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New 'Vampire' an Atmospheric Triumph

Second in 'Masquerade' series takes role-playing to a new level. Anti-gravity 'MagForce Racing,' on the other hand, falls a bit flat.

August 24, 2000|Aaron Curtiss

Confronted by a game as complex and elegant as "Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption" for the PC, it can be tough finding the right words to describe the oozing walls of caverns, or the shining floors of cathedrals, or the pallid skin of the undead.

One word that pretty much sums it up, though, is simple enough: Wow.

Based on the role-playing world of "Vampire: The Masquerade," which is roughly similar to "Dungeons & Dragons," "Redemption" creates an intricate, dark universe of immortal intrigue as players work their way through time as a reluctant vampire warrior named Christof.

Back in the 15th century, Christof was a young Crusader on the march for Christendom when he suffered a wound in battle. Next thing he knows, he's recuperating in Prague, which is infested with the grotesque flesh-and-blood manifestations of ghouls called Szlachta.

Being an upstanding Crusader, Christof vows to rid Prague of the Szlachta and sets out to destroy their lair at the bottom of a nearby silver mine. Big mistake. It's here that Christof chucks his red cross and becomes a Kindred, one of the undead condemned to an eternal blood lust.

"Redemption" easily could have been just another point-and-click slasher set amid some creepy locales. At times, that's just what it is. But the multi-pronged story that spins out after Christof's conversion to vampirism is a masterpiece in which players feel as if they control their own destiny--even if they don't.

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In single-player mode, Christof interacts with hundreds of computer-controlled characters. Some offer help and advice. Others want to carve him up. Still others have motives that are not at all clear. That makes it tricky when deciding whom to slay and whom to spare. Politics plays a huge role in "Redemption" as Christof builds a coalition and is pursued and enticed by characters mortal and immortal.

The 100-page instruction manual, which includes histories of the various vampire clans as well as a primer on vampire laws, is required reading for players who want to get the most out of "Redemption." It's actually pretty entertaining reading.

The conversion of tabletop role-playing games to the computer has had mixed results, in large part because the make-believe adventures depend so heavily on a human game master to control the pacing. "Redemption" pulls it off, though. The story unfolds slowly as players explore each new locale and time period--from medieval Prague to modern New York.

Battle and exploration sequences are easy to control--as is the casting of various spells learned in the game. An intuitive series of menus detailing inventory, objectives and player status are easy to read and understand. Better still, they're a snap to click on and off, making quick work of juggling things during harried moments.

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Visually, "Redemption" redefines the look of role-playing games. Action is viewed in the third-person, but players can adjust the camera in all directions to look around corners or just to get a better view of what's in front of Christof. Enemies and locations all look great and add to the dark ambience of "Redemption."

As a single-player game, "Redemption" is top-notch. As a multi-player game, though, it has the potential to addict thousands of folks hungry for a real adventure. A storytelling mode allows one person in a multi-player game to control the action, much the way a dungeon master does in "Dungeons & Dragons." The storyteller can place items and enemies and even take over control of characters to help move the story along. Because players can move through the environments on their own and then regroup, the game offers more realistic team play than the usual drill of ganging up on each monster in turn.

"Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption" requires a Pentium II 233 with at least 64 megabytes of RAM, 800mb of available hard-disk space and a graphics accelerator. Multi-player action requires access to a local area network or to the Internet with at least a 28.8 kbps connection.

'MagForce Racing'

"Wipeout" was one of the best early games for PlayStation, offering players anti-gravity racing through beautiful locales to a hypnotic techno beat. So why does the Sega Dreamcast game "MagForce Racing," which offers anti-gravity racing through beautiful locales to a hypnotic techno beat, fall so short?

Perhaps because by now we've all seen so many levitation racers that look and play alike that even the few interesting touches of "MagForce" aren't enough to overcome the sense that this is yet another son of "Wipeout."

Sometime in the future, gasoline is so expensive that engineers design a vehicle propelled by magnetism and then outfit all the roads with electromagnetic current so everyone can whisk themselves here and there in quiet, pollution-free comfort. Guess no one thought of just taking the bus to save gas.

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