Hello, Javy Gwaltney here, Associate Editor for Game Informer. I currently putting together a series of deep dives into my ten favorite games of all time. You can read all about the origins, as well as the beginning of the series, here.

This week we’re going to be talking about my #7 pick: Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines. Feel free to leave comments below and thanks for reading. Be sure to come back next week on Wednesday at noon CST for #6.

It's a crime Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is probably doomed to be remembered by most people as the other Source engine game that came out at the same time as Half-Life 2. Developer Troika Games had a knack for making noteworthy RPGs. Both Arcanum:  Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura and The Temple Of Elemental Evil were fantastic fantasy RPGs that had unique twists that made them stand out amidst all the other fantasy games on the market. Troika's last game, Bloodlines, was astoundingly ambitious in comparison to what had come before: a first-person immersive RPG set in modern day Los Angeles that had you playing a newly initiated vampire trying to navigate vampire society during a conspiracy.

Bloodlines immediately set itself apart by embracing a mundane setting as opposed to another fantasy kingdom or the vastness of outer space. You were not raiding space stations or overthrowing mad emperors. Instead, you navigated the streets of Hollywood, getting into gang battles in parking lots and sneaking around apartments to solve a grisly murder. Bloodlines carved out its own unique identity and its aesthetic, and the setting remains just as strong as it was in 2004.

Sure, the combat is a bit...clunky. And there are technical glitches from time to time in spite of fans rallying around the game over the years and lovingly restoring it. However, for me, both when I was 14 and now, Bloodlines is the ultimate diamond-in-the-rough game. The class system, letting you choose from several Vampire clans (each with their own quirks and social statuses) is fantastic and leads to vastly different scenarios for various encounters. For example, let's you run across someone who's responding to you violently. Well, if you're playing as a Gangrel vampire, you can just beat them to death with ease. Or maybe you want a non-violent approach? If you're a Ventrue and have enough points stacked in Charisma, there's a good chance you can talk your way out of it. And of course, there's also the wildly unpredictable Malkavian clan who are clinically insane and get special dialog options, which may include scaring away the person. There are just so many options tied to interactions and scenarios, both big and small, that Bloodlines feels like a different game every time you play it.

The writing is also consistently strong and occasionally fantastic. Every character you come across is trying to navigate vampire society in their own way, from the rich to the poor to the pariahs, and all of them will try to use your skills to help them achieve what they want. They're all real rogue characters, often snarky and up front about what they think of you, and as a result they're all quite memorable.

Choice matters in Bloodlines in a convincing way. Most quests have branching paths and each one feels like a short story where you determine the ending of that particular story and then whoever is affected by your choices in that quest usually spends the whole game embodying the impact of said choices. Take Jeanette for example, a Malkavian with a split personality that's constantly warring with each other. Choose one side over the other, and the dominant personality kills the weaker one and Jeanette spends the rest of the game (and probably her life) with that personality in control.

There's also the ever present choice during the entirety of the game that lets you answer an important question: just how much of a monster are you? Nearly every NPC you come across in the world can be drained of their blood so you can restore health. However, doing this drains you of your humanity and makes you more prone to "frenzy," a state that sends you feasting on any poor fool in sight and maybe even getting yourself killed if you happen to lose control in a public place. There's also the Masquerade to consider, meaning that the vampires of this world are in hiding and will go after any vampire that endangers their status to humanity. Feast on too many humans in the sight of others and your fellow vampires will come to take care of you.

However, even when Bloodlines isn't going all-in on choice, it still creates impressive and foreboding set pieces. The Ocean House Hotel is an incredible mishmash of The Shining and The AmityvilleHorror that has you navigating a haunted hotel in Santa Monica in search of a necklace. It's very jump scary but the atmosphere is so effective none of them feel cheap or annoying..

Vampire Bloodlines remains one of the overlooked gems of the early 2000s and that's a shame. It's one of the most unique RPGs ever made and I've poured more than a hundred hours into it altogether over the years. If you've yet to play it and happen to be a fan of vampires/horror/good writing, you should check it out. It's dirt cheap. Just...be sure to download some patches. Trust me.

Happy hunting.