In my last entry I discussed about how great the design was behind the hotel level in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. To balance things out I'm now going to talk about one of the worse sections in the game.
Once again major spoiler warnings for the game.
The sewer level happens several hours later from the hotel. Here you are tasked with finding the hiding spot of a sewer dwelling vampire clan who have been forced even deeper into the sewers due to strange monsters attacking. What follows is one of the more frustrating designed levels and examples of forced design.
1. One way design: In previous levels in Bloodlines the player had several options of how to proceed. Such as running around killing everyone, using stealth or lock-picking and hacking your way through locked areas. This is the first of several levels built around nothing but combat in linear areas. You are required to navigate around the sewers while dealing with the various monsters. There was only one way to get through this area and even the combat becomes one way.
There are three types of enemies in the sewers: little monsters that scratch, big monsters that punch and throw magical attacks and finally female creatures that chase and attack at close range. The little guys are not a big deal and the big monsters are slow to react. However the female ones will give you the most trouble and one of them is a mini boss for the level.
Fighting the females also shows one of the problems with close ranged combat in Bloodlines, it is incredibly biased against the player when it comes to boss fights. When dealing with normal enemies as long as you connect a few hits you are mostly guarantee to knock the enemy down or away preventing them from following up. However when fighting bosses or larger enemies that don't get knocked down, combat becomes very one sided.
Every time I attack them I get two or three hits in then the creature hits me once for damage knocking me back. You can't really dodge attacks due to how wide close ranged attacks are thrown in Bloodlines. This is the first of several sections that punishes the player if they built their character for close ranged fighting as your only recourse is to take the hits and hope you can finish them off before you run out of health.
Starting from the sewer level and until the rest of the game, if you focused on closed ranged combat you'll be in for a world of hurt. It is not good design to offer several types of combat and then punish the player for choosing the ones that the game moves away from later on.
2. Repetitive design: This one really hurts especially with how well the hotel level was designed. The player has to find their way through similar looking environments and once again is the start of this type of level design.
This is where the game moves away from some variety in the environments to just going through the same corridors over and over again fighting enemies. It almost feels like halfway through designing the game the designers either ran out of time or just said screw it. Between the sewer level and later levels I've lost count of the # of times I got lost or turned around due to how everything looks the same.
The shame about Bloodlines is that it peaks early with the hotel level and then declines from there. Combat in Bloodlines is the weakest system in my opinion and the choice to focus entirely on that for the majority of the second half of the game was a mistake. There were some levels early on where you were warned not to engage in combat and try to be stealthy but once again that gets thrown out the window.
Later on in the game Bloodlines attempts to make up for this with a hide and seek section where the player has to avoid a werewolf for three minutes which I really enjoyed. I was hoping that meant the design was moving away from combat, and then the next level was fighting through the same corridor dealing with wave after wave of enemies again.
If you haven't played Bloodlines yet to save you some heartache I would play up to the hotel level and that's it. For those that want to continue I would suggest that no matter what, stick with ranged weapons. Because it doesn't matter if you're fighting zombies, vampires or demons, a double barreled shotgun is always the correct solution, unless you have a flamethrower.