Written by Joe the Revelator
At least, that’s what White Wolf Inc’s dark titanic of an RPG insists, since I’ve once again drained a human to death for his sweet supply of replenishing health and magic; IE blood.
“He’s a hobo, nobody’ll miss him!” I shout at the screen. The deed is done though, and now my vampire/beastman/gunslinger character must be a tad more careful about his conduct. Punishment and balance, it seems, is a prevalent theme throughout VTMB. Sure you could summon a cloud of bats or a fistful of lightening to murder a junkie in the streets. But the Masquerade must be maintained, an iron law that prohibits vampires from alerting the public of their existence. A final breach of the Masquerade can lead to the direst of fates, reloading your last saved game...
You play as a vampire in a city that’s run by vampires, as a fledgling bloodsucker just coming into your power and rank among the community of daylight-challenged weirdos. You are new meat, and from start to finish are treated as such, running errands for the deranged, the narcissistic, and the schizophrenic undead. It’s where these errands take you and the way your unique skills are applied that set VTMB apart from all other RPG’s. You may find yourself skulking through a mansion filled with macabre artwork and twisted, knife-wielding psychos that would fit nicely in a Silent Hill family photo, the chilling emotionless drawl of a mad professor echoing down the halls. Or sloshing through sewers on the trail of a rogue corpse-pitching monster, or beating the nads off of hired hit-men and ghouls.
There is no all-solving power character, no warrior that can split every dilemma in his path with an enchanted axe. You have your clan abilities, your bloodline, for better or worse, and a few mundane weapons and skills.
During my first playthrough as a Gangrel, the vampire clan tied to their animal side, I spent most of my time summoning locusts and spectral wolves, playing lone ranger through what felt like an acid-fueled trip on Halloween night. As a Malkavian, the crazies of the vampire world, I found myself engaging in conversations with streetlamps and speaking to everyone in mad Poe-esque riddles.
At first bite, the flow of the game is a bit choppy. The audio cuts in and out during cinematic events like a ham radio submerged in a bathtub, diminishing somewhat the eloquent speech given by the master vampire after your dramatic birth and near-execution. VTMB settles itself quickly into its night-stalking club-hopping pace and is only briefly haunted later by phantom audio files and glitches, and any complication that doesn’t eject you from the game entirely and onto the windows desktop is easily forgiven.
The feel of it?
The environment is deliciously dark and creepy. The soundtrack compliments the ambiance beautifully. And the leading protagonists are well rounded and deeply rooted into the politics of the game; oftentimes using their blatant sexuality, twisted humor, or clan ties to maneuver the player through the plot. A spattering of religion and mythology is woven seamlessly into the colorful world of the Californian vampire, giving it a fine gothic polish.