Set in the dark underbelly of a vampire-infested New York City, ‘Vampire: The Masquerade – Cotories of New York’ (VMNY hereon) sees you take charge of a newly-turned ‘childe’, learning the ropes of their new life (or, un-life). The latest installment in the World of Darkness series from Draw Digital, this text-based adventure game gives the player the ability to forge their own story. Navigating the rivalry between two vampiric factions, or cotories, the player must make their own alliances to aid them on their journey. Whether you succeed or fail in this new world, is entirely up to you, and the choices you make.
Firstly, let’s talk story. Where VMNY excels is in its narrative structure and world-building. From almost the second after you press play, you are introduced to several dark and mysterious characters, each with their own distinct personalities. Draw Digital unapologetically throws the player right into this new world with little explanation, slowly revealing its vast intricacies piece by piece. By doing this, the player is almost instantly hooked into the story, feverently seeking out answers to the mass of questions posed. Despite having an elongated intro, the story is well-written and provides a sense of intrigue throughout, encouraging the player to continue on.
As noted above, every character you meet serves a distinct purpose in the story, with some offering the chance to learn new abilities. This is important, as the abilities you acquire can determine the options you may take throughout the story. Combined with the feeding mechanic, where the player must decide when, where and who to feed upon, this can provide unique adventures on every playthrough. As a result, the decisions you make, at least on the surface, are given more weight. For example, starving your character of feeding opportunities may prevent certain options being available later on. I personally took a more pacificist approach to my playthrough, which I feel my vampire comrades were a little confused about.
Nevertheless, this brings me onto my strongest critique of VMNY: pay-off. In truth, although the choice-based system is reasonably complex, ultimately, there are very few consequences for your actions. Should you, for example, decide to attack rather than ignore an enemy when given the chance, this hardly goes beyond an ally remarking in different tones depending on your choice. The story will still progress in a linear fashion regardless of your decision, meaning the choices you make in reality feel rather pointless. In fact, at one point, I was given a dialogue option for something that hadn’t even been discussed, implying that there was a previous ‘correct’ choice the game expected me to make. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg…
As a text-based adventure game, it would be foolish to expect the gameplay loop to extend beyond choice-based dialogue. This is fine, and although some additional gameplay would have been nice, I can appreciate the effort put in by Draw Digital in providing depth through these means. But this is a double-edged sword. Yes, this game has an impressive degree of depth and substance, but when this is entirely communicated to the player through text, it can become monotone and quite frankly, boring. In order to provide this depth to the world, you are often faced with paragraph-upon-paragraph of dialogue. As a result, the game sometimes feels like you are stuck in a never-ending conversation with an NPC, frantically pressing ‘A’ until the conversation is finally at an end. With the lack of pay-off noted above, the game can divulge into a slog, constantly waiting (im)patiently for something to finally happen. Nevertheless, I will concede that this may be something more accurately attributed to the genre as a whole, rather than VMNY specifically. Fans of such games may be able to see beyond this critique.
Taking these issues out of the equation though, Draw Digital has done a remarkable job in creating a beautifully-designed game. Although the game is made up of a variety of static images, these are done to perfection, each capturing a distinct tone. Sparse animations and dynamic lighting gives the world life (ironic, considering you and your allies are technically dead) without detracting from the art-style, which was a standout feature whilst playing. Similarly, the sound design is phenomenal. The background audio is often tweaked to perfectly complement the visual design, accentuating the mood of a particular scene. In addition, the SFX used punctuates the player’s actions, adding gravitas to even the simple action of pressing ‘A’. Although the addition of character voices would have been a nice touch, I was thoroughly impressed with the sound design nonetheless.
So, would I recommend this game? Well, those who are fans of text-based adventure games may find VMNY to be one filled with interesting characters, a mysterious and well-written narrative, and beautiful visual and sound design. However, those new to the genre, or simply looking to try out the game, may quickly become disillusioned by the never-ending dialogue, which provides little pay-off despite the implementation of choice-based mechanics. As a result, your experience with VMNY will entirely depend on whether you are able to appreciate the game beyond these text-based interactions. If not, rather than stucking the life out of the citizens of New York, you might just find the game sucking the life out of you.