Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption is one of those troubled games that had great potential but suffers from some clumsy game mechanics, weak AI, and a very limited multiplayer capability. Yet, it is one of those under-appreciated gems that really deserves a second look, provided you can tolerate the dated graphics and frustratingly stupid AI.
VtMR was released by Activision in 2000, and it's age is definitely showing. However, after playing for a half-hour you'll get used to the dated graphics (well, except for annoying things like Christof's right hand always being in a fist).
The game's storyline is its greatest selling-point, being one of the better ones that I have enjoyed. It follows the ordeals of the protagonist, Christof Romuald, a medieval crusader who, against his will, is embraced as a vampire and forced to become like the very monsters he fought against.
Christof's only solace is his love for a nun, Anezka - and her kidnapping (and Christof's eternal search) is the plot device that keeps the story advancing from the Dark Ages to the Modern Age. During the entire storyline Christof will have to choose between losing his humanity or striving to obtain the forlorn hope of Redemption.
Many dialogue choices affect Christof's humanity, as do certain actions (like unnecessary killing); if Christof loses too much humanity the game immediately ends in defeat, as Christof's mind and soul are subsumed by the beast within. In addition, the game has multiple endings, all of which are determined by Christof's humanity score.
However, while the story is great fun, the game mechanics and AI can be frustrating. Characters frequently have pathing problems (and sometimes make huge detours to reach locations they should have been able to get to within a few strides), bows and crossbows have trouble accepting incendiary ammo, your inventory is way to small, and sometimes even straight forward tasks become a hair-pulling experience. The lack of an "area travel" option also means you'll waste a lot of time moving redundantly from point A to point B, and back again.
The AI is about the worst I've seen in an CRPG, with AI-controlled party members (or coterie) wasting precious assets (like blood), trying to shoot arrows through walls, running off by themselves (and activating a level's worth of baddies), and sometimes literally just standing still and "grunting" when they should be fighting. You have to babysit them at all times, or they WILL do something really dumb and get you killed.
Thankfully, the enemy AI is just as bad, otherwise the game would be unplayable. The baddies are activated by proximity, not visual sight or sound, so it is possible to lure the baddies out of a large mob one at a time, no matter how ridiculous it appears. The bosses also appear to have weak combat scripts, so it usually only takes one or two attempts to figure out how to beat any boss.
The sad, honest, truth is that I found the game to be better by ungrouping my party and just going it alone. Which isn't all bad, as it does solve quite a few of the AI issues.
The multiplayer aspect is very weak. Only 5 players can participate at a time, 4 + 1 Storyteller, and the map selection is incredibly small, and there is no true map editor to create your own. To create an adventure you string the pre-generated "settings" together to create your own story; however the options and scripts are very narrow and the multiplayer game would require constant oversight by the Storyteller in order for the most basic events to occur properly.
This also makes creating new single-player adventures generally a waste of time when one considers other contemporary games like, say, Neverwinter Nights. From talking with table-top VtM players, it was this feature that was the biggest disappointment. I did find some fan-based support (not reviewed here) for the game, however, which might fix, or otherwise alleviate, this issue.
So, to summarize, VtMR is what could have been a great game, but is mediocre overall because of the weak AI and the game mechanics that can be just plain frustrating. However, if you have the patience, this game's storyline is one of the best ever, and I would recommend this game to anyone who likes the genre.
Final Score: 3 out of 5
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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout 2, Ultima 9: Ascension, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, Warlords: Battlecry III, Wizardry 8, Diablo
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