Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption
Windows - 2000
Also released on: Mac
Description of Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption
Most RPG fans have been subjected to the heated debates comparing the merits of pen and paper vs. computer RPGs and the wishful prophecies that one day, the meek shall indeed live up to the potential of their tabletop brethren.
Behold, your redemption is at hand!
Or is it?
Vampire: the Masquerade is a popular RPG by WhiteWolf, and Redemption is the first computer game transition of the merchandise. Familiarity with the pen and paper version is not required; even those whose exposition to the vampire lore is limited to two hours spent tuned in to WB every Tuesday are more than qualified, as the mechanics of the computer game are fairly simple. vampire04t.jpg - see caption. Vampire on the roof.
What we have here is a combat-intensive title that, in single-player mode, plays a similar (but not identical) game to Diablo. The action is usually presented in an over-the-shoulder view but the camera can also be freely rotated around your character. The point and click interface used for movement, physical attacks and casting spells (disciplines) will be immediately familiar. Each "mission" consists of several sub-quests marked by cut-scenes that are initiated by arriving at a particular location and eventually concludes in an advancement screen where experience is converted into new stats and disciplines.
Prince of PragWhat really sets the game apart at this stage is its professionally delivered background story. While the plot is largely devoid of twists and turns, the quality of the dialogue and voice acting is a pleasant surprise. Quite a bit of effort has gone into the story and perhaps consequently, both the story and the gameplay are truly linear, offering you absolutely no leeway at all. Even the dialogue choices provided are merely cosmetic, converging on the same path. Regardless of where the story leads, the missions keep their "go to X, find Y, kill Z" structure.
Our hero Christof, a crusader of unparalleled valor, is badly wounded during a battle against barbarians and is brought to a convent in Prag where nun Anezka nurses him back to life. The two eventually fall for each other and readily cast away their holy vows, but unfortunately for the two, Christof's heroics soon attract unwanted attention and he is turned into a vampire to take part in the political struggles between the clans. The story eventually dissolves into a remake of "Where in the world is Anezka Sandiago?" as Christof get seperated from Anezka and chases her trail through Prag, Vienna, London and New York.
Fangs in 1000 polygons
The graphics are beautiful. There are always a substantial number of objects with subtle textures on screen and the character models are realistically animated. Special effects such as weather add the icing to the cake and there's some excellent use of multiple dynamic shadows that can bring entry-level machines like mine to their knees unless the detail is turned down. My only real complaint with graphics is that thanks to some clipping problems and characters getting too close to each other, it can be hard to tell whether you have made contact in combat or not. There's 3D audio support, but it is somewhat broken - if you turn it on, the footsteps are amplified to such a level that you have to endure constant loud banging if you want to be able to hear the dialogue. vampire01t.jpg - see caption. Beautiful shadows.
You initially control only Christof but new members soon join your "coterie" to take it to its maximum of four and you can switch between them at will. To the left of the status display at the bottom of the screen are various buttons that toggle the usual stat, inventory, discipline and quest panels, as well as switch the largely useless setting of friendly-AI aggressiveness. To the right are your "quick discipline" and "quick item" slots. Unfortunately, the interface requires you to keep your pointer on the target at all times to continue your attack while simultaneously panning the camera using the keypad keys. But the keys used to access your "quick slots" are on the opposite side of the keyboard and there's no remapping facility provided . Consequently, you usually have to stop attacking and absorb a blow or two if you want to do anything else, which is a frustrating affair early in the game when you just don't have the armor or stamina to do so.
The available items and equipment are pretty standard fare. Each weapon can do one of three types of damage: bashing, lethal (what you would call slashing weapons in other RPGs, with a possibility of instant kill) and aggravated (special attacks such as vampire claws.) Each piece of armor comes with an absorption rating for the aforementioned damage types. The trio of strength, dexterity and stamina determine your combat performance, the remaining stats like wits and perception only serve as prerequisites for learning disciplines.
If you are getting the impression that this is a rather simple game and not much of an RPG, you wouldn't be too far off. However, the disciplines make it interesting.
Disciplines are divided into several groups and more powerful ones in a group can only be acquired after the lesser ones are learnt. You and your allies start with only a few groups but others can be learned along the way as you gain experience. There are 75 or so disciplines, though many duplicate each other in effect or otherwise serve little purpose in the game. Each discipline can be improved to a proficiency level of five, each level costing less and less of your blood stock to use. Aside from the expected buffing, healing and damaging stuff, there are disciplines to mask yourself, gain control over other creatures and summon various minions to your aid.
To replenish your blood stock you'll need to feed on innocents and enemies alike. Feeding on enemies requires greater skill with the "Feed" discipline and innocents should be drawn to a secluded area first to avoid the wrath of guards patrolling the streets. Low blood levels can also cause a "frenzy" state during combat where the character leaves your control for a limited time. If your health drops to zero, you enter a state of unconsciousness from which only another coterie member can awaken you via the (you guessed it) "Awaken" discipline. If all members fall, it's game over and restore time.
Since physical combat is essentially point and click, the key to the battles are the disciplines. Before each battle, you have to decide who has the most appropriate disciplines for the situation, take control of him or her, and let the AI handle the rest of your guys. And there lies the attraction of the game: trying out various disciplines, coupling them for best effect and getting through to the end of the level in good shape to meet and kill the big boss. Add to that the nice looking environment and other little touches such as the choice of not using lethal weapons that can kill instantly in favor an increased chance of being able to feed on your enemies, the necessity to keep track of your frenzy levels, the use of sunlight as an environmental hazard etc. and you have the makings of a fun dungeon romp here.
Not a pureblood
There are other shortcomings though. The unit AI, while not too bright, usually gets the job done providing the essential support in battle. Sometimes though, it will forget all about the "I" part (and this applies to friend and foe alike) and just sit there while other individuals are locked in mortal battle about two feet away. The real problem is how your allies will waste away their precious blood. There are disciplines that are just not worth using unless you are facing multiple tough enemies, but the AI doesn't seem to know the difference and happily summons a vicious bloodhound to combat a lone field mouse of the ghoul variety. To compensate, you spend your money on lots and lots of extra blood bags and shy away from "experimental" disciplines in favor of a few tried and true ones. You can't just save whenever you want to, by the way. The game autosaves at the beginning of levels and disregarding the "Walk the Abyss" discipline, which just doesn't work most of the time, that's it. This is not as bad as it sounds and certainly enhances the otherwise rather routine gameplay, forcing you to delve deep into your bag of tricks to survive till the end of the level. On the other hand, it also means that going back to a previous save to try a different method is usually out of the question and it is possible to end up with an autosave that's just not usable and lose hours of gameplay, as I have experienced first-hand during the course of this review.
Nihilistic is aware of these problems and will be releasing a patch to take care of some of these issues. Blood expenditure will be curtailed, a "save at any time" feature will be provided, as will a pause function to aid tactical combat a la Baldur's Gate. Will this invalidate all my complaints above? Hardly. With the addition of these features, the game balance will probably be severely altered. The tension to stay alive will be replaced by the save/restore/try again cycle. With the ability to pause and precisely command your coterie members, most battles will be a breeze. Scouting disciplines will lose all their value, further reducing the variety in the game. I don't see Nihilistic making an attempt to tweak the game difficulty as well.
Despite the flaws of the friendly AI, the game isn't that hard, you see. The battles are strictly based on set pieces - the enemies won't react till you get within a certain distance and when they do, they can occasionally be lured out and killed while the rest of the foes look on. So things tend to even out. The set-ups are of a mixed quality: some are interesting and require some thought before you jump in, others are just duplicates of the previous situation or mere brute force affairs.
Overall, the game is very straightforward hack and slash consisting of butchering hordes of vampires (which itself doesn't quite fit in with the game world - vampires are neither supposed to be so easy to kill nor that numerous) and collecting treasure along the way. Where you don't have originality, you need to have near-perfect implementation, but that's not quite here either.
I think what kept me going was my curiosity to see how the story played out. Thankfully, halfway through the storyline, you are taken from medieval times to 1999 and you now have to fight in a modern setting with modern ranged weapons such as pistols and rifles and things pickup a bit. But then frustration sets back in as you realize the implementation of ranged weapons leave a lot to be desired with constant ammo and efficiency problems. In Redemption the label may read "assault rifle" but the contents turn out to be little more than a peashooter. Equip your AI allies with guns and they'll spend their time dumping all their ammo on harmless minor baddies the game throws at you in hordes to stop you from reaching the harder-hitting ones. Soon, it's back to the trusty axes and swords again. You also get brand new allies and have to get them to learn all those "essential" disciplines from scratch - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Frankly, I cannot recommend the single-player game because once the novelty of the whole vampire thing and the disciplines wears off, you are left with a Diablo clone without the same intensity of action.
So what was this "revolutionizing computer RPGs" stuff all about?
Enter the storyteller
The single player game and the storytelling multiplayer game are truly split personalities. The multiplayer game allows one of the players to assume the role of the storyteller (i.e. dungeon master) and setup the story, NPCs, the objectives, and eventually even the level layout (once the promised development kit is released) for the other players to enjoy. You can prepare a story, save it and present it to different parties over and over again. If you are even remotely interested in pen and paper RPGs, you know what I'm talking about.
Before you ask, no, you can't play co-op multiplayer through single player levels, but there are a couple of combat-oriented scenarios provided with the game. Can't say I had much fun with those (Diablo does that better) and soon went back to seeking roleplaying games.
There are restrictions: you have to have a character in the game, even though good storytellers would probably choose to pay more attention to other players instead given the choice. There's also a player limit of four, including the storyteller - more can join but Nihilistic doesn't officially support more players. You are also obviously constrained within the limits of the game design and the facilities provided. But in the end involving human creativity goes a long way and the gameplay indeed turns from a mechanical process into a truly social one.
In theory, that is.
For starters, it is not easy for the storyteller to move around the world and react to unexpected actions of the players in a speedy manner due to a clumsy interface. There is currently little you can do other than modify character stats, populate the world with items and NPCs from the single player game and roleplay an NPC - which is not exactly a fast process when you have to communicate with up to three other players with no text clipping facilities in sight. The development kit will apparently allow not only level editing but also very extensive changes to the game via Java scripting, but such coding will be beyond many would-be storytellers unless new modifications incorporating more capable storyteller tools into the game are released.
More importantly, the multiplayer interface on WON is incredibly barebones. You cannot send private messages to players. In fact, there are no IRC-like chat commands or filtering in the chat rooms. There is no way to see the pings of other players to determine whether a game will be good for you. There is no way to search for other players or games, and no way to tell if a game is closed or not before you attempt to join. To add insult to the injury, once you join (or attempt to join a game), you have to log off the system and logon again just to be able to try another; otherwise you get a cryptic network error.
This is just not a good environment for true roleplaying to prosper, and currently there are few games that manage to get off the ground despite a consistently large number of players online. When a game gets going, lag may be a big problem in combat and many games I tried ended in the host crashing halfway through the scenario. The patch is supposed to address the lag problem as well.
Roll on the patch. The single player game may perhaps be redeemed yet and we'll take another look in a second opinion. As for the multiplayer game, it's beset by problems as well, but keep in mind that with a game like this, much depends on the community and what they put into it. With good tools, publicly available "skeleton" resources that could be built upon and an improved WON interface things could change very quickly. But for now, bide your time.
Review By Games Domains
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Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com provides the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide .
Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption was also released on the following systems: