In the pantheon of hideous creatures that haunt our worst nightmares, Vampires occupy that space between horror and romance. You could never successfully romanticise a zombie or a Skin-walker, even if certain corners the internet would disagree. There’s something about the ambiguity of a suave stranger who moves in the dark: silent, watching, waiting. The Vampire is a beast, hiding behind rules as old as time itself; a Masquerade of sorts. As if to sate my hunger for narrative games, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York released, offering an experience rarely seen on consoles that we had to review.
This isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone, especially in a market saturated by open-world adventure games and multiplayer shooters. But, for a particular type of gamer, there is a lot to like about this singular experience that brings the World of Darkness table-top game into the interactive storybook space. Let’s sink our teeth into the world of Vampire society as we review Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York, from developer Draw Distance. This review contains narrative spoilers; read at your discretion.
Story – The Vampire’s Kiss
They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. At night, the metropolis illuminates in a cascade of light, masking the darker side that permeates its back-alleys and unlit tenement houses. Few who walk the streets at this time would give a second glance to the unnaturally pale figures with fire in their eyes, unaware of their true identity – Vampires. In Coteries of New York, our three choosable protagonists have lived their lives blissfully ignorant of the society of kindred living alongside them, until now. Though from different backgrounds and social circles, all three have unwillingly had the gift of eternal life thrust upon them by rouge sires (vampires who create others like them). Forced to rely on a mysterious group of uneasy allies, within a complex society of clans, you must learn to survive, thrive or give in to the beast within you.
Your new life begins inside an art gallery, surprisingly busy at midnight. Informed that your rebirth was a mistake, unauthorised by the ruling council, and therefore must face final death. The gruesome fate that awaited you is stayed by a mysterious redhead called Sophie Langley. In return for saving what’s left of your existence, you are adopted by her, essentially becoming her creature. Much of the early game feels rather linger, shortened further by the genre of the game. Sophie acts as your mentor, teaching you how to best use your powers, ingratiate yourself with your fellow kindred and feed when the need arises. Thankfully, the world opens up when you’re given a longer leash.
After learning the ropes, Sophie asks you to start making the allies, to begin your own Coteries. Interspersed with central story moments, you’ll have several oddballs who need your help. These Vamps vary from a self-proclaimed gumshoe detective on the hunt of a Vampire murderer and a techno-anarchist out to topple a major tech conglomeration with dark intent. These were my favourite side-quests in the game and led to some interesting dialogue choices and consequences. The narrative plays out like an interactive book, meaning there’s a lot of dialogue to read through. Though none of it’s spoken dialogue, much of it is well written and occasionally funny. It’s a brief experience, but it’s one that’s worth having. As a newcomer to this universe, I sometimes found myself going through prior dialogue and the terms inventory, helpfully available by pressing L2 and R2, respectively.
Accepting the story for what it is, I was surprised by how much it kept me hooked. It goes to show how much excellent writing can carry a game with virtually no gameplay. Just be aware of what you’re in for. You won’t find an interactive world with plenty of side content, padding out an open world. Coteries of New York is a self-contained, narratively driven interactive storybook that offers a niche experience in the market. Despite its brevity, I thoroughly enjoyed my time.
Gameplay – Bite-Sized Choices
As I mentioned above, Coteries of New York doesn’t have gameplay in the ordinary sense of the word. You won’t be taking in the sights of the city or partaking in car chases. All that’s asked of you is to pay attention. Each scene is made up of three parts that bring as much life as possible to a rather static adventure. In each scene, you’ll find a text box for dialogue, a character portrait (if necessary) and a backdrop to offer a sense of place. Much of your time will be spent reading text, keeping an eye out for vital information that may become important later. Occasionally you’ll be asked to reply or make a decision, each carrying a degree of weight.
Some options allow you to use powers that allow you to force your will on someone. Go too long without feeding and you’ll lose that power, allowing the beast to escape. It’s all straightforward and rudimentary, but no less effective. There are specific quests that will test your morality and require some serious thought, again a credit to the writer’s skill. Dialogue tends to comes thick and fast, making it hard to follow at times. Occasionally I found myself skipping entire passages accidentally because I’d press ‘X’ just as the paragraph ended, missing valuable story.
If I had one major complaint, it would be the save system, which is frankly bizarre. To save you must exit the game entirely, meaning if the game crashes and you haven’t saved, you’ll lose your progress. Some reviews have mentioned that the game crashed several times, though the PS4 version I played didn’t crash once. Gameplay-wise, Coteries of New York has precisely what it needs and no more. The nagging issues and ludicrous save system aside, It was a near-flawless experience.
Graphics & Sound – Tempo & Trepidation
Coteries of New York is all about atmosphere, and boy does it deliver. Whether it’s driving in a car through the neon night or having a quick feed in a dark alleyway, every painted scene creates an immediate sense of place. Some scenes do feature slight animation, like the light from passing traffic illuminating and dissipating as you drive. Not all backdrops and character portraits are unique, however, and some backdrops are reused for different locations. It doesn’t ruin the feel, but it’s noticeable.
Being a Vampire is a pretty perilous existence, so the music and general atmospheric sound had to account for that. There’s a subtle musical thread throughout the entire game that reaches a crescendo when moments of danger pop up. It’s a constant reminder that your life is in perpetual danger. The score isn’t among the best in the industry, but it always fits the moment and that is good enough.
As a fan of podcast dramas that create sounds to punctuate the dialogue, I’m happy to see Coteries of New York employ a similar method. It’s a small detail, but it’s one that adds an extra hint of trepidation. If there’s a knock at the door, you hear it in sync with the dialogue. It could be the sound of footprints or something less threatening like the distant sound of house music from a dingy Brooklyn nightclub. Atmospheric noise may be the smallest detail of the game, yet I found it to be amongst the most impactful.