Vampire: The Masquerade first hit the scene back in 1991 as a tabletop RPG in which you create a character who is funnily enough a vampire and belongs to one of many vampire clans and can have adventures full of feasting on blood and political intrigue, basically vampire D&D. The proved to be an absolute smash hit leading into a fully established world consisting of vampires, werewolves, angels, demons and mages called The World of Darkness. This then spun into varying media with novels hitting the shelves, a TV show by Aaron Spelling who dominated the TV format from the 70’s right through to his death in the 00’s, a soundtrack was created to create atmosphere while the game was played, collectible card games, comics and of course video games. Some of you may be familiar with VtM- Redemption or it’s follow up Bloodlines, hell some of you may just be psyched up for the upcoming sequel Bloodlines 2. There may even be a small portion of you peeps who remember the Hunter: The Wreckoning or it’s sequels Wayward and Redemption, which seen console ports and an attempt to turn it into a movie by Uwe Boll.
Needless to say it has a very strong and dedicated fanbase which I remember running into on account of a High School girlfriend who lived the goth lifestyle and loved the game. However it took nearly 15 years after discovering VtM to actually dive into the world, which I finally did with this game; Coteries of New York. I love a good visual novel so when this popped up I was in albeit a little apprehensive as this was a game developed by hardcore fans of VtM, so I feared this may be a deep dive which would go over my head. The basic set up of the game is that you get to choose one of three characters each of different race, background, personality, strengths and origins, who get caught up in whatever circumstances life has thrown at them and find there way to become bitten and turned into a vampire.
The key skeleton of the game isn’t all that different from normal visual novels, you move from screen to screen reading text and follow along with the story while at certain points making choices on how you want to do things. It is during these choices that the actual gameplay takes priority, many times they will appear to be just normal choices, do you want to be a dick to the tough looking vampire guarding you who has no problem sorting you out or do you show him some respect? These will often come into play later on in a Telltale like fashion with characters remembering how you treat them and others around them. Often times you can end up dead by making wrong decisions or scaring off help that you desperately need in order to survive and trust me survival is paramount within Coteries. Another hugely key aspect of the series is what is regarded as ‘The Beast’, the hunger that lives within every vampire you have to feed in order to stay alive, if you don’t eat you move closer and closer to giving into The Beast and losing your mind. If however you do feed, you get access to vampiric powers that allowing you access to great scenes and rewards but there is also a cost if you feed on the turf claimed by another vampire. All this creates a certain risk vs reward of the vampire lifestyle, the more you use your powers the easier things are to achieve but each time they are used you need to feed to fend off the hunger caused by using them.
The game itself is beautiful to look at, the artwork is cold, dark and dreary with sly animations that completely nails the atmosphere and general feel of the greater world. The characters themselves are very unique and well done to the point where I actually ended up caring about their outcome and just liking the twists and turns of their plots and general personalities which includes possibly one of the best and most unique takes on dissociative identity disorder I have ever seen. There are many characters and stories to interact with to the point where it is impossible to get through them all in a single play through, even if you don’t manage to piss off all of the Brooklyn vampire turf by telling them they ain’t shit like I did. As I previously mentioned this game was created by die hard fans and they have no problem tossing around terminology from the tabletop games at you which can leaving you feeling lost and at odds with the game itself. Luckily the devs realized this and any term you may need clarification on will always appear in blood red font letting you know ‘Hey this is a term you may need clarification on’ and you are giving a dictionary to keep track of all the terms and definitions which is always on hand with a constant onscreen icon to press to instantly view.
Not everything with this game is perfect, its incredibly fantastic right up until the final act when everything hits the fan and the game has no real idea how to end itself and it all just becomes a mess which is a shame as with a couple of tweaks it would have been an utterly fantastic finale to a damn entertaining game. If you have wanted to find out more about VtM but never been sure where to jump in then this is a game for you. If you have only heard about it from the upcoming Bloodlines 2 then this is a game for you. Coteries of New York is a brilliant starting point for beginners into the franchise with everything you need to know laid out in front of you with enough mystery to keep you digging into the world. If you are already a hardcore fan then you will still probably get a kick out of it though you may just find it a little too simplistic given the greater lore of the series.
Zombie reviewed a retail copy of Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York on PC.