GGOAT: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

Well, now that I’ve kinda teased it I guess I’ll have to follow through, don’t I?

So…welcome to another episode of Greatest Games Of All Time, my highly subjective compilation of the best video games ever made.

Astonishingly, in all those years I’d never noticed that scrolling title screen

Unlike most of its fans my first experience in the World of Darkness setting wasn’t with one of its Pen & Paper RPGs, but the trading card game Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. The bits of story and background woven into that game were enough to intrigue me though, so I dug deeper and liked what I found.

Consequently I was eagerly anticipating the PC release of single-player RPG Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption in 2000. Unfortunately it disappointed. It wasn’t a truly bad game, but in my opinion it wasn’t very good either. It was buggy, controls were clunky, combat frustrating. Even worse, the uninspired German voiceovers managed to undo every bit of atmosphere that might have been there (the English tracks weren’t included). I didn’t even make it far enough into the game to see the plot’s transition from 12th to 20th century, although I would have quite liked that.

Hence when the sequel, Bloodlines, was announced for release in November 2004 I was rather sceptic. Previews looked promising though, features like being able to choose a clan and having different ways to play the game seemed tailor-made for me. That Troika Games had decided to use Valve’s brand new Source engine instead of a homebrew was another reason for optimism.

So yeah, I bought it as soon as it came out. One of the best gaming-related decisions I’ve ever made.

I recommend a Tremere (ranged) or a Brujah (melee) for your first playthrough

Character creation is pretty good overall. The seven main Camarilla clans are available to play, either as a male or female. You can’t alter your appearance at all though, your male Tremere looks exactly the same as mine for example.

Thanks to a couple of fanmade patches you can now also choose a little bit of backstory for your character from a small selection, which even has some impact on gameplay because it changes your options for distributing your starting skill points and/or gives you small strenghts and weaknesses. On your first playthrough you probably won’t make very wise choices here anyway though because you won’t know yet which skills and disciplines will turn out to be the most important ones.

You’ll want to invest into strenght and scholarship, no matter the clan. Trust me on this…

The game starts with a pretty long in-engine video sequence setting up your character and the story. Fortunately I had the option to play the English version this time, and the voice acting is terrific all around.

The first 15 minutes or so of actually controlling your character constitute the tutorial. It’s rather light gameplaywise, but teaches you everything there is to know about your…umm…condition, and it’s also very entertaining thanks to your guide.

He’s a legend amongst vampires, believe it or not

The storytelling really is one of the game’s strong suits. The second one becomes accessible to you right after finishing the tutorial: virtual Los Angeles.

It’s not actually huge by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the beginning when you can’t yet leave the first locale, Santa Monica. Nevertheless it never felt too small to me.

I think the reason for this is that the game made me feel like the world was my own personal playground right from the start. Although the story is mostly linear I was always eager to stray off the path and explore every nook and cranny. For example, when I received an assignment to break into the local hospital and make some evidence disappear I’d long since raided the place and taken everything that wasn’t bolted down, just because I could. Oopsie.

You don’t need to see his…err…my identification!

The thing is, even as a very young and inexperienced vampire you’re immensely more powerful than any normal human being, which lets you get away with stuff like that. It’s extremely fun to try out your vampiric abilities and test your limits against different enemies and environments.

There’s also a lot of replayability, which is why I reliably come back to the game every few years without getting bored. Which clan you choose makes a huge difference, obviously, as having or not having disciplines like Obfuscate (which lets you become invisible) or Celerity (turns you into The Flash) changes how you play the game and tackle different challenges dramatically. Some clans even have their own special advantages or disadvantages. Ventrue can’t feed on rats, Tremere can get a special, fancy hideout (and make people explode, so there’s that) and Nosferatu can’t show themselves to humans at all lest they break the masquerade each and every time.

Because they basically all look like this…

Additionally, many side-quests have different possible outcomes. Mostly the consequences of choosing one over the other doesn’t have a bigger impact than, for example, gaining more money or XP but losing a point of humanity in return (which can be regained elsewhere if you so wish), but it’s still nice to have that variety.

But wait, there’s more. Every now and then a quest sends you off to a new, insulated set piece that offers a story of its own and also somewhat different kinds of gameplay. An abandoned hotel haunted by ghosts, the mansion of a Malkavian (= crazy) vampire, a house completely twisted and perverted by a powerful Tzimisce (vampires with the power to sculpt flesh and bone at will).


You can only go to these places when you’re at the right point in the story, and only once, but they’re so great that these alone are enough to get me in the mood for another playthrough time and again.

Depending on whom you side with towards the finale there’s at least four different endings to the main story too. It’s never been more satisfying to kick some dead people in the proverbial nuts, let me tell you.

The game also has a really dry sense of humor which I like a lot. Many quests and dialogues are hilarious, even more so if you choose to play as a Malkavian. Other funny bits are hidden where you’d least expect them, like in various item descriptions.

I’d never thought about it, but now that you raise the question…

Unfortunately the game also has some serious weaknesses.

Despite using the Source engine it isn’t exactly a looker even by 2004’s standards. It’s pretty clunky, animations are wooden and collision detection is weird.

Much worse are the bugs though. At release it was a total mess, bugs ranging from merely annoying to gamebreaking were everywhere. Word spread fast, resulting in less than stellar sales numbers. Troika managed to deliver a couple of patches, but their support for the game dried up quickly due to financial troubles. They had to close up shop in February 2005, seemingly dooming the game to stay in a poor state forever.

Fortunately it has a loyal, active fanbase to this day, and the aforementioned unofficial patches squashed many bugs and even added some new content. By now it’s finally in a technical state that can be described as “quite ok”. Of course a 15 year old game won’t attract droves of new players no matter what, but I for one will happily revisit it a couple more times in years to come.

I still haven’t played it through with a Nosferatu after all…

GGOAT: Silent Hill

I realized something about myself: I like columns.

No, not these. Well, these too, but this ain’t about them

I’m talking about topic categories. My first one was Stay awhile and listen which is about music I like and other musical subjects, then came Memorable Moments where I recount great gaming adventures I had.

Now here’s another one: Greatest Games Of All Time.

This is where I’d like to talk about games that, for me, rank among the best ever made, and what exactly it is that makes them so great.

Here goes.

Reading about the Resident Evil 2 remake, which even Angry Joe really digs (NSFW) and which I’m definitely going to buy as soon as I’ve got the time to play it, made me reminisce about the various horror games I’ve played over time. The greatest of them all, and indeed one of the best games I’ve played period, is Silent Hill.


It is easily the most scary piece of entertainment I’ve ever consumed. For a game that had to make do with PSone graphics and mostly refrained from utilizing jump scares this is all the more impressive. How did they do it?

One important factor for me is the despair and helplessness the game makes you feel right from the start without actually rendering you totally helpless as a player. I mean, sure, you don’t have any weapons at the beginning, but the first monsters you encounter you can run away from easily, and you find your first weapon, a club or somesuch, relatively soon.

For comparison, The Evil Within, a game that many, myself included, had hoped might bring Silent Hill’s spirit back, pits you against enemies you can neither fight nor escape from all the time. Either you get the sneaking part just right, or you die. To me that was much more aggravating than exciting.

Instead of invincible opponents Silent Hill mostly uses its very unique atmosphere to scare you.

Firstly, the town is pretty huge and you’re wandering around all alone (most of the time anyway). Due to the ubiquitous fog you can’t see very far, so you often have to rely on your hearing to identify threats.

You don’t actually see much, but your imagination runs amok constantly

The sounds most monsters make send chills down your spine, as does the crackling and squeaking radio alerting you of their presence. Even scarier than that is Akira Yamaoka’s ingenious soundtrack though. Much of it is more soundscape than music, and it’s fucking terrifying. Seriously, just listen to this and imagine playing the game alone in a dark room to that.

Whenever you think it can’t get any worse the game cranks up the horror to 11 by shifting over to the Otherworld, some kind of hellish parallel dimension.

Not much left to the imagination here

When that happens the ‘music’ also goes all in. If this doesn’t freak you out I don’t know what would. I firmly believe that the game would only be half as great if it didn’t have that soundtrack.

It’s been about 20 years since I played the game, so I don’t remember many details about the story. I do remember that I didn’t get the ‘good’ ending though (if there even is such a thing) and that I was pretty disturbed and sad. It’s definitely not your standard demons invade our dimension, shit happens story, that’s for sure.

Despite all of this I’m afraid that Silent Hill isn’t a game I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who hasn’t played it yet. Much time has passed since it was made and gamers’ habits and expectations have changed a lot since then. I had to realize this myself when I started to play Silent Hill 2 for the first time about three years ago. Most fans agree that it’s even greater than the first one, but for some reason I’d never gotten around to playing it before. I gave up only a couple of hours in. I just couldn’t get over the sluggish controls, the stubborn camera, the backtracking and, yes, the blocky graphics anymore.

Now that they’re finished with Resi 2 I really hope Konami will do an equally great remake of Silent Hill. I think no other game deserves it as much. And, Konami, why not also do part 2 while you’re at it?