Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is an immensely intriguing vampire-role playing game by Troika Games, and an exellent example of a "flawed masterpiece" and had a lot of things going for it.
For starters, you are thrown into the game with the option of choosing between 7 different clans (vampire bloodlines) that each play a good bit differently. There's the Brujah: fast hard hitting rebels, the Gangrel: animalistic loners, the Malkavians: bat-**** crazy psychopaths, the Nosferatu: sneaky grotesque monsters, the Tremere: a vampire sect of blood mages, the Toreador: artsy fast vampires that are closer to humanity, and Ventrue: the most power hungry members of vampire society. Every single one of these classes feels distinct, as every clan has advantages and disadvantages. For example, the nosferatu get more blood from feeding on rats than the other Kindred (Vampire: The Masquerade's term for vampire), but cannot seduce anyone because of their monstrous appearence. The Ventrue are the only kindred that can use dominate (basically mind control) in dialogue, but they cannot feed on animals and may vomit when feeding on "lowlife" like street bums.
Now, the gameplay is extremely engaging. Combat is fast, fun, and allows you several options. Every kindred clan has their own disciplines, or vampiric abilities, that allow you to choose your own approach to conflict. Do you use obfuscate to invisibly sneak past the goons? Or do you use "fortitude" to soak up their bullets and "animalism" to summon spectral wolves to tear them apart. It's your choice. Of course there are the standard ways of fighting: guns, unarmed, and melee weapons. There are a good variety of each weapon types (except unarmed) with upgraded weapons available to you along the way. Another potential tool for combat is feeding. As you need blood to maintain your sanity and use your disciplines, you will need to drink blood. You can drink blood from any humanoid you choose, hostile or not, but it can be more difficult to drink blood from hostiles. This is tempered by the fact that you have to stop yourself from completely draining innocent humans, but don't think twice about draining a thug. There is one problem with feeding, but I'll cover that later.
I need to mention the dialogue too, as it's absolutely awesome. The facial expressions on the characters in this game are better than some of the facial expressions I see in the games coming out today, and the dialogue choices are absolutely brilliant. The Malkavians and Nosferatu get hilarious dialogue options, including an infamous one where a malkavian player character can actually get into an argument with a stop sign. A stop sign! And if I remember correctly, there's a conversation with a TV as well.
The quest system is absolutely one of the best parts about this game. The side quests range from defeating demons to hunting down serial killers to fighting of zombies in a graveyard. You'll always have some sort of want to complete them because completing quests gives you experience, not killing enemies. I think this is an exellent system because this keeps you from being penalized for using stealth and guile over brute strength and bloodshed. There are quite a few missions where things turn out better in the end if you choose a stealthier, more thoughtful approach instead of going full Rambo. The main quest is no slouch either, with multiple engaging quests.
I enjoy the game's atmosphere quite a bit. The endless night conveys a mysterious feeling (to be fair, it's not like you're character can feel the sun anymore) and the music lends itself to this. While sometimes the music can feel a little repetitive (combat music is determined by area, so if you get into lots of fights in one area, you're gonna hear that music a lot) I never found myself annoyed by it because it was good. There are lots of songs from real bands, such as Lacuna Coil and Tiamat.
Now, time for the "flawed" part of "flawed masterpiece". The game was rushed out on the same day as Half-Life 2 because the idiocy of the game's publisher, Activition. As a result, the game has several glitches by default, so don't even think about playing the game without an unofficial patch of some sort. The late game feels less fun because it's all combat, and becomes quite tedious because before, combat was more spaced out. I don't mind mandatory combat sections, but the last portion of the game gets excessive with these. Because of the mandatory combat and power of late game weapons, if you don't have your gun skill fairly high by the end, you're screwed. Melee skills only work well when you're not being shot at by 10 enemies, and that's a rarity near the end. Also, the series of levels, the Nosferatu warrens/sewers can be very boring, unintuitive, and downright frustrating at times, as there are few sources of blood, annoying enemies, it's long as hell, and mandatory. Lastly, there is the problem with feeding. When used against normal human enemies, I don't mind it. But when it's used against a human boss, it's pretty overpowered. There is no way for an enemy to escape from your grasp besides you getting hit, so if you get your teeth on a boss while they're alone, they're done. But all in all, these things don't break the game by any means, but they should be mentioned.
One last thing that makes the game great, and it should be no surprise what this is: mods. There are two mods particularly, Vampire: The Masquerade: The Final Nights, And Bloodlines Antitribu (although this one is somewhat buggy at the moment). Both (and other mods I'm forgetting ATM) add in cut content, new character models, brand new content and quests, and even new systems like the companion mods and blood loss that take the games immersion to new heights.
If you had your interest piqued by this review, you should definitely pick up the game. Even now, more than a decade after the games release, I still give this game a playthrough every now and then, because it's just that good.