It has become almost a ritual for me to take some time and indulge in my vampire life every year. I need it, I need to take at least a small bite out of this beautifully perverted world that enriched my gaming life so much.
Every year, I wander the streets of gothic, diseased, virtual L.A. in search for problems needing resolve and mortals to manipulate. I find this increasingly hard, but not because the Vampire world has lost its devilish, perverted charm or because the game is still pestered enough with bugs, but because I already started this dark life enough times and so I know too much about it and about its seductions. It's still so much more than a lot of contemporary virtual worlds but I fear that it will eventually be forgotten among others of its kind.
So what exactly is the state of this dark lover know? I started my current playthrough of Bloodlines very skeptical. I can't even restart Fallout: New Vegas without knowing that I already had a ton of it - and I'll still have more - so how much will this un-life hypnotize me now? I walked its nightly streets enthusiastic enough, for about 5-6 hours, up until I had to search Alistair Grout's mansion and with heavy sadness I felt this was it. Only after a few days I managed to get it over with, since the prospect of seeing Hollywood again is hypnotic enough. Grout's mansion is probably the first major breaking point of the game. Until now almost every quest and every solution was at your whim and you alone could decide how to treat a problem. A tire iron or Axe to the face, itchy trigger-fingers, vampire magicka, stealth or sweet-talk (in more then one form) were all at your disposal. After arriving at the mansion, there's no damn way out until you finished the undead in it and found Grout, or what's left of him. The biggest problem is not that combat with some minor stealth intertwined is pretty much the only way to move about it, but that there's no way of avoiding this part if you're intent on finishing the game. It's either this or you're out. Of course, everyone fondly remembers the fucking Hollywood warrens, but Grout's mansion is the first major part of the game where you smell unworthiness.
I wish so much that my relationship with Bloodlines was similar with the one that I have with the next Deus Ex or Skyrim: what I know about them are mainly factoids, chunks of information launched by their creators or the press and I can't wait for the day I'll finally solve their quests. But with Bloodlines it's becoming increasingly difficult. I know too much about it, about its characters, I know too many of its slick and wonderful dialogue and superb as it is - oh, it is fucking superb sometimes - that's the problem: I tasted everything too many times. BUT at the same time I'm aware of how much more there still is to see from it. I know I finished the game at least one time and I may have finished it a second, but I'm not sure about that. I played as a Malkavian for at least 5-6 hours, mostly an hour as a Nosferatu and tried some of the other clans in very short sessions.
Every time I take a serious dip into my vampire life, I'm a beautiful, cultured Toreador, who talks his way through everything he can, effortlessly playing mortals and vampires alike after his own desires. And I can't even say that playing as a Toreador isn't a great experience anymore - because it is - I just know this little game's incredible potential and just want more of it, just like you want more of that lost lover that although you know so well you wouldn't permanently give up for anything else in life... or un-life. Sometimes it is so damn good that it's impossible to not ask for more, just one more fix of its brutal seduction. And then one more and so on... I finished Bloodlines as a Toreador and I would do it to eternity.
In the visual blood-soaked candy department, I also expected to be somehow repulsed by its old looks, now that everything first-person has mandatory Depth of field, HDR, different types of blur all over the place and let's not forget newly introduced bokeh effects and - OMG - HDR motion-blur. But thank the vampire lords I care about HDR motion-blur as I care about Activision, because to say that this game looks horrible would be pushing it without reason. Actually, it looks as bad or as good as it looked when it launched. No, sorry about that, it looks much better since in 2004 - I played it for the first time in 2007 if my memory is correct - you couldn't taste it in 1920x1080. It won't put up with today's big boys but today's big boys won't put up with it in other places. The situation is enormously sadder when you consider the base it's running on: of course that in 2004 Source wasn't as beautiful and fleshed out as it is today, but it was one of the best (probably the best) engine the industry had at the time and we got very clear proof of what it could do with Half-Life 2. The animations and physics-engine implementation are so annoyingly broken that it's almost boring and at some points I want to quit the game because of its technical idiocy. You can still get fatally stuck in a door and there are still pathways at least temporarily blocked by unsuspecting NPCs.
Even with these marvels, the talking animations are still probably the best for the face-to-face system we find in FPS/RPG hybrids. After 7 years, this beautifully broken game still has the most interesting and lifelike in-game chatting animations I've seen in games that treat the talking parts like this. The game that has come closest to this is Fallout: New Vegas, but just close enough, not even at the same level. I expect Skyrim will finally transcend it - it would be about time - and I'll make some big, sad eyes if it doesn't. I thought I could never care about Bloodlines' tenants again, but here I was listening to Jeanette, Jack and some of the others with almost the same careful attention as three years ago. They have some serious busyness with me and they say it like they mean it, verbally and visually. And without any joking whatsoever, if a heavily crippled game like this has some of the best voice acting ever heard in a video game, it's amazing to high heavens how this aspect is still so controversial. We still can not expect that every major release today will get this right and yet Bloodlines makes this look so effortlessly, with its perfect sync of voice, attitude and visual flair. Yes, Bioware does it every time and kudos to them for that, but not many games learn from the past.
The word "mature" is tossed around today in all places in the gaming scene, whether correctly or not, probably because we want and need so much to legitimize this medium to the other big players in the entertainment busyness. Calling Bloodlines mature is almost like doing it a disservice. That's because it doesn't need it but how come it doesn't? It doesn't need it because it shows it just as clearly as a kick in the crotch. Just like with humans, the ideal way to know something is to see it happen, not being told. Video games struggle a lot to convince us how - ahem - mature they are and they struggle greatly with heavy subjects and out of the blue comes this game that talks about sex, pornography, snuff, incest, anarchy, political crap of all kinds like it knows what it's saying. And it can talk about them precisely because it builds the world for them, the necessary world for you to have a taste of it and be disgusted, pleasured or just manipulate it after your desire. On top of its world, it has the atmosphere and the characters to bathe you in all the wickedness of the modern city life.
It's hard to think of Bloodlines without thinking about some of its other cousins occupying the same scene and what a sad fact it is that Bloodlines seems the only one, the most unfortunate of them to not get at least one proper sequel: Fallout has a very rich and cozy home, Deus Ex will soon be alive again and kicking more then ever and even the Planescape universe might get a new adventure after what Chris Avelone declared this year. But Bloodlines? Its legacy only tells of a MMO - made by CCP - that although might be a great game, has long roads to walk to redeem the mistakes this game had to endure and still come out so victorious.
Potential is easy to spot in Bloodlines from a mile away but I know it is forever cursed by handicapped marketing decisions - really, I wish I could slap someone at Activision and only after ask them "Why exactly do you needed this on the same day as Half-Life 2, huh?". It's telling for its potential the fact that even now there's a guy - which deserves praise - working to continuously fix the game which is playable enough from around 2006 and in 2011 the best patch for Bloodlines is still in the works. Not many games inspire such a great devotion and not many games get it. What we have here is a crippled masterpiece that deserves it.
With this current - incomplete for sure - playthrough, I know this isn't just a case of remembering something as I wish it to be. It's not perfect, it still has many problems and it will have them forever, but forever might not bring me anything like it. I'll be Adam Jensen - Eidos told me so in the trailers - I'll walk the Wasteland over and over and I may even meet The Nameless One again. But to be a vampire in my sweet, eternal gothic night, I may have to return to Bloodlines year after year.