Thirsty for more

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Chris Burke

“There’s re­ally only one des­ti­na­tion for us: the night­club”

PUB­LISHER Para­dox In­ter­ac­tive De­vel­oper Hard­suit Labs ETA Early 2020

Every­one loves a vam­pire. From Christo­pher Lee’s charis­matic Drac­ula, via the in­sipid tooth­some teens of Twi­light to the sex­ier vam­pires of True Blood or The Lost Boys, there’s an ap­peal to sleep­ing all day, par­ty­ing all night, never grow­ing old and never dy­ing. Yet still role-play­ing as an ac­tual vam­pire in a videogame is some­thing we’ve had few real op­por­tu­ni­ties to do.

Those gamers who got the chance to play Vam­pire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines on PC back in 2004 fondly re­mem­ber it as an ambitious, if hugely flawed, vam­pire RPG. Based on a table­top RPG, it put you in the role of a newly-made vam­pire find­ing its fangs in a post-dusk Los An­ge­les. There was a lot to love about the game, but its am­bi­tion was marred by clumsy me­chan­ics and the lim­i­ta­tions of the time. But now a be­lated se­quel looks like it will fully re­alise our vam­pire RPG fan­tasies. Even though it’s been 15 years, fans can rest easy – de­vel­oper Hard­suit Labs has roped in orig­i­nal game writer Brian Mit­soda to help craft a faith­ful follow-up.

For our game­play demo we’re placed in the shoes of a ‘Thin­blood’, the name given to a weaker vam­pire who has just been ‘em­braced’ – that is, turned into a blood­sucker. At this point of char­ac­ter cre­ation, play­ers can choose be­tween three vam­pire classes: Men­tal­ism is fo­cused on tele­ki­netic abil­i­ties, Ne­bu­la­tion means you can turn into a mist. Choose Chi­ropteran and you can turn into, or sum­mon, a swarms of bats. Nat­u­rally, this im­me­di­ately sounds the coolest and that’s the one we opt for.

Sleep­less in Seat­tle

It’s per­pet­u­ally 1am in Seat­tle, the set­ting for this new game and Hard­suit Labs’ home­town. This is to avoid an irk­some day/night cy­cle in­ter­fer­ing with your quests. “We stay away from the day/night cy­cle be­cause pretty much vam­pires can’t do any­thing dur­ing the day so it would be very bor­ing!” ex­plains Mit­soda.

We be­gin with a mes­sage that the var­i­ous fac­tions of Kin­dred (that’s what vamps call themselves) want to meet with us. We’re in Seat­tle’s old­est neigh­bour­hood, the Pioneer Square district, but although we have a num­ber of quest mark­ers to where we can meet with the fac­tions in­clud­ing a bar, cof­fee shop and a park­ing garage, there’s re­ally only one des­ti­na­tion for us: the night­club.

A sim­i­lar dance club was a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion in the first game, on ac­count of the NPCs’, um, char­ac­ter­ful danc­ing. Walk­ing across the dance­floor in the Atrium club, we’re given the op­tion to bust a move. Yes, those crazy steps have been faith­fully recre­ated for a lovely bit of fan-ser­vice. Although the game is pri­mar­ily first-per­son, the cam­era switches to third-per­son for ac­tiv­i­ties such as danc­ing, scal­ing walls or per­form­ing ac­ro­batic feats.

Head­ing up­stairs at the club onto a roof ter­race, we meet a woman called Elif. She’s a Nos­fer­atu rep­re­sen­ta­tive, though she her­self is clearly not a Nos­fer­atu – a type of vam­pire who, when they are em­braced, are dis­fig­ured and so are rarely seen in pub­lic. Elif ex­plains that they need you to find a Thin­blood by the name of Slugg, who’s in hid­ing, and buy some valu­able in­for­ma­tion from him.

Con­ver­sa­tions with NPCs are im­pres­sive, with re­al­is­tic faces that are sharp and well drawn – some­thing

we no­tice both with Elif and our rather more grotesque next en­counter, Sa­muel. Sa­muel is a Nos­fer­atu, but de­spite his fa­cial dis­fig­u­ra­tions, his lip-sync­ing and unique an­i­ma­tions make the con­ver­sa­tion we have both con­vinc­ing and com­pelling.

Mit­soda ex­plains that while a lot of the NPCs’ an­i­ma­tions in the first game were han­dled gener­i­cally by a di­a­logue an­i­ma­tion sys­tem, this time the devs have re­ally in­vested in mak­ing the char­ac­ters re­al­is­tic, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the look and feel as well as nu­ances such as a char­ac­ter’s dis­po­si­tion to­wards the player.

“What peo­ple re­mem­ber from the first game is the story and char­ac­ter,” ex­plains Mit­soda. “This is a very di­a­logue-fo­cused game, it’s about the char­ac­ters you meet. From our side it’s about mak­ing sure the per­for­mance of the char­ac­ters, the VO, is spec­tac­u­lar and some­thing above what other peo­ple are de­liv­er­ing, the in­ter­ac­tions are fun, the char­ac­ters pop, that peo­ple en­joy just go­ing around talk­ing to every­one you meet.”

Sa­muel tells us that Slugg is in The Jun­gle, an ac­tual area of Seat­tle known for its home­less en­camp­ments: a place that peo­ple go to if they want to ‘dis­ap­pear’. But here Sa­muel also offers you an al­ter­na­tive to lo­cat­ing Slugg for the fac­tion; bring Slugg to him and he prom­ises to keep him safe, even send­ing word to the Nos­fer­atu that he’s “met the busi­ness end of a salt shaker”. It’s one of the many branch­ing moral choices you’ll en­counter in the game.

Con­crete jun­gle

The en­trance to The Jun­gle is near King’s Street sta­tion. There are a cou­ple of hooded char­ac­ters hanging around here, but this is a se­cluded enough place to test out some vam­piric pow­ers. One of our dis­ci­plines as a vam­pire, ac­ces­si­ble from the Power Wheel, is Thau­maturgy, which in­cludes ‘dis­per­sion’ and ‘blood boil’ pow­ers. We also have two Po­tence abil­i­ties, ‘col­lat­eral dam­age’ and ‘earth shock’. We cre­ate some spikes out of the ground that end the two hood­ies, then pro­ceed into The Jun­gle.

Down here there are tents, car­a­vans and bra­ziers, around which some of The Jun­gle’s res­i­dents hud­dle. Using our senses to look around, we see other hu­mans as sil­hou­ettes with high­lighted red veins and or­gans. We can also de­tect emo­tional res­o­nance – this is how vam­pires feel things. This res­o­nance can be fed on and used to fuel buffs for your char­ac­ter.

Drinking blood is, of course, vi­tal to your vam­pire. How­ever, you will need to do this, as well as ex­er­cise any supernatur­al pow­ers, in pri­vate or it will lower your Masquerade; this affects the city it­self – how many other hu­mans are out and about, how many cops are around – so it’s a good idea to keep your true na­ture hid­den.

We find Slugg but he does a run­ner, and we have to follow him fast through an un­der­pass, trans­form­ing into a swarm of bats to fly across high ledges. As we head deeper into The Jun­gle we come across a drug deal go­ing down in a ware­house, right in the way of our progress. Here we have a choice: we can bowl straight in through the door, or sneak around. We spy a first floor open win­dow as an al­ter­na­tive breach­ing point, and de­cide that caution is the bet­ter part of valour. How­ever, it’s not long be­fore we’re dis­cov­ered by a woman with an as­sault ri­fle – luck­ily we have an iron bar and man­age to smack her with it be­fore we die of bul­lets. We at­tack an­other armed crim­i­nal with our bats, which is as fun as it sounds.

Mit­soda re­veals that the first game’s many su­per-fans have al­ready shaped the di­rec­tion of Bloodlines 2, which he’s de­ter­mined to en­sure also im­proves upon the for­mula mas­sively. “In the first game you’ve got a guy that shoots and kicks peo­ple but oc­ca­sion­ally drinks blood. We wanted to make you feel more like a vam­pire in this one. We’ve in­tro­duced ver­ti­cal­ity, you can scale build­ings. Your char­ac­ter is a lot faster and more fluid in its move­ments as a vam­pire. And,” he laughs, “we have con­sciously tried to stay away from the very, very long sewer lev­els from the orig­i­nal game!”

Vam­pire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is slated for an early 2020 re­lease, and we’re cer­tainly blood­thirsty for it.

“This is a very di­a­logue­fo­cused game, it’s about the char­ac­ters you meet”

Be­low Thanks to a ‘mass embrace’ that took place re­cently, Seat­tle is crawl­ing with fresh vam­pires.

Above Hard­suit Labs is based in Seat­tle, so we’re hop­ing for a faith­ful recre­ation of the city.

far left Your char­ac­ter is new to this vam­pire thing and has to start off do­ing grunt work for the city’s many fac­tions.

ab ove It’ll al­ways be night­time in Bloodlines 2.

right Those in­fa­mous janky dance moves from the orig­i­nal have been recre­ated for the se­quel.

Be­low Sure you’re a vam­pire and all that, but some­times you just need to use a gun.

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