Review “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [With Unofficial Patch]” (Classic Computer Game)

2017-artwork-vampire-the-masquerade-bloodlines-review-sketch

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d review a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that I only played for the first time this year.

I bought a digital copy of this game when it was on special offer on GOG earlier this year and, although it seemed to be slightly on the pricier side of things for a game of that age (even when it was on offer), it was money well spent 🙂

Interestingly, the version of this game available on GOG comes with an unofficial patch pre-installed. From what I can gather, this patch fixes many bugs and problems with the original version of the game. I’m not sure if this patch is included in versions of the game sold on other sites (eg: Steam), but it’s probably fairly easy to find on the internet if it isn’t.

One other thing that I should probably point out is that at least some of the minimum system requirements listed for the game on GOG (eg: a 2.4 ghz processor) seem to be somewhat over-inflated, especially considering that this game uses an early version of the Source Engine! I was able to get this game to run on a 1.8 ghz single core processor (with the graphics settings on low). Although, if you’re obsessed with framerates, you’ll probably be dismayed to hear that I only got about 20-30 FPS – but the game was still very playable.

Finally, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some minor SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”:

vampire-the-masquerade-title-screen

“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is an action role-playing game which takes place in Los Angeles.

You play as a freshly-created vampire who is due to be executed because the person responsible for turning you into a vampire didn’t get permission from the city’s vampiric elders. However, the aristocratic Prince LaCroix is feeling unusually merciful, and spares your life on the condition that you serve him.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

Soon, you find yourself thrown into a web of conspiracies, politics and crime. To say too much more would be to spoil the game’s brilliantly complex story, but – like in any role-playing game – you get to have a certain degree of influence over how the events of the game play out.

The character creation options in this game are slightly strange. In addition to choosing your character’s gender and stats, you also have to choose from one of seven “clans” – each one has different specialities and abilities. However, each clan only has two character models – but your character can find alternate outfits (which also serve as a type of armour) throughout the game.

From everything that I’d read before playing this game, it’s apparently best to avoid the “Malkavian” and “Nosferatu” clans on your first playthrough since these choices cause quite significant gameplay changes.

Although there is also a quiz that you can take which will help you choose your clan, I ended up going for the Tremere clan for the simple reason that I got to play as a cool goth character who wears shades at night and can use magic spells.

 This game is amazingly badass :)

This game is amazingly badass 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is atmospheric. Seriously, it’s been a long time since a game has made this much of an impression on me! The style and atmosphere of the whole game is vaguely reminiscent of a brilliant TV show called “Angel“, albeit with a gloomier and more cynical atmosphere.

Although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” isn’t the kind of horror game that will literally make you jump out of your chair with fright, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any horror.

Although there are small amounts of many different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror, startling horror, body horror, gory horror, implied horror, gothic horror, Lovecraftian horror etc…) sprinkled throughout the game, most of the horror is almost subliminally subtle and it comes from the bleak and amoral hidden world that your character lives in and the hard choices that you are forced to make.

Often, the “evil” choice in any situation is presented as being the easier and/or more rewarding of the two. So, expect to feel disgusted/disturbed/creeped out at yourself at least once or twice after you finish playing.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

But, a lot of this gloom is offset with some truly brilliant moments of dark comedy, which help to prevent the game from becoming too depressing. Most of the time, the humour is kept fairly subtle, but it’s great to see a game that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously….

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

 Turning the corner and seeing THIS is pretty much the game's only jump scare. But, it's only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

Turning the corner and seeing THIS is one of the game’s very few jump scares. But, it’s only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

As for the location design, there are gothic areas that look like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, there are nightclubs you can dance in, there are “film noir”-style city streets, there’s a creepy haunted house, there are… so many cool places.

 Curiouser and curiouser, this is like "American McGee's Alice" all over again :)

Curiouser and curiouser, this is like “American McGee’s Alice” all over again 🙂

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from "Blade Runner" :)

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from “Blade Runner” 🙂

And this pier :) The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too :)

And this pier 🙂 The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too 🙂

The gameplay in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a really interesting mixture of things. You can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at will, and this allows the game to include a dazzling variety of gameplay types like melee combat, first-person shooting, exploration, stealth segments, puzzles, moral choices etc…

In addition to this, the game includes some vampire-specific gameplay features. For example, you need blood in order to use your character’s special abilities. But, you have to be careful how you drink blood – if a passer-by sees you drinking someone’s blood, then you lose a “masquerade” point and, if you drink literally all of someone’s blood, then you lose a “humanity” point. These are two scores that you have to be very careful about preserving, since bad things tend to happen if either score gets too low.

Of course, you can avoid this risk by either buying blood from a rather dodgy guy who lives in the hospital basement, by consuming any rats that happen to be scurrying through the sewers or by either seducing or paying another character (and pretending to kiss them, whilst secretly drinking their blood). As I said earlier, it’s a game which will sometimes leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself after you play it.

The health system in this game is kind of interesting too. Although it includes the dreaded regenerating health, this game handles it in a fairly sensible way that actually helps to add some challenge to the game (rather than just turning it into a toned down “god mode” cheat).

Yes, this game has regenerating health. But, it’s the good kind of regenerating health..

Although your health regenerates, it does this very slowly – giving the player an incentive to avoid damage. Although health regeneration can be accelerated by drinking blood, there aren’t really any “health items” in the game (except possibly the “elder vitae” item). So, combat in the game can end up being more challenging than you might expect.

Although this game is a fairly non-linear thing, it also includes some truly brilliant set-pieces too – which also help to keep the gameplay interesting. For example, at one point in the game, there’s a “Timesplitters”-style area where you have to defend the gates of a cemetary against hordes of zombies for five minutes. This is so cool!

And, yes, there's even a "BRAINS" damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

And, yes, there’s even a “BRAINS” damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

Surprisingly, the huge variety of gameplay types here all work fairly well. Even though I normally loathe and despise stealth mechanics in games, this one isn’t too frustrating. Not only is there a meter that clearly tells you how much attention nearby henchmen are paying to you but, if you increase the right stats, then you can be right next to an adversary and they still won’t notice you as long as you are crouching.

Even though I'm literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don't notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Even though I’m literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don’t notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Seriously, the only flaws I found with the gameplay is that a few of the game’s puzzles confused me enough to make me check a walkthrough and that some of the quests involve a bit too much “back and forth”, which is especially annoying given the loading screens that appear whenever you enter or leave a defined area in the game.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Likewise, at two points, the game randomly froze up and demanded that I inserted a disc. Thankfully, closing the program and starting it again solved the problem on both occasions. But, since games sold on GOG are meant to be DRM free, this sudden intrusion from the malingering ghost of the game’s original DRM wasn’t exactly welcome.

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn't happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still... it was annoying!

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn’t happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still… it was annoying!

The game itself is split into four outdoor “hub” areas, various buildings and a fair number of mission-specific areas. The hub areas are large enough to be interesting to explore, but small enough that you won’t get lost for too long either. You can also travel at will between any hub areas you’ve unlocked by finding a taxi (which is a New York-style yellow taxi, despite the game being set in California).

The "Downtown" hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style "film noir" look to it :)

The “Downtown” hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style “film noir” look to it 🙂

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

Although there are some missions that you have to complete in order to progress, there are also optional missions that you can accept in order to gain more money or experience points. Some of these are interesting, some required me to use a walkthrough, some I completely missed altogether and some of them can be repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, the later parts of the game switch to a much more action/stealth-based style of gameplay. Amongst other things, the level before the final boss battle bears a strong resemblance to something from “Deus Ex” or “Half Life”. Like in “Deus Ex”, this is a level that you can complete using either stealth or mindless violence. Or both.

In terms of the dialogue and voice-acting, this game is absolutely stellar. Not only is the dialogue realistic, witty and filled with fascinating background information, but it’s accompanied by the kind of voice-acting that seems so natural that you usually won’t even think of it as “voice-acting” (the only exception is a character called Brother Kanker, whose voice acting is unintentionally hilarious). This allows the game to carry off some truly spectacular dramatic moments that might leave you shocked and some moments that will make you laugh out loud:

Glad to see that the game devs haven't let financial considerations affect the game in any way...

Glad to see that the game devs haven’t let financial considerations affect the game in any way…

The game’s story is the kind of deep, complex compelling thing that will keep you playing even during some of the more boring missions. Although I won’t spoil any major plot points, it seems to be one of those games which – like the film “Blade Runner” – makes you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of something much greater. As you would expect, this is also one of those games that contains multiple endings depending on the choices you make during the game.

In terms of length, this is a full-length game… and then some! Seriously, this is the kind of game that pretty much demands to be binge-played in 2-4 hour sessions. Not only that, you’ll probably have quite a few of these sessions before you eventually finish the game. Whilst the game does a good job with holding the player’s interest throughout it’s marathon-like length, there are a few parts (especially near the end) that feel like unnecessary padding.

The music in this game is, in a word, amazing. Although most of it is the kind of ominous instrumental music that you’d expect in a horror game, it also includes a really brilliant licenced soundtrack too. One of the most amazing moments in the game was near the beginning, when I entered a nightclub (whose lobby was plastered with Bella Morte and Ghoultown posters!) and was given the opportunity to dance to a really cool gothic rock song called “Isolated” by Chiasm.

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Likewise, another outstanding musical moment is when you are standing on the beach with an assortment of other characters and, over the rain and the crashing of the waves, Darling Violetta’s “A Smaller God” plays on a radio in the background. This moment is both relaxing and bleak, mundane and breathtakingly sublime.

All in all, this is probably the closest thing to a “perfect” game that I’ve played in a while. Even though it has a few small flaws, it contains a brilliant mixture of exploration, atmospheric storytelling, dark humour, gothic horror, subtle horror and thrilling combat. It’s a complex, fascinating game that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as classic games like “Deus Ex”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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Review: “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Serious Sam Second Encounter Review Sketch

Well, since I’m making my way through the final level of this game at the time of writing, I thought that I’d take a look at “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” today. Quite honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to review this game – given that I reviewed the previous game in the series last year.

I bought a digital download of this game from GOG when it was on sale, back in December. I should also point out that I’ll be reviewing the classic 2002 version of this game, rather than the modern HD re-release (which probably wouldn’t run on my computer).

Although the game is listed as “DRM-Free” on GOG, it might occasionally ask you to put a disc (it doesn’t matter which disc it is) into your DVD drive before it lets you play. Fortunately, this didn’t happen anywhere near as often as it did with the previous game and, most of the time, I was able to play “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” with an empty DVD drive.

I’ve also had to crop a couple of the screenshots in this review, since taking screenshots of this game sometimes results in graphical glitches in the screenshots themselves (but not in-game). I should probably also warn you that this review may contain some GRUESOME IMAGES.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter”:

Serious Sam 2nd encounter -  Title

“Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” is a FPS game from 2002. It is a sequel to “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” in the same way that “Doom II” is a sequel to “Doom”.

In other words, it’s basically the same game – but with a lot of new monsters, weapons and levels. This game is also slightly more challenging than the first “Serious Sam” game was. In other words, it’s probably “fiendishly difficult” by modern standards.

If you’ve never played a “Serious Sam” game before, I should probably explain what made this series so unique (and why it spawned several imitators, like the “Painkiller” games and a whole sub-genre of “Doom” WADs).

Unlike many other FPS games at the time, the gameplay in the old “Serious Sam” games revolves almost entirely around constant intense combat with large hordes of monsters. You don’t search for keys and you don’t solve that many puzzles. You just fight monsters. Lots of monsters.

Like this.

Like this.

As a result, the levels are considerably more linear that you would expect from an “old school” FPS game and – most of the time – you are channelled into various arena-like areas, with ammo and health pickups in between.

This linearity is more than made up for by both the sheer length of each level, the wide variety of imaginative monsters, numerous secret areas (anyone remember those?), lots of Easter eggs and a wide variety of different settings.

One of the major improvements in “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” is that there are a lot of different settings on offer, which help to prevent the game from becoming visually monotonous. The first five levels are Aztec-themed levels, the next four levels are set in ancient Persepolis/ Babylon and the final three levels are set in medieval Europe:

And, like all great FPS games, you actually get to see a map of where you've been too.

And, like all great FPS games, you actually get to see a map of where you’ve been too.

Needless to say, I was listening to the title track from Iron Maiden's "The Book Of Souls" album when playing this level.

Needless to say, I was listening to the title track from Iron Maiden’s “The Book Of Souls” album when playing this level.

This probably looks more impressive in-game than it does in this screenshot. But, for a game from 2002, this landscape is astonishing!

This probably looks more impressive in-game than it does in this screenshot. But, for a game from 2002, this landscape is astonishing!

In addition to this, Sam now has a few extra weapons too – many of which really come in handy. In true “Doom II” style, Sam can now wield a chainsaw – although given that you also have infinite ammo pistols too, this weapon really isn’t that useful.

However, the other weapons are useful. Not only do you get a flamethrower (which makes dealing with large groups of skeletons SO much easier!), but you also get a sniper rifle too. The sniper rifle is kind of an interesting weapon because it is about twice as powerful when you actually use the scope (it can fell several types of monster in just one shot). You’ll be using both of these new weapons surprisingly often.

And, lest I forget, you also get a weapon called the “Serious Bomb”. These are extremely rare (and you can only carry three at a time) but, when used, they will obliterate literally every monster on the screen. However, you should probably save these for when you really need to use them.

Seriously, don't understimate the humble sniper rifle. You'll be using it a lot.

Seriously, don’t understimate the humble sniper rifle. You’ll be using it a lot.

The flamethrower is suitably epic (and surprisingly useful) too.

The flamethrower is suitably epic (and surprisingly useful) too.

In terms of the new monsters, there aren’t really too many radical changes here.

These new monsters include pumpkin creatures with chainsaws that run at you ridiculously quickly, boar-like creatures which wield rocket pistols and alien soldiers with laser guns etc…. These new monsters really help to add some variety and additional challenge to the combat.

I'd thought that the pumpkin creatures were based on Helloween's mascot. But, according to the in-game guide, they were inspired by Smashing Pumpkins instead.

I’d thought that the pumpkin creatures were based on Helloween’s mascot. But, according to the in-game guide, they were inspired by Smashing Pumpkins instead.

Talking of challenge, this game ramps up the difficulty slightly when compared to the first “Serious Sam” game. Not only do you face the usual hordes of low-level monsters, but this game also makes very heavy use of monsters with long-range attacks too.

In other words, you’ll often be faced with the choice of whether to fight the hordes of weaker monsters that are running towards you or whether to fight the much more powerful monsters in the distance who are throwing large fireballs at you.

Usually, these guys are perched on ledges in the distance.

Usually, these guys are perched on ledges in the distance.

It’s things like this that help to keep the combat in “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” from getting stale or monotonous. You have to think on your feet and use lots of trial and error if you want to stand even half a chance against the game’s thousands of monsters. You’ll have to use tactics, strategy, clever weapon choices and a knowledge of when to hide, run or fight if you want to actually beat any of the game’s levels.

But, like all great classic FPS games, “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” has a sense of humour about itself. Not only will Sam occasionally make amusing comments (in a “Duke Nukem” style way), but the game is absolutely crammed with in-jokes and easily-accessible easter eggs.

Seriously, I really love how FPS games never used to take themselves too seriously and it’s great to see all of the humour on offer here.

Yes, sometimes, the plants will actually come to life and start attacking you.

Yes, sometimes, the plants will actually come to life and start attacking you.

And a Merry Christmas to you too!

And a Merry Christmas to you too!

Graphically, this game is absolutely stunning for something made in the early 2000s and it still looks fairly decent even by modern standards. Even on an classic mid-2000s computer like mine, this game still runs extremely smoothly. However, unlike really old games like “Doom II”, the loading times when you re-load a saved game are very slightly longer than I would have liked (eg: they’re about 3-10 seconds long, rather than almost instantaneous).

In terms of music, most of the music in the game is just generic Aztec/ Middle Eastern/ Medieval ambient background music. However, during some dramatic scenes in the game, the music will change to something a bit more heavy metal-based. Sometimes, like in the first boss battle, this is done for dramatic effect. But in some parts of the game, it’s just done for laughs – for example, when you are fighting your way through a snowy valley in the final level, a heavy metal-style rendition of “Jingle Bells” will play in the background.

All in all, like with “Doom II”, “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter” takes a classic game and just makes it better, but without changing anything that made it good in the first place. This is how you make a sequel to a great FPS game!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.