By Stewie Sutherland
Ah, Halloween. Very rarely do I go into anything spooky or creepy, but if there’s one thing I can’t refuse it’s a good story. Something with likeable main characters, a flowing plot, a satisfying ending, and above all, length. Not often do you find something with all those things in it. Many of today’s games spend a lot of their disc size on high-end graphics and sacrifice length, or visa versa. (Final Fantasy XII is a good balance of both, amazing for a simple PS2-sized DVD!) But I can’t deny it: if you want length, visuals and balance, you have to go to the PC. Old now (coming out in 2000, and already having a second game based upon it), Activision’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption was a game that delivered just that.
The very lengthy, epic story follows the main character, a Holy Knight named Christof. Injured in a stunningly rendered opening movie of a bloody battle, he recovers in a church in Prague, during the Dark Ages. There, he falls in love with a nun, Anezka, who tends to his wounds, and in an effort to continue his holy mission, travels to nearby silver mine that has become over-run with “evil”. He is successful, clearing the mine of a demented vampire. This act alone catches the attention of several of Prague’s Vampire leaders.
Later that night, Christof falls prey to a woman named Ecaterina, the leader of one of the several different clans. Needless to say for the Holy Knight, he does not appreciate becoming a member of the undead. Soon however, he learns that many other different clan leaders had marked him for death as being a very real threat, and now that it is no longer an option, torment him by kidnapping the same nun who tended to him, turning her into a servant for vampires.
Sounds like a lot to take in at first, doesn’t it? That is essentially the first chapters of the game. Overall I’d say about 3% of the game total. From here, Christof must learn to embrace his inner darkness, harnessing and mastering the different spells and powers of a vampire. Any and every piece of lore, myth or urban legend surrounding the undead seems to make an appearance: for players who take the time to perfect the characters, they will find that they are able to have Christof or his different allies turn into wolves or even monsters. In addition to the most basic of vampire attacks (namely biting and drawing blood from a victim), characters have a variety of weapons that are accessible.
In the game’s first half set in the Dark Ages of Prague and Vienna, characters can equip swords, shields, crossbows and the like to deal with enemies. (I soon learnt that while a vampire character would decimate a mere mortal, when vampires attack vampires they pretty much cross each other out as far as invincible monsters go.) Later, the game play shifts to modern-day London and New York, and the different vampire characters can now purchase and use guns, assault rifles and even rockets. (Though for me, bullets I found didn’t do much to any nasty undead villain, and the different swords you manage to carry over from the past were just as effective as before.)
The characters of Redemption are very deep and fleshed out. The main protagonist Christof goes on to embrace being a vampire for his own personal reasons, be they finding his love interest Anezka or ridding his path of unholy monsters. Different key decisions are placed in the game, affecting his morality. An example would be when he and his allies find a heart that is separate from the body of an evil undead member: the player can choose to have him destroy the heart and rid the world of it, or drain and consume it, absorbing the darkness. Christof is on a very clear slippery descent into darkness: different endings of the game represent just how much he falls. Alternatively, he can also prove that being undead doesn’t make him any less of a good man. The voice talent of the different characters felt very real, and helped round off their different personalities.
The gameplay of Vampire: The Masquerade is set like that of a pen-and-paper RPG, as well as a point-and-click. Experience points can be spent to improve different statistics and dark arts, while the 3D environments are traversable by pointing out where you want a person or persons to go and clicking. The cursor will change to various icons, depending upon the different actions chosen, as well as changing automatically for interactive people. For these easy but detailed actions, as well as its length and story development, Redemption won the Best RPG award of E3, 1999. In 2004, Activision and Troika Games created another named Bloodlines, set in the same universe as the first, but not as a sequel. While the game retains the same RPG feel, the story is entirely dependent on different choices and different actions, and was very free-flow. None of the original characters are seen, heard of or mentioned.
To paraphrase what I said at the start of this review, I shy away from the spooky and scary – the sole exception being when Bruce Campbell’s chainsaw-handed, smart mouthed Ash Williams says witty things while carving up ghouls. That said when I played Vampire: the Masquerade, I just couldn’t put it down. It was addictive. The game draws you into a dark world, where the only way to survive is to be better than the beast in front of you. It can be very long too, so put aside some spare time for yourself if you’re going to give this one a play through. Go ahead: I recommend it.
8 OUT OF 10.