Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt Preview: A Battle Royale With Bite
Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodhunt is not a game that should work. It takes the slow building intrigue and nuanced story telling of the tabletop game and Bloodlines video game and turns it into a battle royale where you stalk through the streets with chainsaws, shotguns, and axes, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and murdering your opponents in a violent, action packed bloodbath. The masquerade is all about how vampires move through the mortal world undetected, influencing and manipulating those around them, playing out vampiric politics and power struggles without ever being detected by the humans. Running amok with a machine gun goes against those ideals a little bit. It shouldn’t work, but maybe it sort of does…?
Some people just aren’t going to like an existing franchise being spun off into a battle royale, especially when the development of the main game is in turmoil and the universe doesn’t seem too suited to a battle royale in the first place. I spoke to developer Sharkmob about this, especially in the light of the negative reaction to the game’s initial tease. “I think anytime you make a PvP game, you face that kind of, ‘Oh, we don’t need another Team Deathmatch game, we don’t need another Multiplayer game’,” Craig Hubbard, game director at Sharkmob told us in our interview with the developers. “But if you can find something that you can’t get in other games, and I think for us the traversal, the freedom of movement, then you have a chance.” Ultimately, Sharkmob knew the game would be initially unpopular because of the genre, but the fact that Masquerade doesn’t seem right for the battle royale treatment was the perfect reason to do it – it lets the devs reinvent typical conventions of the battle royale in ways games more suited to the format are simply unable to.
After playing a few rounds of the game in a pre-alpha state, it feels like it brings something new to the table, but still has a lot of kinks to work out. You play in groups of three, which seems to lend good balance to proceedings. Any more and the whole masquerade of hiding would become much more difficult, and in a duo you’re left with just a healer and an offensive player, which always felt far too hectic whenever one of my team was down. The teams were split with two journos and a dev on each team, and since there’s no organic way to wedge this in, I’ll just point out here that my team won the first game and came second in the next, and were in no way carried by our developer. There’s also a solos format, but I missed out on that while doing the aforementioned interview, so it’s just the trios I’ll be talking about here.
However, I’m not sure it matters that much. Trios seem like the best way to use your team, and solo is the most straightforward format in a shooter game anyway. I saw more than enough in my two matches to see what Bloodhunt brings to the table, and what it still needs to cook. The biggest question I had going in was how on earth you keep up the masquerade while you’re gunning vampires down in the street, but that’s one of Bloodhunt’s biggest strengths. You’re fighting other vampires, and are supposed to leave the civilians alone. You can devour their necks to heal up on that juicy blood, but if another human sees you, you’ll be Bloodhunted. Same goes for if you kill a human with your weapons or if they see you gunning down a vampire. Bloodhunted players have broken the masquerade, and will become visible on the minimap for everyone, so there’s a huge incentive not to break the masquerade, which helps keep the ideas of mystery and secrecy in check with the shotgun blasts of the battle royale.
For that reason, a lot of the fights take place on rooftops, with Bloodhunt placing a huge emphasis on verticality. You can climb any surface in the game, and no fall damage exists. At one point, my team headed up a crane in the middle of the city to check where the action was, and decided to leap and slide our way to a building nearby, letting the clash play out before swooping in and picking off those who remained. Sure, we ended up getting engulfed by the encroaching red mist and almost dying ourselves, but the thought was there.
This focus on verticality works great with the melee weapons, especially when you get something like the twin blades instead of just an axe. Jumping off buildings and landing with a slice through your opponent is hugely satisfying, but everyone doing bunny hops while shooting at each other feels a little bit silly. The masquerade loses its cool when you get to the firearms, because it retreats to traditional shooter mechanics of unrealistically cheesing it, jumping on the spot to make it harder for the enemy to hit you. Ian Somerhalder would never.
Thankfully, out and out shootouts provide a few options for you to get out of them. Because you can travel up the map as well as across it, players can drop down behind you at any point, it’s hard to pin you down, and scrambling away to safety is always an option. It’s not until right at the end when the map shrinks that you’re forced into these bunny hop shootouts.
The powers also help with this. There are six classes in the game, each with two powers – one shared with another class, and one unique. My shared power was Vanish, which allowed me to disappear and either run away or scurry silently behind my opponent and take them out. My unique power summoned bats, and they hovered in a wide dome, pointing out where my enemies were hiding. These bats couldn’t attack, but looked cool – and will look cooler once the game gets its graphical tune ups – and offered a useful tactical advantage. We did win, after all.
I’m much more convinced now than I was before playing it that Vampire: The Masquerade can work as a battle royale, and Bloodhunt seems to be heading in the right direction. It’s a shame that it brings so many unique ideas to the genre but forces the final players into fairly predictable firefights. If Sharkmob can figure out how to keep the game’s intrigue up in the final moments of intensity, it can give the battle royale genre a real shot in the arm – or should that be bite in the neck?
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