There's a lot to like in Vampire: Bloodlines, and a few things to love. That there are also moments that had me gritting my teeth, and so many "buts", is what makes this review a tough one.
The graphics, for example, are by and large quite lovely, very atmospheric... But. Half-Life 2, the game engine's parent, made better use of them, from both a hardware and a software perspective. Half-Life 2 ran well on my system with 512 MB of RAM; Vampire stuttered somewhat(when I upgraded to 2 GB, it smoothed out nicely.) Half-Life 2 also just _looks_ better, and doesn't distract with clipping, strands of wavy hair passing through the sides of people's faces, and moments of rough texturing.
The game combines RPG and action elements, which is frequently fun and interesting, but... It expects you to react too quickly for an RPG, and the way numbers are crunched will annoy action gamers. Even with your "natural" stats maxed out in a particular set of combat-based stats, you can easily find yourself gunned down by a larger group, or by some of the more powerful bosses. Some of the "supernatural" abilities may offset this; I can't say for certain, having only played through the game once. What I do know is that my character was pretty combat-centric, and still only won certain battles because of bugs or defects in the AI- enemies unable to hit you from certain positions, or getting stuck on pieces of the scenery.
The game allows a fair amount of flexibility in how you approach problems... But some of the options are either so convoluted or so difficult as to be unworkable, while others are excessively easy. Stealth in particular seems broken; I "stealth killed" any number of people who walked right into me, then turned around a few seconds later.
On the whole, the game feels poorly tested. Some abilities are far, far more useful than others, and unless I'm missing something, a character without at least one area of solid combat focus is simply going to die. You can't carry more than one of a type of gun, though selling all the duplicates one runs across on dead foes would have made it easier to raise money (which is ludicrously available at some times and completely sparse at others.)
Then there's the end game, where... Well, without spoilers, let me just call it kind of unsatisfying. Other endings may be available, but what I saw suggests they're merely variations on a theme, and that theme focuses more on some of the other characters you meet than on your own. After some of the ridiculously hard battles I fought, I'd like to know how _my_ character ultimately fared, maybe a spot of congratulations. Doesn't seem so much to ask, y'know?
Oh, one more word about those battles. The final boss or bosses are so ridiculously over-powered that I felt no shame at all in using any exploit available. One of them can repeatedly teleport and hit you from behind before you can react. The only way to avoid this is very precise timing and repeating a pattern over and over again. Said foe requires more than ten times as many hits to defeat as he does to defeat you. This kind of fight really makes you go: "Guys? What were you _thinking_?" When _succeeding_ isn't even any fun...!
Despite bugs and combat, I must give some significant praise: The dialogue is terrific, both in the writing and in the performance. I especially appreciated some of the humorous moments, much needed in the grim setting. The atmosphere is great, from the haunted hotel you encounter early in the game to the lairs of twisted, unholy creatures. The game generally feels _adult_, not in the sense in which the term is often used (where it could as easily be termed 'juvenile') but in a willingness to recognize shades of gray and handle uncomfortable topics without flinching.
Though I would hardly call the game an unqualified success, I enjoyed it, and I mourn for Troika, the now-deceased company that created it. Hardly anyone makes role-playing games combining character depth, plot depth and flexiblility to different player approaches the way they did. If only they had done a little more testing... If only they had settled the combat system more firmly in the RPG or action arena... If only...
P.S. Looking over this review, it occured to me that some might take my comment about "using any exploit available" to mean using a third-party hacking program or cheat codes; I used neither to complete the game. But if, say, a boss character got "hung up" on a corner, unable to move... I took no particular shame in whaling the tar out of them while they were unable to reciprocate. I occasionally used the game's own flaws against it, in other words.