Bloodlines's penchant for extended conversation has been interesting this time around. Usually, I'm a male Toreador. The elegant upper-echelon of vampire society, the Toreador are well-spoken, calm, calculated and charismatic, precisely capturing the sort of character I tend to veer towards in role-playing games. I'm always a male one, because of the rather fetching suit.
This time, I fancied a change. The more thuggish classes don't appeal to me, so I was left with a choice between a Nosferatu and a Malkavian. The Nosferatu are hideously ugly, clearly not human, and largely confined to skulking around in the darkness. Not my cup of tea. The Malkavians are just insane. They have arguments with signposts and speak in a barely intelligible flurry of nonsense, but their appearance is strikingly human. Could be interesting. I picked a busty female. Just because.
The stark raving lunacy of playing a Malkavian is amusing, but fairly inconsequential. The perks of playing a bubbly, attractive lady are far from it. As an experiment, I threw all my early stats into the charisma and seduction feats. Within half an hour, I'd charmed my way into two buildings and sucked half the life from the neck of a vaguely aroused security guard.
Bloodlines doesn't simply take your character's traits and re-juggle its numbers accordingly. It rewards you with whole new lines of dialogue that directly shape your relationships with various other denizens of the game. Though action-based stats function in a reasonably straightforward manner, the feedback provided for building your personality is miraculous. In other words, you're not just levelling up. You're actively playing a role.
Of course, it all takes a nosedive. Bloodlines' degradation into incessant hack-and-slash is well documented, but I do wonder if those who haven't experienced the final sections understand quite how tedious they are. I recall my original play-through, in which - having created a particularly talky character - I found myself simply running away from every grotesque beast in the mandatory, maze-like Hollywood sewers, since my action stats were nowhere near high enough to take them on. A friend of mine, who had focused on combat, recounts how even he had to use a full-ammo cheat. The bugs are irritating and occasionally disastrous, but most of them can be fixed. Sadly, the complete dissolution of the early intricacy and intelligence will always remain. There's no patch for the game design.
There is, however, a work-around. It's an option that's available throughout Bloodlines, but only really becomes logical once the first three hubs are cleared. It's a simple combination of key-presses and mouse-clicks, and you'll find yourself a lot more enamoured towards the game should you take this route.
That is to say, you can quit.
The ending's available on YouTube if you're that interested, but really, nothing exciting happens once you're done with Hollywood. The main narrative arc was never the most interesting thing about Bloodlines. It's the incidental stories and the people you meet along the way that matter.
They're abundant in the opening sections, yet criminally thin on the ground later on. Bloodlines falls from its pedestal after 15-or-so hours, but the journey to that point is as mesmerising as you're likely to see. At its best, it's a glorious, grand, mature piece of design, still unsurpassed in its niche little field.
Encapsulating it all was the first time I entered an LA nightclub, and the first time I met the sassy, voluptuous Jeanette Voerman. "You smell new, little girl," she said, "like fabric softener dew on freshly mowed Astroturf." In the background, the music, the dancing and the unstoppable sense of cool... that's Bloodlines. Though its life is eventually sucked away by the fangs of its own turbulent development, it remains as stylish, smart and seductive as games come.