Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I’ve checked the RPS master Have You Played document seven times now, convinced that I’ve made an error. How could we not have written one about Vampire Bloodlines yet? In many respects, the modern gothic RPG is the ur-RPS game, a game of promise and ambition way before its time – and way beyond its own capabilities – and one with Things To Say in addition to darkness and choice and strangeness and cities and consequences.
There is so much wrong with Bloodlines, and it isn’t ageing as well as one might hope. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Because there is so much right, so much that seems somehow more startling now. This was a game from Activision. Activision! And it’s about sex and abuse and power and sadism and humanity and loss and regret and, yes, also a lot of fighting things in tunnels. Its heart is dark, its mind inquiring and it haunts my memory still.
It wasn’t really finished, famously. This seemed a tragedy at the time, but these days it somehow bolsters Bloodlines’ legend. A game that was not meant for this world, but which somehow squeezed the best part of it in through some portal to some other, better dimension. One where games like this were the standard, rather than a darkly beautiful exception.
I know it is difficult to fit a large game into one’s life when that game is several years old and large new games are arriving all the time. But, if you haven’t before, do yourself a favour and go play Bloodlines’ first zone, then leave. It opens so strongly and sets itself a precedent it cannot realistically meet, but those first two or three hours will reveal all you need to know about why Bloodlines is so revered, and so treasured.