What We Scroll Through In The Shadows
HIGH Strong character writing. A great taster for the Vampire setting.
LOW Bare-bones features discourage repeat play.
WTF How’d it take this long to get some good Malkavians in a game?!
Though vampires long predate the invention of computers and software, the legendary bloodsuckers seem like the perfect videogame characters. Their existence would set them above and apart from the gathered masses of humanity, exceptional by nature, and governed by a number of obscure and seemingly arbitrary rules — a bit like the restrictions of game worlds. With this in mind, one can’t help wonder why there are relatively few vampire-themed videogames out there, and even fewer good ones.
Among the exceptions is the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. Based on the tabletop RPG setting of the same name created by White Wolf, titles like V:tM Bloodlines and Redemption brought dense lore and a nuanced portrayal of hidden vampire society to players, though their reach often exceeded their grasp. Draw Distance is attempting to contribute to that well-remembered legacy with Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York, but they’ve wisely chosen to temper their ambition.
Unlike previous V:tM titles, Coteries of New York is not a full RPG. Instead, the devs emphasize narrative and character over mechanical depth by making what is essentially a visual novel. Coteries of New York has more in common with story-based titles like Telltale’s The Walking Dead than Bloodlines, although this is a good thing as the simpler, choice-based structure allows players to focus on the excellent character writing.
Coteries of New York casts players as a newly-converted vampire, just recently “embraced” by a sire for reasons unknown, and ready to make their way in the Camarilla, the vampiric society they’ve just joined. The Camarilla all participate in the titular “Masquerade” — it’s an overarching policy keeping the existence of vampires a secret from humans and pesky hunters. This is especially important since the hunters of modern society are empowered by the internet and government surveillance.
However, the danger mortals pose to vampires pales in comparison to the threat they face from their own, be it a rival scheming for advantage, competing vampiric factions, or even vampires too hungry to tell if the person they’re biting is human or kin.
Players are charged with securing their own position in New York’s underworld by building their own “coterie” — a network of allies and supporters. Accomplishing the task is fairly simple, mechanically speaking. Players merely have to decide who spend time with each night. These decisions drive most of the narrative, as each encounter with a chosen vampire advances their respective subplot, and there’s not enough time in the story to recruit everyone on offer.
Coterie‘s characters are the highlight of the experience, and each functions as a pitch-perfect example of an idealized Masquerade archetype. The Tremere is a self-serious, dutiful member of a clan capable of harnessing the power of their blood to cast magic. Another character is a Gangrel whose animalistic, almost beastlike instinct war with her sense of familial affection. Another, and my personal favorite, might be the best portrayal of the long-problematic Malkavian subtype. In Vampire: The Masquerade, Malkavians are a vampire clan forever afflicted with various dramatic forms of mental illness.
This thorny fact has led to less-than-sensitive and even downright offensive characterizations over the years, and not even legendary games like Bloodlines quite managed to avoid the minefield. However, the Malkavian in Coteries of New York is a nuanced character clearly affected by her nature, but still given agency in her own story and able to live un-life on her own terms. It also helps that she’s hilarious, and her dialogue contains excellent uses of real-world and current-day references.
These strong characters would make Vampire: The Masquerade: Coteries of New York an easy recommendation to anyone interested in learning more about the franchise, but I must throw in a few notes of caution for those not immediately attracted to the premise due to Coteries of New York‘s relatively spartan feature set, and the way it can actively work against exploring the writing.
The game includes a convenient dictionary and a log that shows recently-seen text, but for some reason it lacks the ability to bookmark specific points in the story, or any options to shift from chapter to chapter. This may be due to the choices shaping the story, but it’s sorely inconvenient to players that want to see everything it has to offer.
Worse still, there’s no option to skip text that’s already been seen, and no way to automatically scroll text. These omissions are the kind of rookie mistakes a novice visual novel developer makes, and they damage the overall experience. Exploring and appreciating a visual novel with writing as good as this one shouldn’t be tiresome.
With luck, future patches and updates will address these minor concerns because Coteries of New York is something well worth sinking one’s fangs into.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Draw Distance. It is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. This copy of the game is based on retail build provided by the publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode over two completions. There is no multiplayer mode. The game was completed.
Parents: At the time of writing, this game was unrated by the ESRB. However, it would likely be rated M with descriptors for Strong Language, Sexual Content, Violence, Drug and Alcohol Use, and Mature Humor. This is a fantasy game involving the lives and adventures of vampires in present-day New York City. Players control a character recently turned into a vampire. Most visuals in the game are conveyed via static character portraits over background art, with the narrative shown in text. Though no explicit depictions of violence or sex are shown through the art, the text contains many references to sex acts, drugs, alcohol, and descriptions of violent scenes, involving the player and others. Swearing is frequent and strong.
Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes selectable.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue and narrative is presented using onscreen text. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay.
Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are not remappable.