One best left in the crypt
Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption review
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Publisher: Activision
reviewed by Great Bob

Vampire: Redemption is the Dan Quayle of gaming.  Like Quayle, Vampire is nice looking enough, and under other circumstances just might be likable.  For what it claims to be however, it should stand as a source of ridicule and contempt.  Vampire is really two games in one, a stand alone single player game, and an engine for creating multiplayer stories for others to play.  Sadly, both parts are done poorly, and this is the real tragedy of a potentially great game.
 
 
Looks more fun than it really is

Vampire:Redemption is based upon White Wolf's successful pen and paper role playing game, Vampire.  The role playing game is a post-punk gothic take on the vampire mythology, set in the "world of darkness."  Fans of the game however, should avoid the computer version.  Everything that drew  disaffected game playing goths to the Vampire series in the first place is missing in Vampire:Redemption.  It substitutes storytelling for non-stop hack and slash action.  For those fans of the series who planned  on ignoring the single player game and running their own games, they will the find the tools difficult to use, and poorly suited for their purposes.

The Single Player Game:

The game engine itself is one of the most impressive and immersive 3-d engines to ever be used in a role playing computer game.  For this reason alone, the designers of Vampire should be commended.  Then again, the same could have been said for Ultima:Ascension.  The textures in Vampire are lush, and the character rendering second to none.  Walking the darkened streets of New York City, one can't help but be impressed by the care that went into the art and design.  If only this engine could have been used properly, Vampire might have been the game that saved the role playing adventure genre.

This game, however, is nothing special.  The plot  is one we've seen before.  Brave adventurer is wounded on the field of battle.  After being nursed back to health, he is sent on a mission inside a mine to defeat a vampiric menace that threatens the people of the city of Prague.  As with every other adventure game, you run around in a maze of dark tunnels, killing numerous monsters and finding hidden switches to open up more parts of the dungeon.  Any attempt at creating an atmosphere is shattered the constant rushes of of one monster after another.  Spooky?  Nope.  No more so than Quake is scary.  Without a map or a compass to guide you, the only scary thing is how much you would prefer a quick death rather than being lost in the damn mine.

I have a test in mind for those game designer who are planning on writing an adventure game.  One question.  Do you find running around in a dark cave looking for switches something that is fun, or not fun?  If you answered "fun", then may I recommend a new career choice asking people if they would like fries with their happy meal?  It'll save us all a great deal of pain and grief.  Trust me on this.

One sees a glimmer of hope for the game after the hero is turned into a vampire.  This hope is quickly dashed to the rocks as you find out  that the only difference in the game once you're a vampire is that you can now use magic and bite people in the neck rather than just hit them with a sword.  The gameplay quickly becomes repetitive as you begin to realize that all you will be doing in this game is be sent from a maze of tunnels killing monsters and pulling switches, to a different setting where you kill more monsters and pull more switches.  Repeat this formula until angry and bitter.

All this would be fine, of course, for a game such as Diablo.  For a game that wants to tell a good story and develop atmosphere, it's not fine.  It's not even good.  It's an annoyance, and a source of frustration.  Like Diablo, combat consists of clicking repeatedly on your foe.  Unlike Diablo, Vampire can't even make this fun.  The 3-d engine and the rotating camera means that the player is forced to swing the camera around just to engage in the most simple of combat.  A bad choice of camera view makes it impossible to fight back, for example,  as giant rats (of course they have giant rats in the game.  Doesn't everyone?) nibble at your feet.  When you get allies to help you fight, it sometimes becomes impossible due to the view, to have them actually target the enemy.  
 
 
Count Chocula provides more spooky atmosphere than Vampire does.
Besides repetitive gameplay and poor combat, the game also suffers from some of the poorest Artificial Intelligence of any other game on the market.  Enemies will stand and wait until you approach close.  They will often become stuck behind objects, and can be easily picked off one by one.  As a vampire, you may feed on other people without them seeming to care unless there happens to be a guard wandering around at the same time.  Monks in the game, rather than run when they see their coworker being fed upon, will continue to wander back and forth with no real purpose in mind.  One may walk down the streets of London holding a giant ax, without any policeman taking notice.  AI is not an easy thing to code in a game, I understand that, but why is it that so many games are released with AI that would have seemed pathetic ten years ago?

The Vampire pen and paper game was known for stressing storytelling and atmosphere over the dungeon crawl aspects of other role-playing games.  The computer game has thrown that away and returned to the model of "adventurer with sword runs around and kills lots of monster" instead.  It is for this reason, if no other, that as a single player game it is sure to disappoint even the most hard-core computer role-playing game enthusiast.

Multiplayer:

If you were to ask people what represents the future of online role-playing games, you would receive one of two answers.  One school of thought is that the future lies with creating massively multiplayer worlds of greater and greater depth.  The other school will contend that decentralization is the right approach.  Give players tool to set up their own worlds and tell their own stories.  It is for the people who believe the later that Vampire holds the most interest.  It is those same people who will be most disappointed by what Vampire delivers.
 
 
Who wins with WON doing multiplayer?  Certainly not the players!
The multi-player aspect is terribly incomplete, and so badly mismanaged, it's hard to believe that they even shipped the game in this condition.  The first mistake made by Vampire was using a web portal, such as WON.NET to get players together.  For a game such as Rogue Spear or Quake, WON.NET would be perfectly fine.  For someone trying to meet others to share in a role-playing experience, it's a miserable experience.  Imagine if you were trying to run an improv interactive theater with audience participation.  Now imagine if the audience was encouraged just to walk in and out of 400 other similar plays.  This gives you an idea of the magnitude of the problem faced by those wishing to run a game.

The web interface is just not condusive for this kind of game.  There are no descriptions offered for the different games, and no way for a person entering a room to choose the game currently in progress that would be right for them.  The only games that seemed to be running were frag fests, where the "storyteller" would throw down monsters for players to kill.

The fault is not entirely the responsibility of the portal Activision choose.  The tools themselves are unworkable.  The storyteller interface is a clumsy, poorly thought out affair.  Storytellers are given a very limited number of objects and settings to choose from, with no ability to modify them.  A storyteller is not even offered the tools to rename the objects or characters inside the game.  With no scripting available, the story teller is forced to jump from one generic character to another, desperately trying to keep up with the players and move the story along.

Nihilistic software promises that they will eventually release a storyteller developer kit, but no word yet on when this will actually happen.

After a few hours spent in multiplayer mode, the players will either find themselves frustrated, or bored.  For most, it will be a combination of both.  Given another 6 months of work, and an infrastructure in place that would facilitate players getting together for games, it could have been what many people have been looking for...a way to translate the feeling of playing roleplaying games over a computer.  As it stands now, it isn't.  If you are going to the software store, with dreams of running the kind of role-playing game you always wanted to see online, you are in for a rude awakening.

The only thing good that can come out of Vampire's multiplayer game is that perhaps future developers will learn from it's mistakes.

Conclusions:

What is most painful about Vampire is the wasted potential.  The weaknesses in the single player game could have been overlooked, if only they had taken the time to finish the multiplayer aspect.  From my conversations with the people presenting the game at E3, I'm under the impression they they, like so many other developers, were under enormous pressure to ship the game.  Activision, like others such as Electronic Arts, would rather have an incomplete product on the shelves then a great one in development.  As retail pressures become greater and greater, I have a feeling that we will be seeing more games on the shelves that will make players wonder "what might have been".

It's a damn shame, too.  Vampire could have broken new ground in the way we play computer games with others.  instead, it will wind up on the shelf next to my copy of Ultima:Asscension, a constant reminder for me of what's wrong with the game industry in general.

If you're looking for a monster bashing game, wait for Diablo 2 to come out.  If you want to be a game master over the computer then just wait for Never Winter Nights to be released.  If, however, you enjoy frustration and feel like wasting your money, then go ahead and buy this game.  Don't say you weren't warned.