as much of the game with one character as possible. If you really do want to let the computer control your characters, there are three behavior modes for the characters: "Defensive", "Neutral" and "Aggressive": On defensive, they do nothing unless attacked, and continue to stand idly after having killed any enemies they might have slain. On Neutral, they attack any enemies that attack you or that you attack, and on "Aggressive", they try to kill everything in sight - including innocent bystanders and guards that would never attack your team. The end result of the aggressive mode is that the party drinks up all their blood, uses idiotic disciplines (discipline use can however be restricted from the game's settings), blocks your way and gets everyone toasted. Arrivederci.
"Can You Suck That, Sucka?"
Every now and then, a fourth gameplay mechanic will be introduced in the form of conversations. While the actual script and dialogue is well-written and intriguing, the voice acting sadly consists mostly of seriously overacted pseudo-medieval anglais and will probably make you feel horribly ashamed at first (especially the female actors are horribly mannered). The situation is slightly alleviated halfway through the game when you enter modern-day situations.
Dialogue: Case in Point
The game can also be frustratingly illogical with some of the dialogue trees; For instance, getting on the nerves of an ancient vampire Prince will actually reward you instead of harming you. Trying something similar in any other game (including Bloodlines) would find you at a serious disadvantage.
The Curse of Caine
Summing up these complaints is harder than you would expect, however, as in general the game plays much better than the sums of its parts. It can be very engaging at times, and it is easy to forget how sloppy the game's design and inner workings actually are!
To diverge a little from my own viewpoint, as with any established license, there's always the "hardcore" player! Compared to the pen-and-paper rules, there are some clear deviations and errors: Allocating points to stamina effectively does nothing, the soaking feature is broken (bashing works better on vampires than lethal) and guns are rendered useless compared to hand-to-hand.
Also, normally each clan (and/or sect) has a restricted set of disciplines (three in Bloodlines, to compare). In Redemption, the main character can eventually access almost every discipline in existence. Oh! Can you hear the cries of "Murder"? It's bad enough for the Vampire fan, but the bottom line is that out of the 40 disciplines available, less than 10 are worth using at all. (A list of the best can be found at the end of the article to ease your entry).
Even today, there is an ongoing debate regarding whether the game rules are broken, whether this game is the spawn of satan - or a rather playable, true-and-blue Vampire game.
One last thing of note is the game's unacceptable fluctuation in difficulty; most of the areas are medium-hard at tops, but the end bosses can be unbelievably hard (and will cause major problems for players who are unfamiliar with RPGs or cannot adjust to the problems of the interface & pathfinding) - that is, until you get the right set of overpowerful disciplines, after which the game becomes rather easy to beat.
The Shining of Things
Above all, the game is strangely alluring (much like the original Diablo games were) and there is reward to be found in progressing with the game. That definitely cannot be said of all games and that alone sets it apart in a league of its own. In other words, Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption can peculiarly be an interesting and rewarding experience, but does not, technically speaking, even moderately resemble a well-made game.
As the once-large install size is a problem no more and a proper save feature was introduced in a patch (thus redeeming anyone who accidentally clicked "new game" instead of "load game" and overrode his or her game), there is little to prevent you from trying if this game is compatible with you. Me? Redemption was able to irritate me in ways I could never have believed to even exist.
List of useful disciplines:
Drawing out the Beast (Animalism, 70 manipulation)
Cloak of Shadows (Obfuscate, 25 wits)
Cloak the Gathering (Obfuscate, 40 wits)
Plague Wind (Mortis, 60 intelligence)
Theft of Vitae (Blood Magic, 40 intelligence)
Fire Storm (Lure of Flames, 70 intelligence)
Call Lighting (Blood Rituals, 50 intelligence, 50 wits)
Prison of Ice (Blood Rituals, 35 intelligence, 35 wits)
First posted on 09.08.06
Updated on 10.08.06 - headers, minor fixes and a screenshot