After The Council, Big Bad Wolf Studio returns with Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong . Created by Mark Rein-Hagen , the title is the narrative adaptation of the paper role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade set in the World of Darkness, which has become famous and considered one of the most symbolic games of the “narrative” approach. » by its dark, complex, but easily accessible universe. Big Bad Wolf Studio offers us a dive into the world of Boston vampires, between political intrigue and bewitching scenery. So, do we let ourselves be chewed?
A blood-sational universe
Before delving into the storytelling, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong immerses us in its universe . As soon as the game started, we were propelled into the heart of a crisis, a Code Red. Obviously, something serious happened without anyone knowing exactly what. The Prince of Boston, Hazel Iversen, absolutely wants to know the reason for this Code Red and asks Emem, Galeb and Laysha to investigate.
Infante, Sire, Descendant and many other terms come up against our understanding. However, to best resolve this crisis, it is necessary to be able to understand what our interlocutor is saying. The glossary is therefore really essential at the start of the adventure, especially since it is very easy to access: right in the middle of a dialogue. Rather welcome functionality, because it allows you not to break the rhythm by going to the menu and offers the possibility of having the information necessary to understand a context, or out of simple curiosity.
Like a vampire who bewitches his prey, the game is bewitching enough to cling to it like fangs in fragile skin. Beyond the narration, it’s the settings that charm us, especially the interiors which are, for the most part, dark. A number of details and elements fill these multiple places, which makes it possible not to make the task too easy and to invest ourselves as well as possible in our research. You have to have a real lynx eye, not miss the dialogues, read the documents that you pick up… And again, you have surely just passed at least ten times in front of a small post-it with a code or information key.
If the sets are rather well done, thus revealing a completely different atmosphere depending on whether we are on a bloody scene or simply in the Prince’s office, the characters have a little more trouble. The animation and, it must be said, the graphics are not optimized. A patch would be welcome to visually anchor the game in 2022.
The soundscape also plays its role in the construction of this bloody universe with first of all, a very good dubbing in English, but, and above all, striking music composed by Olivier Derivière (A Plague Tale: Innocence, Dying Light 2 ). The characters have their own sound theme, translating their personalities and ambitions into music. Galeb’s theme sounds menacing while Leysha’s is rather melancholic.
A narrative game with bite…
Narrative games are multiplying and offer the player the possibility of immersing themselves in several universes: futuristic like in Detroit: Become Human or horror and psychological thriller like the Dark Pictures Anthology… Among all these beautiful people, you have to know how to innovate in order to distinguish themselves.
Apart from the fact that Swansong takes place in a different universe of urban fantasy in the midst of blood drinkers, the title manages to stand out by offering a refreshing formula thanks to the addition of mechanics found in the RPG . A rather clever addition which consists of a system of experience points, a lot of skills and advantages specific to each character. Rhetoric, persuasion, technology, erudition… So many assets and skills that will have to be judiciously developed in order to be able to carry out the investigation without missing an important element.
However, this system is only consistent after a few hours of play, once the experience has been sufficiently gained. The most experienced non-playable characters will be able to put you in your place if you dare to challenge them without having the level. They also have their own sheet, very useful for knowing how to approach the conversation, especially when it comes to a crucial confrontation.
This is the uniqueness of the experience: in Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, there is very little, if any, fang fighting. The power of words and ideas are at the heart of the experience. Veritable verbal contests, the conversations you will have with the characters will be important for the rest of your actions. It’s a system that makes the exchanges quite engaging, which seems imperative in a narrative game where you have to agree to spend a lot of time asking questions, listening to others.
In addition to the skill point system, Emem, Laysha and Galeb bring real added value to the game. They all have different powers, adding a dose of the supernatural to the investigations, with their own personality, their past and their torments. A remarkable work of writing which allows to appreciate even more the universe and the game in general. Vampiric powers are used wisely and thoughtfully. They are not at all superfluous and different, thus allowing the phases not to be similar to each other.
However, we can regret the somewhat too rapid increase in the “hunger” bar, but it is more about the frustration felt than anything else. The three characters also seem to have received preferential treatment in terms of development, creating a contrast with the NPCs in terms of animations in particular.
… but which remains in the same linear vein
A hallmark of the narrative genre, the story leads you to make decisions by borrowing different storyline branches, whether in social interactions or in investigation. The variations’ own history is interesting and at the end of each “chapter”, you can see what choices you could have made differently without causing frustration, because the situations can turn out to be rather surprising. It doesn’t matter which character you choose to start a new chapter with. He and his actions weave a very precise thread.
Despite the choices, the adventure therefore remains quite linear and can lead to moments of uncertainty where you go around in circles in search of an object to validate your objective. However, there is always something that helps to avoid falling into frustration and boredom: an attentive ear to lend to listen to a potentially interesting conversation and many other activities such as hunting prey for example. Exploration remains fairly free and you are not stuck on one path.
You’re not in just any teenage vampire movie. Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is quite dark, and in order to use your abilities, you need to be able to control yourself and therefore keep your hunger levels low, at the risk of throwing yourself on the first comer and revealing your existence. An unforgivable act for the Prince who wants everyone to respect the Masquerade, one of the most important rules of not revealing the existence of vampires to the human population, considered as cattle.