It's easy to blame Stephenie Mayer for the ongoing pussification of vampires but the truth is that she wasn't the first person to depict vampires as being overly self-pitying. Anne Rice's 1976 book 'Interview with the Vampire' was chiefly responsible for advancing the trope, though there were one or two prior examples as well. Thankfully, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, a first person role-playing game first released on the PC in 2004, was almost totally devoid of whiny self-absorbed bloodsuckers.
'Okay, you can do an ankh, but can you do a bunny rabbit?'
The game cast you as a newly turned creature of the night, the vampire who turned you having been executed for turning you without permission. This left you at the beck and call of the Prince, the vampire in charge of the city, who decided to use you as his own personal errand boy. Or errand girl, since the game let you choose the sex of your character, as well as the clan they belonged to. Your choice of clan was more important since it determined the blood-fuelled powers your character had access to.
All of which might sound like the set up for a cue for a vampiric dungeon crawl, but Bloodlines was a far more rounded game than its prequel, Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption ever was. Or indeed, many other RPGs of the time, with the exception of perhaps the Knights of the Old Republic series. While the game did contain some combat, there was also a heavy emphasis on character interaction. As a newcomer to the World of Darkness, you had no idea who to trust and so had to tread very carefully. Following the instructions of one character could earn you the ire of another and while this didn't mean your death as such, they probably wouldn't offer you any further employment.
Vampires do not take.... buses.
The game took place mostly in Los Angeles, which was split into several smaller areas and while the play area wasn't expansive as the likes of Grand Theft Auto, it nevertheless looked authentic, complete with nightclubs, diners and other city locations. There were also decrepit warehouses to explore as well as underground areas, old buildings and mansions, some of which could be accessed immediately, while others required you to complete certain quests first.
The locations also contained various wandering characters, most of whom could be dined upon by your character. The protagonist's vampirism was a central part of the game, rather than something that felt tacked on. You needed to drink blood in order to heal your character's wounds and also to fuel their powers. These powers included the ability to make enemies fight each other, to make yourself invisible, amongst other things. If you ran out of blood, you had to rely on firearms and melee weapons to combat your foes. Sounds like that was a cue to drink gallons and gallons of the red stuff, right?
'I don't care how loudly it screams, I'm still not looking at it.'
Not quite – because there was a catch. You had to be very careful how much blood you took because, outside of certain areas which were marked as combat zones, killing people lost you a humanity point. This made you more likely to be overcome with blood lust and lose control of your character. In addition, displaying any vampiric abilities in public would endanger the 'Masquerade', and risk reveal the existing vampires. If you ran out of Masquerade points or Humanity points, the game would end. As if that wasn't enough hassle for a vampire to deal with, you also went up against other vampires, werewolves, mutant monsters and even a ghost. The latter cropped up during the Ocean Hotel quest, which was set in one of the most terrifying locations to feature in any video game. Being a vampire was not an easy ride by any means.
As for the game's storyline itself, there was a main storyline, with several alternative endings, but Bloodlines also contained a myriad of optional side quests. These included investigating a series of brutal murders, dealing with a local author who was writing a book about vampires and more. These quests were typically well written and were seldom black and white, so you were often left to choose the 'least worst' option. The game also let you deal with each problem as you saw fit, using violence, stealth or your many vampiric talents. You also encountered moral issues outside of quests as well. At one point, you can feed your blood to a character to save their life, but they become obsessed with you as a result. A tricky situation to say the least...
This isn't how donating blood normally goes.
As is with the case with quite a few RPGs, you still had to be careful that you didn't spread your experience points too thinly, since there were a few situations where you had to fight. Ranged combat worked pretty well, as you might have expected given that the game used the Half-Life 2 engine. Close range combat wasn't quite as smoothly executed, however, and often involved running up to a foe, slashing away at them, running backwards and repeating. The result was that hand to hand combat resembled nothing so much as two characters engaging a slap fight.
Slap-fighting silliness aside, Bloodlines was a superb game which holds up even today, and has been lauded by many as a classic. Sadly, the game didn't do all that well at the time and as a result, the company behind the game went out of business, so we never got a sequel. There were a few bugs in the original game, to be fair, but there is in fact an unofficial patch which has been constantly updated – it's now on version 9 – which even restores some missing content to the game. So even if you have played it already, it's well worth going back to.
'There's a Harleen Quinzel here to see you, Jeanette. Something about copyright infringement.'
Even without the restored content, Bloodlines his highly replayable and is one of the few vampire games that actually feels like you're playing as a vampire. Rather than it being a game the artist just happens to have drawn a pair of fangs on the main character. Of course, if you're not a fan of things vampiric then the game might not appeal to you as much but it's an excellent RPG in its own right. A bloody joy to play, Vampire Bloodlines is well worth getting your teeth into, even today. And best of all, none of the vampires in the game sparkled.