REVIEW : Vampire The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Gordon Freeman is a Vampire. I've been wanting to get my hands on a games that's been out for a while called Vampire The Masquerade : Bloodlines which makes use of Valves Half Life 2 Source engine and technology. I thought it'd be interesting to take a sideways look at HL2 and see what the engine, so hyped up, was like; the impression aren't a good one I'm afraid.

Vampire Bloodlines performance tips summery

The biggest performance helper would be turning off physics collision but I've not found out how to do that or if indeed you're actually able to; in a similar way to Doom 3, physics is 'required' because the characters and AI don't appear to have any 'death' animations; their death poses look to be based on physics collisions with the world around them.
[last updated 14Aug10]

Whilst Vampire : Bloodlines is a great 'game' - the story, the characters, the way you progress through some really 'nasty' stuff that makes Doom 3 seem like a walk in the park, is spot on, it's pure classic horror (I can see why it has an 18 cert, I'm not necessarily squeamish by nature but some of the levels did require a few deep breaths..!) - the same can't be said of the technology, at least in this instance.

There are so many bugs and issues that a lot of people have seriously questions about whether any QA (Quality Assurance) was done on the 'Gold' version before it shipped - it seems, all too clearly, that the developer (the now defunct Troika Games) and publisher (Activision) rushed the final phase so they could capitalise on the release of Half Life 2 itself. This is probably one of the symptoms of the high turn over and short product life span that the games industry seems to be plagued with but instead of 'falling' for that Troika could have done well to have used a little extra time to bug fix and beta test the game, as a result of *not* doing this they've released a game in which the 'good' is far outweighed by the bad.

System Specs ^

If you've seen this game and you've been thinking of buying it, don't - unless your PC has at least a AMD 2600 or an Intel 2GHz or above. The minimum requirements are a 1.2 GHz CPU but you'll be god damn lucky if you can get the game to run well on that level of CPU. That's not an anecdotal statement; the minimum 1.2 is simply not enough in the face of the technical problems this game has - without those, then yes, it'd be ok.

You'll need at least 512MB system RAM and (this one where one of the really major faults of the game happens) a swap drive (hard drive based 'virtual memory') of at least 1GB - Vampires has totally messed up it's memory management causing the game to stutter almost continuously because it can't clear memory fast enough. Another reason for a fast system.

misc. problem with Vampire : Bloodlines ^

There are other technical issues as well. The games scripting language is 'Python', for which they appear to have their own inbuilt interpreter - this is used to to keep track of and activate events in game. Not a problem in itself until Vampire is loaded onto a system with the full Python RunTime which, for example, you'd need if you did any 3D modeling with Blender 3D (which requires the full runtime to parse it's internal scripts). Obviously you could uninstall the runtime but that means having to mess around setting it back up again once you're done with the game and that is fiddly (it's one of those things you only want to do once and then never touch again).

Oh and then there's the amount of time the levels take to load, it's no joke when I say I've sat in front of my PC for 5+ minutes waiting for something to load, it averages maybe two or three minutes and that's for some of the smaller single roomed maps, some of the larger more complex levels take ages and I'm damn sure this has nothing to do with the number of polygons being used, the maps are incredibly 'frugal' - they've used only what they've needed to use (which is good) - which leads me to think that collision physics (an associated AI models and animations) is causing the big slow downs.

Bloodlines (and Half Life 2) physics ^

Another big problem is caused by collision detection and AI (NPC) interaction with the environment. For some bizarre reason the rats that run around the various dark corners of the game cause massive amounts of game stutter due to their 'collision data' clipping through the 'world' (the various levels) so when you have 12 or more of these things loading into the game the various points at which they 'noclip' causes the game to pause, multiply that by the number of rats and it soon becomes a problem. The only remedy to this is to kill them then the game runs ok.

To be honest, the physics system isn't really all that it's cracked up to be; an oil drum still behaves like a tin can and a 20 foot steel girder like a plank of wood. None of them have 'relative' mass, weight or behaviour; sure they don't go bouncing off into infinity but they still don't react the way you'd expect. The only useful aspect of this is in allowing objects to freely swing on the end of cables and have a reasonable amount of object interaction, thus avoiding the bane of any level designers life, scripting objects to move around.

Conclusion ^

I feel like I could go on because the game is so marred by technical ineptitude's that it makes a list as long as your arm, but, if you have a PC that has at least the following...

  • 2GHz CPU (see above).

  • 512MB RAM128MB GFX card (ATI or nVidia).

  • 1GB free space for swap file.

  • Plenty of patience.

... and you reckon you could put up with any of the technical proclivities that plague this game then grab a copy because the game play itself is really, really good for a pseudo RPG come 1st/3rd person 'shooter'; when it works, it works really well and you might well be one of the many people that don't have any problems with the game at all.

Game play = 9/10
Technical implementation = 2/10

Apropos Conclusions ^

The game is now finished and I've been talking with a couple of people about the Half Life 2 engine in relation to what happens with this game. Apparently HL2 is plagued by similar technical problems (at time of writing), esp regarding the load time of content and the page file that's generated; the fixing of which seems to be being ignored by Valve. Not sure what to make of that. Granted Troika is no longer around to fix any problems that the game has but I'm surprised that a publisher hasn't picked up on the consumer demand for this type of game (vampires et-al) as I'm sure Trioka had further 'undead' projects in the works.