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Despite it being a well-explored profession in film, few games do a great job at making the player feel like a detective. Oftentimes, games starring detectives are either too linear and handholding in the decision-making process for players. They tend to fall back on gameplay elements like puzzle-solving or combat instead of deduction-focused scenarios.
Though Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong looks underwhelming and doesn’t have great voice acting, the preview build I played successfully made me feel like an expert investigator. People beyond fans of the Vampire: The Masquerade and titles that focus on detective work and investigations will find a lot to enjoy here.
A bloody good detective
Swansong is based on the World of Darkness tabletop game Vampire: The Masquerade, which is about “Kindred” vampires trying to survive while not revealing themselves to humanity. This new game takes place in Boston, where a new Prince has taken charge of the camarilla sect controlling the city, but is being targeted by someone mysterious. Players will ultimately be able to take control of three characters to investigate these attacks and protect the Prince.
My demo saw Galeb Bazory, a 300-year old vampire pretending to be an FBI agent, looking into the death of a banker named Jason Moore. The banker had valuable information on the Primogen Council, a high authority in the vampiric underworld. I had to interview characters and thoroughly investigate the crime scene to find important documents about the Primogen Council.
Players walk around, speak to people, and collect items to gain the necessary information to progress. A unique part of this process is the “dialogue fight” system, which returns from developer Big Bad Wolf’s previous title The Council. Like a tabletop RPG, Swansong allows players to fully spec out their character with various skills that give benefits or additional options in dialogue.
In some confrontations, players will need to use these skills to persuade or intimidate the person they’re talking to like it’s an RPG fight. The main character’s hunger for blood will grow after using these abilities, so players must drink the blood of some victims around the crime scene while keeping up the investigation.
While I didn’t see the effects of this system in the time I played, killing people while satiating a character’s hunger meter will have a noticeable impact on the story. It also added a more captivating risk-versus-reward layer to conversations, which helped me immerse myself in roleplaying a detective that only asks all the right questions. As Big Bad Wolf promises that Swansong will have lots of ending permutations, the stakes are high as players uncover information and interrogate suspects and witnesses.
Puzzling it out
Although not all of Swansong’s characters will be investigators by profession, the game’s puzzles achieve that sleuthing fantasy better than its peers. It won’t mark every potential clue players come across, so there are some puzzles that require the player to use their own intuition to solve.
To find a combination to a safe at one point, I had to learn that it was a specific character’s birthday via a text message I found on a phone in the victim’s bedroom. Then, I had to cross-reference that with a picture taken on that character’s birthday in another room to find the correct code. It was one of the most rewarding puzzles I’ve solved in a game recently.
While Swansong features satisfying investigations, it isn’t free of jank. Gameplay and facial animations look stiff, and voice acting wildly varies in quality. Galeb’s voice is notably lackluster, as the actor behind him comes off as tired and bored rather than stoic. Thankfully, the writing itself is good, so a strong script might be able to save this game from any technical shortcomings.
Though it looks a little rough around the edges, Swansong still holds a ton of promise for fans of Vampire: The Masquerade and narrative adventure titles. Few games have conversations that match the dialogue fights present in Swansong, and the puzzles require the perfect amount of deduction to make the player feel smart. Hopefully, the entire game will continue to fulfill that investigative fantasy.
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong will be released for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on May 19, 2022. A Nintendo Switch version is also in development.
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