Written by Troop133 on January 08, 2020 @ 9:55 pm
In one sentence I can tell you this: The writing in this game is as good as the game mechanics are bad.
With that being said, since this game is receiving a sequel this year and has garnered a massive cult following I decided to finally give it a try and if you can tolerate the numerous bugs and unbalanced combat, you're in for a story with twists and turns with characters that feel as though they live in the world rather than simple NPCs.
It's no secret that this game had a very troubled development, and due to Activision forcing them to release the game as soon as possible, the game has a lot of rough edges. I will say right now that it's borderline mandatory to play this game with the unofficial patch installed. Even then, there are still many instances in the game where I would be stuck on an unidentified part of the wall (such as in the Ocean House Hotel in the basement) or even the floor (such as the pier in the Nosferatu Warrens)!
The combat, especially the melee combat, is ultimately simplified to a game of "who has the bigger health bar" since there is no way to attack enemies other than just wailing or shooting at them. All of your combat related abilities serve to either increase your longevity or to increase your damage, and gun related combat ranges from entirely ineffective in the early game (the colt special takes too much time to be barely accurate and does around or slightly less damage than melee) to mandatory in the late game (some of the automatic weapon will do around the same or more damage than melee, but damage will be dealt multiple times per second compared to about once per second with standard melee weapons). This combat and balance of combat limits your options and methods of approach, and if you plan on playing this game multiple times to explore the multiple pathways this game offers to you, prepare to slog your way through the cookie-clicker version of combat.
Stealth in this game is OK, lighting and more importantly your stealth skill play a large role in how you approach sneaking around but don't expect the AI to have complex reactions to your presence: either they see you or they don't, and while there is a middle ground where they suspect someone in the area, that suspicion will vanish and they'll go back to their pre-destined walk patterns. The real flaw in the stealth system is how powerful it can be if you fully invest in it. Some clans such as the Nosferatu and Malkavian give you the option of invisibility on top of your base stealth skill and given that stealth kills are instantaneous, you can often wipe out an entire room with little thought about room layout or enemy walk patterns (with invisibility you can often walk right in front of people and they won't see you).
Overall the game play is really unrefined and the fact that you're forced into these combat and stealth scenarios really limits your ability to specialize entirely into non-combat roles. The game nudges you to invest into combat by telling you that some things can only be resolved with a fist, but if you're going to force your player into combat it better be at the very least competent enough to keep your player engaged.
The writing in this game is its saving grace and if it weren't for the story this game may have fallen into obscurity. For many, the writing in this game makes up for the poor mechanics and numerous bugs, and while I'm inclined to agree it's important to understand why.
The game has you playing as a fledgling into vampire society during the arrival of a mysterious MacGuffin by the name of the "Ankaran Sarcophagus" that almost every major faction in the story is trying to get. There's a lot of terminology in this game that gets introduced and explained naturally, and putting you in the role of a brand new vampire with no knowledge of this secret society helps with explaining the jargon of the world in a natural and seamless way that doesn't feel like exposition. To spare you, the reader, from a long winded explanation, the basic gist is that there is a secret society of vampires in this world that follow a set of rules call the "masquerade" that keeps human society from learning about its existence.
Without spoiling much else, what makes the writing as good as it is lies in the characters. Each character has their own speech patterns, diction, and voice acting attached to them that gives them a specific profile that you can immediately associate with them. Additionally, you'll gain little bits of insight through their dialogue about their past life and how they got to where they are now. One example of this writing is prince LaCroix. At the beginning of the game he plans to execute both your sire (the person who turned you into a vampire) and you because you became a vampire without his permission. After one person in the crowd makes a scene, he decides to preserve his image by sparing you (but not your sire). You later find out that he used to be an officer in Napoleon's army and has spent the better part of two centuries gaining power, so sparing you and sending you on a suicide mission instead was a great PR move as well as sticking to his original intentions. Every character has this level of depth and more, and if you pay attention close enough you can predict almost every major plot twist in this story as they all stem from specific character actions which are driven by their specific motivations in this society.
Overall, if you enjoy complex characters each fighting for their own goal and solid writing that not only makes each character feel believable, but also has some great twists and turns then this game is surely for you.
I'm combining the visuals and sound into one package because they both serve the goal of immersing you in the world of this game which enhanced your experience with the story. This game came out in 2004, so don't expect life-like graphics. This, however, doesn't take away from the artistic direction of this game which paints the different cities of LA as dark underworlds of sin and debauchery fitting with the drab yet romantic cultural view of vampires. Often the different environments of this game range between abandoned hotels, insane asylums, strip clubs, and cemeteries that all help establish the feeling that you've entered a dark underworld. This game also takes place entirely at night, meaning that the only lighting you get is the artificial lighting of street lamps and the light pollution of different stories and offices.
If you took the soundtrack of this game and put it in a horror movie it would feel entirely at home, and that's not to say this OST lacks variety either. Whether its the chilling chords you hear while sneaking around the home of a former psychiatrist turned vampire, or the Noir inspired theme of Santa Monica, just hearing the different themes of this game will immediately take you back to the midnight streets of LA. The sound design is pretty good as well. Glass shattering sounds like, well glass shattering, and each gun in the game has the punchy and explosive sound you'd expect an automatic mini cannon to have, however I'd argue that the sound of melee weapons in the game hitting other objects is a bit weak.
Overall, the atmosphere of this game is only matched by few other games and surpassed by even fewer. You'll have no trouble becoming engrossed in the simulated environment this game provides.
The term "flawed masterpiece" is a title that this game often receives for the reasons mentioned in this review, however I prefer the terms "writer's wet dream" and "programmer's nightmare" instead. For every positive aspect about this game there is a negative one as well, and while this would usually result in a mixed experience at best, I believe that this game is more than the sum of its parts. If you enjoy tabletop games, hate natural light, love goth culture, or hate flesh-bags (other kines prefer the term 'human') then you owe it to yourself to play this game.
Oh and install the unofficial patch (with the plus patch), please, I'm begging you.
Final Score: 9/10 - A Must Play!
Story Rating: 10
Graphics & Visuals Rating: 8
Sound Rating: 8
Overall Rating: 9
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- Troika Games
- Action, RPG
- NA Release Date
- November 16, 2004
- JP Release Date
- March 22, 2007
- EUR Release Date
- November 19, 2004
- AUS Release Date
- November 19, 2004
- ESRB Rating
- PEGI Rating
- ACB Rating
- MA 15+
- MVGL User Score
- Rik Schaffer