Monday, May 17, 2021

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption - Review

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is not a good game, really. The characters are boring, the dialogue laughable. The story is cliché and the controls... oh sweet Vukodlak, the controls are way beyond redemption, if you pardon my pun.

I guess VTMR, as I am going to call it, has got to live in the shadow of its, supposedly, better sibling VTM: Bloodlines. I haven't played that one yet so I can't say, but I know the bar is pretty low. Before playing Redemption I had heard very little about it, whereas I seem to come across some Bloodlines reference every here and there. 

You actually start out as a human, Christof. It's the middle ages of Europe and you're a knight of the crusade battling evil. I knew my character was going to become a vampire before long because, A: I was playing a vampire game and B: you can see the character as a vampire on the cover art. You get hurt in battle and nursed back to health by a nun called Anezka at the local monastery. You immediately fall madly in love with this nun, though you are both vowed to celibacy, and this serves as the foundation for the entire story of VTMR. After the first dungeon which serves as a sort of learning experience you get turned into a vampire by one of the many clans in VTM - the brujah. I can't say I am well versed in VTM lore, but I know the clans differ quite a lot. In VTMR you don't get to choose which clan you belong to but you get to fight several of them.

Christof, who only speaks with "thy" and "thee" throughout the entire game, learns that his "beloved Anezka" has been turned into a ghoul by another faction of vampires. They also aim to raise some sort of mega-demon from hell to allow vampires to rule the earth once more. For some reason some vampires are against this. There is quite a lot of dialogue explaining all this in the game but things move around so quickly and the dialogue is quite tiresome it left my brain about as soon as I had read it. I realized it was all really just an excuse to get to slaughter some vampires and demons.

The quest log is ok but the map is absolutely useless.

Through events you will eventually get transported from the middle ages to "modern" times, i.e when the game was made around 2000. The end goal is of course to find and free your Anezka though it is unclear whether she actually wants to, and also to prevent the coming of the Vukodlak. The way to do this is by going through different dungeon-settings and whacking the heck out of the enemies. Even though the settings differ and give some nice variety, very little else does - they all play out exactly the same. Enter, go through a few levels, kill boss at the end. 

Between dungeons you will get the opportunity to sell your loot to buy new loot. There are swords, halberds, shotguns, rocket launchers and everything in-between. They're all pretty much equally bad, you end up either flailing your swords or flailing your pistols. That is if you can even get in position to attack in the first place, but more about that soon. You collect a "coterie" of fellow vampires who decide to join you for one reason or other, most extremely vague and along the lines of "because I feel like it". Some will swap out, and always without any warning and taking every piece of item they had in their inventory with them. I always reloaded at these points to strip them down naked, I've fought hard for those items!

There is a lot of dialogue, little of it interesting.

You also get the chance to skill up your characters. There are plenty of stats to choose from, and even more spells. It's hard to notice that up-ing my stats makes any difference in combat, other than that it allows me to cast new spells. What does having 20 more perception even do? Do I hit harder with 30 more strength? If that is the case I really can't tell. There is a plethora of magic schools to play around with and each school has a handful of different spells. Some seem to be absolutely useless, like subduing animals. There hardly are any animals in the game and they're all bad at fighting anyway. Other spells seemed absolutely mandatory, like having fire spells. Some enemies died from two fire spells or 25 flailings of my sword. I am sure I couldn't have beaten the game at all if I hadn't at least one character with fire spells. 

You gain new schools by leveling up or by finding books around the dungeons. Tough luck if you taught a character a school who then leaves your coterie. After the first time that happened I just ended up teaching my main character every book I came across, unless he knew it already. Spells are cast by using your "blood pool" and when you reach 0 you die. There are many ways to enhance your blood pool though, and many enemies to refill your blood pool from. Overall I think this system is interesting and works, or at least would work if it wasn't for other parts of the combat being broken (more about that soon).

You'll get items like poison and disease antidotes but I never ended up needing them.

The game is extremely linear, but so is Super Mario. It doesn't have to be a problem if other aspects of the game are either built around it or at least fun in their own respect. I often prefer games that offer some linearity since I like the sense of clear progression they often offer. And the dungeons aren't too bad. Like I said they're actually fairly varied, going through sewers, monasteries, caves, the secret Setite temple underneath a night club... Enemies are varied too, within the lore. You'll fight different kinds of vampires who throw a bunch of different skills your way, some way more annoying and devastating than others.

While a lot of aspects about VTMR are weak, they at least work decently. The main issue with VTMR however are the controls, and they are a pretty big issue. You'll spend more time fighting the controls when you enter combat than you will fighting the enemies. The main issue is probably that everything is controlled by clicking. You click where you walk and where you attack. This meant some times accidentally clicking innocent bystanders because I was actually trying to walk past them. That instantly had my entire coterie attack them which in turn had all the guards attack me and... reload. 

I can't even count the times this happened, leading me to target the wrong enemy or executing the wrong attack or just plain running to the wrong place. I can't count the times my coterie members stood in my way or thought I was standing in the way or decided to unload their bullets into a wall because an enemy was slightly obstructed. Sometimes I'd notice one of them was missing and find them way back just standing staring into a wall. I often decided to give my comrades ranged weapons just so they wouldn't get stuck somewhere or stand in my way. Trying to suck blood from an enemy I often accidentally clicked one of my friends standing in the way, leaving us both useless and exposed in the combat until I could cancel the skill. My character often struggled to walk through doorways if I didn't carefully click him around the door. It's a horrible mix of abysmal path-finding and terrible AI.

Even though you get many interesting skills, you can only equip six of them at any given time. I tried going into my spellbook mid-combat for some fights but targeting enemies was difficult enough without a huge inventory screen in the way. 

You can swap between characters at any time, and as soon as you let one of them go back to their AI they go full on stupid-mode again. It often felt like herding a bunch of crazy toddlers and the only reason I kept them around was to not feel so lonely... and also for cannon fodder.

The subject matter means spending a lot of time in the dark. I constantly had trouble seeing what was going on or where I was going.

All this meant I was save-scumming my way through this game and I feel zero shame. I had to reload so many times because my entire party died from standing in a poison cloud in some corner or run straight into sunlight like they've forgotten what they are. Or waste their blood pool on skills that are basically useless. It's fortunate then that it seems like my version was updated with the possibility to save at any time. I saw what seemed to be save spots in the game, hinting at a version where you could only save at certain areas in the game and honestly - the game would've been unplayable that way. You just die to unfair stuff way too often.

So how do I explain that I still spent over 20 hours with this game? I tortured myself all the way to the end after all, so it can't have been all bad, right? I guess even though there are a lot of unnecessary deaths and combat controls are about as smooth as a drunk refrigerator, with the help of save-scumming the game at least manages to have some sort of forward momentum that kept my interest throughout. Even with the horrible controls I can't really say that it's a difficult game and it would've been extremely easy with good combat controls so maybe that's one way to look at it. 

Yet I can't recommend anyone to play Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption. It won't offer you anything that another game doesn't do better, so unless you have an affinity for the VTM lore or a fetish for vampires I'd say it's better to go get some sunlight.

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