Vampire The Masquerade : Redemption
Blood-sucking RPG reviewed
They Come At Night, Mostly
Being a vampire in Redemption is really no harder than being a human being - once you have taught yourself to stay indoors in sunny weather (though I dare say that most people who play this game do that anyway) and stick to the red liquor, things are remarkably easy. That is, unless you have done something silly, like get romantically entangled with a mortal...
As the hero-turned-vampire Christof you spend most of Redemption traipsing through the catacombs of Prague, Venice, London and New York. The level of detail throughout these locations is astonishing; in fact Vampire's graphical style is so well defined that it is truly unequalled amongst other role-playing titles. The fully 3D environments are a far cry from the pasted images of Final Fantasy VIII, and even though they are detailed, they don't slow you down to a crawl as with Ultima Ascension.
Looking the part is something Vampire does with relative ease. The moody ambient lighting that illuminates the night is a trademark, and you will see a lot of it, since Christof doesn't get out much during the day. It's echoed by the moody ambient music that accompanies the action throughout, racey in places while subdued in others. It all looks great and sounds great.
The only areas of Vampire that look slightly suspect are in its opening sequences, prior to your conversion to the dark cause. The level of detail is remarkable, but only when bathed in shadows and eerie darkness - with full lighting things look a little too garish. Once darkness descends though, even the usually clichéd sections like abandoned mines and sewers seem fresh and original.
The characters in the game are also superbly rendered, with fantastic, smooth models that really look like humans, albeit rather bulky ones. The weapons they use are fearsome-looking, and everything is bathed in pseudo-realism, right down to the way the weapons glint and shine as they are brandished openly in combat.
Although the visuals are mostly stunning, the texture mapping on characters, and particularly Christof with his cape, is a little flat. The animation of the characters' faces during dialogue sequences is also slightly out of sync with their motionless pose, and the overall effect suffers as a result. This is especially true of the in-game cut-scenes and cinematics, which lack tension due to feeble camerawork and the stock-still deliverance of the dialogue. People involved in action sequences should look fastidious; these characters look like they are attending a funeral.
That's not to say that the story isn't very good though - the game is based on a cracker of a tale, with love, hate, flashbacks and adventure. Your character Christof is wounded in action and nursed back to health by a young damsel, whom he falls in love with. However when he's converted to a vampire he has much to struggle with, as he learns to disregard his strict religious upbringing, and retain his impossible love.
Disappointingly, there is no real development of Christof's vampiric side, he just seems to become and live as an isotropic vampire, without first struggling with his identity as one would expect. It doesn't help that the voice acting is unconvincing, and to disguise this fact there is hardly any character interaction whatsoever. The plot becomes largely forgettable...
The inconsistent nature of the plot is also unhelpful. For starters, if one of your party is killed in combat you often have the clerical ability to revive him, but if the plot dictates that your character is to die and they do so in your arms during a cutscene, regardless of how much blood and magic you have coursing through your veins, it isn't going to help.
Dying is a bit of a moot point to be honest; you expect vampires to be rather tough customers, but not if Redemption is anything to go by. The fact that the combat system is simplistic and muddled doesn't help either. The point-and-click nature of the game extends to the combat, and it's totally unsuitable; you just keep clicking on a target until he, she or it perishes. This may have worked in Diablo II, but in Redemption it's just boring, and leads to many unfortunate deaths as you wildly swing your weapons this way and that, only to be out-foxed by a little blighter who has run in knee-high and swiped you.
Combat allows you to command a number of diverse "disciplines", which is shorthand for "magic spells" that you can use either offensively or defensively. The former allow you to summon creatures and the like, and your defensive spells allow you to enhance your perception and increase your strength. Many of these powers are a bit muted when actually playing the game, although they look good on paper. In fact, that's the key to most of the redundant spells and attacks; they have been carried over from the pen-and-paper version of the RPG, despite their overall uselessness.
Nevertheless, the action isn't too difficult to deal with, especially with the abundance of spells and attacks. That is, of course, unless your "friends" jump into the ruckus.
If you have one to three other people in your party they will race in, swords drawn, and attempt to liberate you. The problem is that as they are rather bulky and the action rather concentrated, they frequently get in the way of your spurious mouse-clicking, halting your attack until you can get a clean click at your intended target. To compound this, the collision detection is atrocious, so actually hitting an opponent is often down to pot luck.
Another problem is when battles take place in tight confined spaces. Your character is a chubby chap, and your allies can't exactly slip past, so they just line up behind waiting for an opportunity to get through. Of course, since there won't be one, you are forced to soldier on until the steady flow of enemies subsides and you can get out for a breather.
Later on you get guns and such, but unfortunately your friends do little aside from shooting randomly at walls, and this doesn't benefit you to a great extent. The guns themselves are underpowered and overspecced, so it's largely academic, but they are ironically representative of the transition from the past to the present. The Dark Ages look stern and very dreary as you would expect, but the modern day world just looks the same really, except for nicer clothes and updated gadgets.
You've probably realised by now that I am bitterly disappointed with Vampire. I had really hoped for so much more - the concept after all has staggering potential, but Nihilistic haven't capitalized in the way they should have. The weak cutscenes, poor combat system and somewhat redundant spell system don't help its cause, and the game falls far short of what it could have been.