Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York Review: A Pawn in a Much Larger Game (PC)

2020 is a harvest year for Vampire: The Masquerade. While not everybody is familiar with The World of Darkness universe, Draw Distance is continuing its hard work to build a larger audience for it. Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York continues this tradition and brings us another standalone story of vampire society, culture and intrigue within the underground New York nightlife.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York Review: A Pawn in a Much Larger Game (PC) Cover

First of all, I must confess: I love visual novels and treat them as “real” games. They are perfect for bookworms like me and rely solely on the story and very little gameplay. Visual novels are not a new word in the video game industry: titles like Zero Escape: The Nonary Games and Clannad have set a very high bar.

Gladly, the world of Vampire: The Masquerade is huge and vivid and has big potential for storytelling. While a lot of us are disappointed by the latest news concerning Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2, I’m really delighted that independent studios are keeping up with telling us compelling stories set in The World of Darkness. The popularity of the franchise is getting pretty big as we can see a whole bunch of titles released this year: from the upcoming Werewolf: The Apocalypse to three totally different Vampire: The Masquerade titles. Meanwhile, the Polish studio Draw Distance has brought us their newest narrative treat – Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York based on the fifth edition of the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York Launch Trailer

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York is available on Steam, the Microsoft Store, the PlayStation Store and Nintendo Game Store for your regional pricing. 

The Story – Back Room Politics

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York tells us a familiar story of a fledgling vampire seeking to take its rightful place in a very complicated hierarchy of the upper strata of The Masquerade. However, there is a massive contrast with its predecessor Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York: you are no longer in the middle of elders’ intrigues but an introverted journalist named Julia, who turned into a vampire not long after her resignation from her dying news publication.

Even though the current events are unfolding several months after The Coteries of New York, you still have the chance to get a sense of who the players are. For newcomers, the game is a standalone expansion, or a so-called indirect sequel, which means that the story is set within the same timeframe and universe. Unlike in other Masquerade games, Shadows of New York forces you to play as a single protagonist. 

Your protagonist is a Goth-like introverted ex-journalist.

Your protagonist is a Goth-like introverted ex-journalist.

So it turns out that Julia was the chosen one in some way – while she was alive, she was charged with investigating the dirty work of the Double Spiral, a huge corporation run by vampires. After losing her job and her life, the newly embraced Julia begins to figure out that all was planned by a powerful clan called Lasombra. Think of it as a test task. After passing it, trying to cope with a kind of PTSD, she finds her feet and enters the vampire society as the sole representative of the Lasombra clan, which is best known for its aversion to technology. 

As for the second hour of the game, it’s been a couple of months already and Julia works as the Sheriff’s assistant, controlling the never-ending flow of vampire newcomers, headquartered in some sort of Burger King. She just sits here, nice and quiet, doing her routine job, in front of an untouched cup of coffee. That is, until one day, a rival Anarch vampire leader is murdered and the higher-ups decide to use Julia’s old talents and send her to review the suspect list.

Good advice and not only for a vampire.

Good advice and not only for a vampire.

The ones who played Coteries of New York would be glad to see some old faces. The central intrigue revolves around Camarilla, the largest vampire sect, and there is no end to possible suspects who could have brought the Anarch leader to its Final Death. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the major plot twist nor the identity of the killer, but I immediately figured it out. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge fan of detectives and have an analytical mind but I was quite disappointed in how the answer had been in front of me all along.  

Gameplay – You’ve Got No Choice

The game gives us a concise and small view of two strong New York vampire factions – the Camarilla and Anarchs. Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York entirely plays as a visual novel, where you are expected to keep your eyes open and read dialogue in each situation and decide the best way to answer. The choices that must be made are simple dialogue options, which really don’t make much of a difference as the story seems to be played in only one way. Unfortunately, unlike its predecessor, Coteries of New York, the game fails to provide a meaningful survival system. If you are seeking life-and-death decisions, you got the wrong number. 

Dogs bark, but the carousel moves on!

Dogs bark, but the carousel moves on!

The game prefers to drive around the story without asking further permission in terms of scenario. The only place where your choice really matters is on the overview map – you have the opportunity to pick and choose your nocturnal activities. They are presented in colourful circles and are accompanied by flavour text explaining what Julia should expect. You have one choice to make until the narrative moves forward. Personally, I would prefer at least two choices, or even three – to sit down and figure out which one is the best among them and weigh the pros and cons here. But unfortunately, in Shadows of New York I didn’t feel like playing a game at all – just eventually tapping the relevant notes to progress in the story. 

So, in other words, you can't make any decisions unless the game gives you the opportunity.

So, in other words, you can’t make any decisions unless the game gives you the opportunity.

In Coteries of New York, hunger was one of the main gameplay elements and an essential part of the story. Here, it is still present but it’s more a staging thing – it hardly ever influences how the story unfolds. Even if Julia completely loses her humanity or is on her last legs, the narrative would carry on. Still, I like the fact that Julia has a mind of her own and tends to pay visits to people nobody is aware of. Or she can take on some small side activities like saving some poor fellows from being murdered in dark crannies. These are fun little quests, which are completely optional but adds some colour to Julia’s personality.  

Graphics and Audio – Nocturnal Masterpiece

A lack of gameplay is fully offset by visuals – the game is simply gorgeous. Whenever a character is speaking, a highly detailed portrait is shown set to the oil painted type hand drawn backgrounds, most of which has moving elements in.

No doubt you're dealing with a Malkavian.

No doubt you’re dealing with a Malkavian.

All these characters differ from each other and their personalities are masterfully underlined. Some locations from The Coteries made their comeback and apparently received an upgrade. The art can seem a bit stylised, but drawn with love, and paired with beautifully mastered ambietic tunes offer an immersive experience.    

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York was reviewed for PC via Steam, with a review code provided by Draw Distance.

Summary
Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York managed to build a compelling and catchy story, but is lacking some core gameplay element, even by visual novel standards. However, while having few negative points, the title works just as well as a standalone one despite an obvious lack of player choices and the evidence of the main intrigue. The narrative is riding on a highly relatable protagonist and a few other vivid characters, which keep your attention from start to finish. While as a visual novel the game is not perfect, it works just fine for newcomers or anyone who wants to immerse themselves in The World of Darkness universe.
Good
  • Charismatic protagonist and characters
  • Eye candy visuals
  • Rich and well-designed narrative
  • Another great story in the Vampire: The Masquerade catalogue
Bad
  • Lack of player choices
  • Poor survival balance system
7.5
Good

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Wild Child

“Highly relatable character” only if you are a lesbian or LGBT ++ left wing enslaved mind, who forgets you are a minority and not the majority of gamers like that (thank GOD) and are unlike you. This is completely unplayable and full of lecturing and bad taste. horrible. play this only if you dream about being a lesbian teenage commie in portland.

Last edited 11 days ago by Wild Child

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