Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at Vampire: The Masquerade, Redemption.
Vampires are apparently all the rage now a days. It’s hard not to take notice the tween influence “Twilight” has on the genre, which, in turn, is being bastardized by that shitty movie and book anyway. To put it in perspective, Vampires have always been a sophisticated, kind of cosmopolitan hierarchy society that can’t go into the sun, not glittering boy candy with dark demeanors and no lust for blood or power. Being a vampire does mean to be sexual and liberated, but it also has a trade off with other desires, such as power, greed, consumption and loneliness.
Enter White Wolf Studios, makers of Pen and Paper RPG’s. They created, back in 1991 the game “Vampire, The Masquerade.” This, for all its emo-goth influences, got the core ideas of vampirism correct. The pen and paper game became a phenomenon, and soon after, merchandising through other media occurred. So in 2000, Activision, before they sold their soul to the devil, created a game based on the pen and paper RPG for the PC. A simple game taking place in the ancient world and the modern day, “Vampire: The Masquerade, Redemption” was ahead of its time, which in turn gives it a major flaw.
The game stars Christoph, a man who is “embraced” as a vampire by the Brujah clan for heroic deeds against another clan. Christoph’s story is basically a love story, he wants to get revenge for the transformation of his love into a ghoul, and spends eternity brooding over it. But thankfully the story is told so well it helps to compensate for the problems with the game, namely bugs and half-baked ideas.
The game is a RPG where Christoph needs to learn new moves and spells across his time on earth, as well as gaining the use of allies in combat. This is done with simple point and click controls all in a 3-D space. The games interface, however, is rather convoluted as RPG’s go, basically like an early model of World of Warcraft, the entire bottom half of the screen is littered with ally portraits in 3-D, current inventory, attack/defend buttons, and hotkey commands for spells and weapons. Back in 2000 this was a mess, but in 2004 it’s manageable by most now, thanks to skills acquired by entering Azeroth each day.
But what plagues the game the most is the skittish combat and game ending bugs. Sometimes the hit detection is way off, sometimes invisible walls collapse, letting you fall into black voids of nothing. Allies rarely follow commands unless if you do “defend here” commands, and this all adds up until your blood is splattered across the floor. And it’s a shame the squad commands don’t work, because this is one game where it would have been neat to see some polish on the gameplay, especially since it is a niche title to begin with, with the subject matter involved. The game also has a tendency to crash a LOT on older PC’s, mainly due to the aesthetic design of the graphics.
Part of the reason this game was ahead of its time is not because of gameplay, but due to graphics. The lighting effects, camera use in a 3-D space, graphical skins, and even use of textures was all rendered so well that a lot of games, both on and off the PC, tried to emulate it. The game has a ton of atmosphere, which is augmented by the graphics engine ten-fold, and gives it that gothic twinge that vampires are known for today.
The game also had a full on voice cast that did phenomenal, and dragged me into the storyline. The themes of regret and love are pretty much hallmarks in vampire lore now a days, especially in the Masquerade universe, and here they are translated with well rounded characters that you actually care for. The games music also adds to the atmosphere, blending gothic style organs with keyboard synthesizers to make menacing, yet ancient sounding, music that fits in the universe.
When it is all said and done, this is how vampires should be represented. “Redemption” as a story puts to shame the tweeny “Twilight” in so many respects, that while the game is too broken and archaic in its design today, it still holds up as a testament to the true nature of vampirism. The dark side looks good in “Redemption,” and is how the creatures of the night should be, kicking ass for the sake of love and power.