Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – A Retrospective

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – A Retrospective

“It seems the stream of time has begun to erode the moorings of my chosen course of study…”

The last instance of mortal life was a memory before she knew it had even happened.

Flashes of a hotel room; peeling wallpaper, a mottled carpet, handcuffs clipped to a rusting bed frame. Broken condom wrappers lay scattered across the hovel like stale confetti—a miserable, unknowing final hoorah on a life questionably spent.

What, no coffee?

The stake was plunged into her chest before she was able to ask how, why, who. Who. The man she’d spent the evening with sat opposite, and he too was staked. There’d been a moment, maybe two, to draw a sharp intake of breath as the room was stormed, but that breath never came.

And every inch of her body felt cold.

A grotesque trial by a cast of strange, ominous figures quickly followed, the rules of which were lost to her. The man from the evening was decapitated by something other than human, and she too was set to share his fate. But someone in the stalls spoke up, calling out the pale, well-dressed man presiding over the charade for his hypocrisy, whatever that may have been.

A jury of my…peers?

So she was spared and sent out into the night, wracked with questions and a desire to satiate an overwhelming hunger the likes of which she had never known. Outside a raggedy man introduced himself as “Jack”, and explained what the well-dressed man did not, not in so many words.

The woman had been sired by a vampire, which had broken the rules of the “Masquerade”—the code vampires follow to keep their existence secret from humanity—and resulted in his execution. That hunger?

It’s for blood. It was a miraculous quirk of fate that had seen her spared, and if she wished to survive then that hunger would need to be satiated. If it was not then they risked allowing the Beast that now dwelled within to emerge and take control. It was made pretty clear such an event was to be avoided at all costs, which sounded reasonable.

Later, she stumbles out of her new apartment into a dark alley splashed by lazy rainfall. She’s drawn into the street by a sad duo of palm trees and the flicker of a red light that signals the presence of a clinic.

A most gothic Los Angeles

The Hunger strikes; fearing a public descent into savagery, she walks with heavy footsteps toward the clinic, knowing what it is she seeks and what she must do to acquire it.

The lobby is crammed with the sick and the dying, the doctors unable to meet demand–a potent symbol of the republic’s decline and its manifest failure to protect its citizens. For the recently sired the clinic is to be exploited, which is at least in keeping with the spirit of the place.

The receptionist proves remarkably pliable, and the creature of the night wonders if she just got lucky or if this new condition has gifted her supernatural powers of persuasion. What was it Jack had said? Something about power being in the blood.

BLOOD. Quickly.

She opens the first door she sees. Inside is a doctor, his back turned to the new arrival. A patient is lying unconscious on a gurney. What comes next is pure instinct, violently drawn out of her shifting consciousness in the course of one bad night—a night that will last eternal, God willing.

…God’s not rooting for them, is He? More questions. Forget ‘em.

She pounces on the doctor and plunges her teeth into his neck. In that instant, the patient suddenly stands upright on the gurney, his feet somehow merging with the metal. He’s wide awake. Then he’s flat on his back again.

Awks

The world spins, the perspective clipping with the walls; weirdly, the interiors of the adjacent rooms are visible. It’s ugly, but not in the way leeching blood from an innocent ought to have been. And just like that, most of the spell has been lost, and reality asserts itself.

We are in the confines of an unfinished and often broken video-game. With a bit of time and patience, though, some of the magic will return, and from that rickety framework the shape of something magnificent will appear—but always just a little out of reach.

Welcome to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

Its Gothic, sodden Los Angeles is your haunt, your hunting ground. It’s where you will find the sustenance needed to survive, and where the creatures of the night await your arrival in order to fulfil their dark ambitions. Spires rise out of the familiar glass-panelled high-rises of central L.A, modernity unable to keep the evil that stalks its side-walks and inhabits its centres of power at bay. Shrouded in mist with curved spikes protruding from the buildings, it’s not like any Los Angeles you’ve seen before; it is a city possessed.

A woman drenched in blood surveys a dark, sinister skyline. Yep, this is definitely Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

As you progress through the game you will come become increasingly connected to the vampiric network tying the city together, all of which seem to have their sights set on a mysterious sarcophagus believed—at least by some—to hold the body of antediluvian: an ancient vampire with the potential to bring an end to all things.

Or perhaps it’s just a mummified old corpse best placed in a museum. That’s up to you to find out, depending on which side of the growing war you choose to align yourself with.

Troika’s game has been kept alive and made playable by the work of a devoted and talented community of fans. If you want to play it—and you should—then you’re going to need to install an unofficial patch. It’s simple and easy.

“Remember, wherever we go, it is the blood of Caine which makes our fate.”

Bloodlines is a rich, complex, and difficult game, resistant to judgement due to the circumstances of its creation and release. It is certain the game would have been superior had it been given the time it needed to realise its ambitions, although the whole thing is a bit “written by men, for men”, and nothing was going to fix that.

Still, with the cult following and critical reappraisal it has accrued since 2004, Bloodlines looks to have earned a shot at immortality. It deserves it.

Bloodlines is on sale at Humble Bundle for a limited time for £7.49.

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