Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - A Retrospective

You don't just play the game, you live it

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - A Retrospective
Source: GOG.

With the recent announcement that Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is back on the table, with a new developer and a fall 2024 release date, I thought it might be worth revisiting a piece I wrote for the original game a few years ago.

The piece is a little showy, a little rough around the edges, but given the less-than-ideal shape of developer Troika Games' Bloodlines, maybe that’s appropriate.

“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 bed frame. Broken condom wrappers lay scattered across the hovel like stale confetti—a miserable, unknowing final hooray on a life questionably spent.

Ended with a stake stuck through the chest. There’d been a moment or two to draw a sharp intake of breath as the room was stormed, but that breath never came. Every inch of her body cold.

Cold, but not dead. Not quite.

Source: GOG.

A grotesque show trial by a cast of strange, ominous figures was hastily convened. Still reeling from this perverse half-life, she was the unwitting defendant whose fate had already been decided. The pale, well-dressed man presiding over the court gave her the creeps, which said a lot.

The man she’d wasted the evening with was decapitated by a colossus of what might have once been human. Her head was set to roll next. She couldn’t say why any of this was happening to her, only that something was wrong with her. Inside. In her blood. Where a soul might have been. But if that was the crime, then heck, every single person in the court ought to be ferried to the guillotine.

Then someone in the stalls spoke up, calling out the pale, well-dressed man for his hypocrisy, although the woman didn't have a clue as to the nature of that hypocrisy. Or the nature of the man.

But the intervention was enough to spare the woman’s head.

The ghastly proceedings concluded and she was sent out into the night, wrestling with a sudden and unusual desire to satiate an overwhelming hunger. Hunger for what? She had no idea, only that she needed it.

Outside was a raggedy man who introduced himself as “Jack”, and he explained what the well-dressed man had not.

She 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 she felt? It was for blood. If she wished to survive then that hunger would need to be satisfied, or she’d fall prey to something worse, far worse, than what she had become.

Later, she stumbles out of her new apartment into a dark alley splashed by lazy rainfall. Drawn into the street by a sad duo of palm trees and the flicker of a red light signaling the presence of a round-the-clock clinic. What she needs is inside. How she’d manage to get it, well, one step at a time.

Source: Author.

The lobby is crammed with the sick and dying, the doctors unable to meet demand. The receptionist proves remarkably pliable, and the creature of the night wonders if she just got lucky or if their condition has gifted her supernatural powers of persuasion. What was it Jack said? Something about power being in the blood.

BLOOD. Quickly.

She opens the first door she sees. There’s 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.

She leaps and straddles the doctor, stabbing her teeth—no, fangs— into his neck. In that instant, the patient on the gurney suddenly shoots upright, his feet bizarrely merging with the metal. He’s wide awake. Then he’s flat on his back again.

The world spins as she sucks the doctor dry, the revolving perspective clipping with the walls, the interiors of the adjacent rooms visible. It’s ugly, but not in the way the leeching of blood from an innocent life ought to be.

And just like that, most of the spell has been lost. Reality asserts itself.

We are in the confines of an unfinished and often broken videogame. With a bit of time and patience, that magic will return, the shape of something magnificent emerging from a rickety framework—but always just an inch out of reach.

Welcome to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

Source: Author.

Gothic, sodden Los Angeles is your haunt, your hunting ground. It’s where you will find the sustenance needed to survive, and where the night's creatures await your arrival to fulfill their dark ambitions, all of which seem to have their sights set on a mysterious sarcophagus.

It isn't like any Los Angeles you've seen. It is a city possessed. Spires shrouded in a cold mist, hooked claws along the exterior. Modernity singed with some obscure devilry. Yet enchanting, peopled with unforgettable characters, at once horrifying and sexy, lurid and brilliant.

This is a rich, complex, and difficult game, resistant to judgment due to the circumstances of its creation and release. Would the game have been superior if Troika had been given the time they needed to realise their ambitions? Probably. But with the cult following and critical reappraisal it’s accrued since that broken release, tended to by devoted and talented fans, Bloodlines looks to have earned a haunted, eternal life of its own.


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