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Vampire The Masquerade Swansong review: Gory & gorgeous with grating puzzles

Get your teeth around this fang-tastic detective sim.

Published: Wednesday, 18th May 2022 at 2:00 pm
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A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Launching this week is Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong, the latest role-playing video game in the series of bloodthirsty titles inspired by the VTM tabletop game.

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Set once again in the 'World of Darkness', where powerful vampires live in secret sects around the globe, VTM Swansong focuses in on a community of blood-suckers in Boston who are quickly thrown into danger - a number of their members have been killed in a brutal attack, and it's down to the player to find out what happened.

To do so, you'll take control of no fewer than three main playable characters: Galeb, a sinister henchman of the prince; Emem, a club owner with short-range teleporting powers; and Leysha, who has strange visions and was recently released from a mental health institution.

With all of these elements to introduce, plus the entire court of power players in Boston (all of whom are new characters to the franchise), the game does take a little while to get started. Plus, if you've never played one of these games before, it might take you an hour or so to understand how it all works.

For the uninitiated, it's worth noting that this game is not about combat or action. It couldn't be more different, in that sense, to the recent Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt multiplayer game. That other title is all about gunplay, whereas Swansong very much is not.

Galeb makes a headstart on his investigations in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong.
Galeb makes a headstart on his investigations in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong. Nacon

This is more of a point-and-click detective simulator, with each character undertaking a series of levels where they need to walk about, interact with every item they can find, decode clues, locate key people, solve puzzles, tackle tricky conversations and ultimately steer situations to the conclusion you want.

Once you're into the flow of this investigative gameplay, Swansong really starts to shine. There's a really admirable amount of choice in each different scenario. Not only can you side with different characters and pick between different conversation options (pretty standard RPG fare), but also you can choose to investigate minor background details that could lead to significant discoveries. There are multiple paths through every mission, and even if you work super hard, you'll probably learn at the end that you missed a few things.

In most of these missions, the level design is top notch, with plenty of secrets to find and stories to piece together across some visually gorgeous locales. The graphics on the characters models are great, too, and the soundtrack is suitably eerie throughout. It all adds up to a satisfying slow-burn of a game that you'll want to take your time with.

As you do gradually work your way through Swansong, you'll learn more and more about each of the three protagonists, and there are some fun twists and turns to their tales that we won't spoil here. Suffice it to say that we enjoyed spending time with these people, though, even if they are blood-hungry undead killers.

Although most of the characters are pretty civilised most of the time, there are some properly gory moments in the game which should keep hardcore horror fans happy, and you can push your characters down darker paths if that's your cup of tea. Either way, you'll come up against some properly tense choices and horrible consequences.

You'll also be able to level up various traits for each character as you go, unlocking more conversation options as well as greater deductive capabilities for your investigators. This system is impressively deep, so much so that we struggled at times to bulk out all the stats that we wanted to boost. It's an enjoyable challenge.

However, there is one element of Swansong that we didn't really enjoy - the puzzles feel like a chore at times. One level particularly rankled. You're trapped in a gothic prison and need to find your way out. The game gives you such little instruction and such a big area to play in that it feels like a sizeable slog to be trudging around, poking about in various cells and trying to find that one vital clue that will let you move on with your life.

Despite that, once we'd completed that series of puzzles and finally got to the next stage of the story, Swansong found its feet again and became a lot more fun. This game is at its best when it delves into its fascinating characters and its devilishly detailed world, and there is plenty of that to go around. If you can handle some long and tricky puzzles, this is one to sink your teeth into.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong launches 19th May for PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch - you can order your copy from Amazon. We reviewed on PC using an NVIDIA 3070 Ti graphics card.

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