Needs More Cowbell

Needs More Cowbell
The Last Masquerade

Logan Westbrook | 9 Mar 2010 14:36
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Theoretically, if you wanted to kick the snot out of everyone, that was OK, too. But while completing quests by resorting to violence granted you the same number of experience points, the combat itself was incredibly rough around the edges. Players who went down that path had to choose between the underpowered and often woefully inaccurate shooting and the wild swinging of melee combat, with Troika clearly favoring hand-to-hand over gunplay. The melee physics were so broken that they almost became comedic, with opponents reacting to simple knife blows as if they'd been hit by a car. Worst of all, some fights were unavoidable, which was frustrating if you had focused on social interaction; and the game's last act eschewed the social side entirely, instead focusing solely on fighting.

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But if you could forgive the shaky combat, Bloodlines had atmosphere in spades. The game is set in Los Angeles, but realism takes a backseat to the grim feel of the locale - a perfect recreation of the City of Angels was simply not in the cards. Espousing the pen & paper game's melancholic and fiercely individualistic gothic-punk aesthetic and the morally murky alternate history of White Wolf's World of Darkness setting, Troika's Los Angeles was more built up, dirtier and a hell of a lot colder and wetter, with thugs roaming the street and hookers on every corner.

Ignoring most of the real Los Angeles gave Troika a free hand to tailor Bloodlines' environment to suit the story. Under the developers care, the city was imbued with a more claustrophobic and oppressive feel. Troika spent a lot of time on the small details in an effort to make their version of L.A. seem like a real and authentic place: They licensed a lot of music for Bloodlines, and posters for real bands adorned the walls of the game's clubs.

But while the Los Angeles that Troika built may have been conceptually complex, its actual construction was a much simpler affair. Many of the buildings were crude things, with details and decorations relegated to textures on flat blocks, making much of the city look like a painted backdrop in a high school play. Troika tried to hide it where they thought you wouldn't notice - typically anything above the ground floor - but it was easy to spot, even by a casual observer. Moreover, Troika's efforts to populate the city fell just as flat. The small number of NPC models meant that you saw the same people, with very little variation, over and over again as they shuffled awkwardly and silently around the city. It wasn't uncommon to see half a dozen identical hobos roaming the streets, or two identical goths lined up to get into a club with a third walking past. And while this didn't actually spoil the atmosphere, it certainly didn't help.

So what actually went wrong? How did a game so clearly unfinished ever see the light of day?

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