While it should probably pain me slightly to admit it considering the game I’ve just spent the last six or seven hours with (Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York), I’ve never really been a fan of digital graphic novels. Frankly, I find the idea of pressing the A button through reams and reams of text quite unappealing, especially since most games lack the visual appeal of the printed comics they often emulate.
You did read that right though; Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York kept me engaged right to its conclusion — twice. This is a choose-your-own-adventure style game that will feel familiar to anyone who reads books of the sort, but it’s also deeply immersed in Vampire: The Masquerade lore and language, with an in game dictionary being just about the only thing you’ll look at beside the main text display.
The game begins with the player choosing from one of three edgy looking characters. There’s an initially heterosexual white guy on the fringes of society, a bisexual white woman who has climbed the corporate ladder and a gay black man working as an aspiring artist. Each character is well written and complete in their motivations and past, with flaws and convictions that make them feel pleasingly real.
Whichever one you choose, you’ll embark on a story that lasts just under twenty in-game nights, with a largely freeform mission structure that has you assembling your own gang – or coterie – at the behest of your patron, the vampire known as Sophie Langley. Each mission will take either half a night or a full night, and you’ll never know which before you embark, so planning carefully is essential and it’s never possible (at least not as far as the standard maths is concerned) to complete all missions on single playthrough.
The basic idea of the game is simple. Your character will find themselves in various positions either by choice or because the central story arc demands it, and you’ll need to read your way out of it. The text is near flawless in terms of grammar and spelling, with good prose and just enough environmental detail to create immersion without becoming verbose or overly-elaborate.
This, thankfully, makes up for some fairly lacklustre and repetitive backgrounds, as well as almost completely motionless character drawings that never change stance or facial expression. A character might appear aggressive and edgy in one scene when on the offensive, and then in the next, having received a sound beating, they’ll look exactly the same.
The backdrops are cycled several times through each story, with home locations (or havens) used frequently, as well as the same art galleries, back streets and other common areas like bars. I felt a little disappointed by the lack of variety across both locations and characters, since the art that does exist in the game is of a good standard and leaves you wanting more.
Of course, the artwork does only serve as a literal backdrop for the written text and as I mentioned, that’s quite good. Most missions (which are essentially almost all just conversations with some incidental travel or occasional combat) take about fifteen minutes to work through if you read them properly, and there can be between about three and maybe ten choices in each.
Undoubtedly the most interesting are the missions that have the player recruiting their coterie directly, since each of these threads takes place over three missions that have the potential for success or failure at each juncture. The path to “successful completion” of each mission is usually obvious and if your aim is simply recruitment, then you’ll struggle to fail.
If you choose to act strictly “in character” however, you will certainly find some of your potential recruits to be more or less tasteful than others. One, for example, practices questionable blood magic, whilst another appears to use her vampiric powers to deliver erotic shows. All is not as it seems in this world however, and exploring the five recruit quest lines was really the thing that brought me back for a second run.
There’s also the issue of hunger, which turns out to be a constant issue for vampires in the model world. Thankfully, in Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York getting a meal is relatively simple, but sadly unpredictable. Many missions — I won’t quite say most — offer feeding opportunities, but there is never an option to specifically seek out a meal.
This can be problematic because a lot of the dialogue choices allow the use of one vampiric power or another, and these can be blocked if the player is low on blood. There’s a threat that “The Beast” might take over if you get too hungry, and whilst this did happen to me once, my character was able to resist temptation before actually killing anyone — which in a more rounded game might have resulted in some kind of consequence.
There are a couple of problems with Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York that sadly mean I can’t recommend it to players beyond those who either love digital novels or vampires in general.
Firstly, there’s no real jeopardy at any point, and most choices feel relatively inconsequential. I only died once during this game, and that was early on by choice, simply because I wanted to unlock an achievement that I had a hunch would pop (and it did). Whilst you can fail to recruit coterie members and there are threatening and dangerous situations, the path through each mission is as clear as day — or night, depending on your perspective.
Secondly, I found the number of loose ends and indeed the actual endings (two of which I’ve seen) to be hugely unsatisfactory. This is my biggest problem with Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York. Whilst the writing from paragraph to paragraph is good, the overall narrative never really ties together.
My first playthrough featured a side story about a stalker who I had only met once when I bumped into her in the street. The next time we met, she was in my apartment and her character and mine behaved like old lovers. The next time I saw her I can’t describe without spoilers, but it was a pivotal moment in the plot and it made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Other characters, often with large roles in the plot and a lot of written exposition, end up doing nothing during the endgame, whilst at least one character who is neither interesting nor important appears out of nowhere. The ending clearly sets up a sequel, but given the way my “prime” playthrough was laid out at that point, I’d debate whether I would want to continue the story from that point on.
The role of your own coterie is also an odd one. At the beginning of the end game Sophie’s motivations become clear, but that has little or no bearing on why she asks you to assemble a crew. Even when you have, the moment at which they become useful to you is odd, fleeting and forced.
This, along with some of the other elements that I’ve mentioned above (and some that I can’t) ripped me out of the narrative with a hard jolt and left me clicking the A button to see out the remainder of the game. This was extremely disappointing, since it was during these moments that I should have been on the edge of my seat with excitement.
Overall then, you should remember that Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York isn’t a game in the traditional sense. It’s an interactive digital novel, and I credit it with being the first (and still only) experience of its kind that I’ve completed. My second playthrough however, was intended to see if the game simply “broke” the first time round, and it seems that it didn’t, which means that in neither scenario did I feel satisfied with the ending.
As such, I can certainly recommend this game to fans of digital novels, since it seems to have the basic mechanics down quite nicely. I can also recommend it to fans of deep, immersive vampire fiction, since it certainly knows its audience well. Everyone else, probably, should avoid Vampire: The Masquerade – The Coteries of New York since there’s no actual gameplay satisfaction to be had, and the chance of the story beats leading you to a satisfying close are slim.