If fans of the franchise are awaiting Bloodlines 2 with some impatience, we can at least say that in recent months they have had a lot to do with BloodHunt and Swansong, two games that take place in the universe of Vampire The Masquerade and that dare something different approaches.
Inspired by the famous role-playing game Vampire The Masquerade, Swansong presents itself as a narrative role-playing game in which every decision made by the player influences the scenario. The French publisher Nacon entrusted the project to the small studio Big Bad Wolf, who pleasantly surprised us with the very friendly The Council. With such a pedigree, we expected a very in-depth title that brushed fans of the franchise in the direction of their hair.
And that’s exactly what the small French studio gives us. Before we go any further in this review, however, it should be made clear: Swansong is clearly a game intended for a niche audience. Basically fans of the Vampire The Masquerade universe. Why? Firstly, because we are entitled to something heavy at the scenario level. The dialogues are numerous, so are the speakers and a Lambda player will sometimes have a hard time navigating this complex universe. The mechanics of the game are also not easy to remember for a beginner… Then, because in terms of gameplay, we are dealing with a very specific title here: somewhere halfway between a narrative game of cutscenes and dialogues and an investigation game à la Sherlock Holmes .
For those who are completely unfamiliar with the franchise, Swansong does an excellent presentation job with a very lengthy intro detailing the issues. The action takes place in the heart of Boston. You play as Emem, a vampire who owns the most exclusive clubs in town. She joined the Caramilla clan, led by Hazel the “Prince” and responsible for enforcing the elemental law of all vampires: the masquerade. If the clashes between the different factions are allowed, the vampires must remain invisible to the eyes of society at all costs. But it is they who rule it…
From a narrative point of view, Swansong is a real hit. The game literally takes the form of an interactive movie in which we end up interfering very little. It consists of a sequence of cutscenes, interspersed with some dialogue where you can influence the course of the scenario, and some short gameplay sequences – mostly investigations. If you’ve ever played it, we’re getting closer to a Detroit here.
We feel it, the developers are passionate about The Masquerade universe. The dialogues are excellently written, the course unpredictable and the story gripping from beginning to end. The game’s presentation is also neat, with very well chosen camera angles for the cutscenes, excellent dubbing in English (with French subtitles) and an effective soundtrack. Be careful though, the whole thing isn’t necessarily very accessible to newbies, who often have to explore the glossary to progress.
The only criticism we make of the title regarding its scenario concerns the gallery of characters that are presented to us here, totally expressionless – given the facial animations of another age -, generally too numerous to remember them all and especially not openly artistically successful. It’s very easy, except for Emem, it’s difficult to get attached to the characters in this story. Their extravagant looks certainly fit into the world of role-playing games, but it’s hard to find any charm in them.
If the Big Bad Wolf game is almost flawless from a narrative point of view, the result is much less convincing in terms of gameplay and implementation. The studio was clearly not lacking in ambition. Swansong offers a long, complex narrative with many branching stories and some excellent ideas as well. Technically, however, the title is extremely poor, even on next-gen consoles. The sets are empty, the facial animations are comparable to a production from ten years ago, the bugs (mainly textures showing up late) number in the dozens and we can feel it all being horribly under budget. Surprisingly, this is felt more in the cutscenes produced by the game’s engine than in the few exploration sequences where the game almost seems “pretty”.
On the gameplay side, the game is also struggling to find its own identity. It borrows elements from different genres. Like I said, the title is very wordy. The cutscenes are numerous and unlike a Telltale game you don’t have to do much during them as they are non-interactive. Dialogue with NPCs is required between two cutscenes. During these conversations, you can use your character’s abilities (defined at the beginning of the game). Specifically, your character has certain speaking abilities. He can show rhetoric, persuasion, seduction… Each element is defined by the player at the beginning of the game, but can be improved with the experience gained. Verbal contests allow you to tip the scales in your favor based on your stats. The stats of the two characters are compared. The one with the best stats wins the duel. However, this isn’t as easy as you might think, as you’ll need to be strategic with your decisions, temporarily increase your willpower points with boosters, or even take risks by increasing your hunger – even if it means turning into a feral beast devour a man as soon as he crosses one. The dialogue system is clever and will surely delight fans of narrative games. For the average player, however, all this is not easy to understand, especially the skill improvement menus.
The interesting thing about this system is that the slightest mistake or success in these games can greatly affect the scenario. So there is some replayability.
And then of course there’s the investigation part, real-time gameplay sequences where you can explore small game areas to interact with NPCs, quench your bloodthirst through a mini-game, solve some small puzzles, a whole bunch of objects to discover and interactions that advance the story (a little). Again, the accessibility is not optimal: the game offers few indications of what to do, beginners will have difficulties and it must be admitted that these game sequences are not very interesting compared to those of a Sherlock Holmes in general.
With Swansong, the French studio Big Bad Wolf (The Council) brings us a very verbose storytelling game that stays true to the universe of Vampire The Masquerade and in this sense should appeal to fans of the franchise. The title features a sequence of cutscenes, dialogue, and brief investigative sequences. The narrative part is by far the most successful as the story is gripping to follow from start to finish. However, Swansong is not a very accessible title for the general public: the game world is complex, beginners will certainly get lost. If the bet is won through storytelling, the title has more trouble convincing in terms of gameplay, with game mechanics that are difficult to master for beginners and uninteresting exploration sequences. Aesthetically, the title is also very bad. It suffers from numerous display bugs and an aging graphics engine. Immersion takes a hit. Especially since the title tends to multiply close-ups onto expressionless faces during dialogues. When the characters are numerous, none really have any charm, except maybe Emem… However, it would be a mistake to miss Swansong, especially if you’re a fan of the franchise. The script is gripping from start to finish, the dialogue is neat and the universe is very rich. Swansong had real potential that was unfortunately squandered by a lack of resources.
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Vampire The Masquerade: Swan Song
We love :
A nice story
The excellent dubbing in English and subtitles in French
The elaborate universe of The Masquerade
The clean staging
Decisions that really affect the scenario
We like less:
Technically very bad
Bugs (mainly display) galore
An unattractive artistic direction
Characters without facial expressions or charm
Very bad gameplay sequences
#Test #Vampire #Masquerade #Swansong #LowBudget #Storytelling #Geeko