The world of darkness is a fascinating one filled with dark entities, brutal backstabs and a surprising humanity underneath it all, as cheesy as that sounds. Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York’s story manages to grasp that well, with some great writing, but the short playtime and limited mechanics left me hungry for more.
The story, this time around, is much more focused and personalised than those previously heard. Instead of giving you a choice of people and clans, you play as Julia Sowinski, an investigative journalist at a crossroads in her life. That crossroads is the entirety of her life, crumbling around her as she gets fired for pursuing a dangerous case, her sources are outed, her apartment robbed and her family slowly dying. Pretty bleak, I know. On her way home, she blacks out, only to see the dead body of one of her sources and a frightening woman approaching. You get the chance to try and save your own life or accept your death. This proves you are invested in your own life despite all that horror, and you are embraced into the Clan Lasombra.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the clan have been perpetuating your eternal sadness in an attempt to test you. If you survive and persevere despite your circumstances, you prove yourself worthy. For the most part, this is all the preamble to the game. Unlike the rather slow start of Coteries of New York, Shadows lets you loose quite quickly. Each night has you choose one of a few options leading you down certain areas and on your way to certain types of people. One might lead you to a rather arrogant date to get some blood whilst another might have you make a pleasant stroll through the park. This is where one of Shadows’ bigger issues comes in – there aren’t many choices to make in total. Coteries had you tactically decide when to feed and when to pause; Shadows does not treat it as such.
The need for blood never really feels like a need. The insatiable creatures of the night feel less like a beast battling with their need for blood and more like someone fighting the urge for a snack before dinner. The writing certainly revolves around your need for blood but your actions don’t reflect that. The more stripped-back feel of the story both lends itself to, and is hampered by, the rather concrete story in front of you. It does offer a few endings but that’s about it. You might want to repeat the game to explore some of your options but there really aren’t that many to choose. In this sense, Shadows of New York feels a little closer to a light novel than a visual one. It has pretty art and a compelling narrative, but you shouldn’t go into it thinking you have that much to shape.
When you just let the narrative take you along, you can have a pretty good time playing Vampre: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York. The art direction has this dark water colour-style fitting with a Magic: The Gathering card or dark fantasy title. They feel intricate in design but never distractingly so. Every character has a voicing and look that pull together the final product quite well. You can almost guess a personality from their face alone, which is a rather good indication of character. This sense of character is well-reflected in the writing too. As Julia has the background of an investigative journalist, the tone of Shadows is more analytical and smart than Draw Distance’s previous effort, but characters have well-developed tones of their own. It works very well to enunciate the world of darkness.
This is only further helped by the music. Fitting somewhere between an orchestra, dark trance and an angelicly dark choir, the soundtrack is perhaps one of my favourite parts of Shadows of New York. It gets just symphonic enough to fit a movie but never too far as to desensitise you; it hits just enough experimental notes to creep you out but never enough to totally distance you. Like the world itself, the music is dark, different and yet oddly addicting.
It seems Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York on Xbox One has improved in some ways, but sees the series take a step backwards in others. The world is great, the art style fantastic and music wonderful. This being said, it feels very stripped-back with only a few hours of gameplay and not nearly as much choice as previously given. This is a pretty solid addition to the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise but it’s really just an appetiser for the future.