Even though the humans outnumber the vampires, the blood siphoning vamps soulessly rule over Nineteenth century Paris. It it up to you and the rest of the vampire hunters from all four bloodclans to take up arms against their oppressors. You yourself are not exactly a vampire, though you are not entirely human either, but when necessary you can call upon the vampiric blood coursing through your veins to assist you in battle.
Square Enix’s Bloodmasque is an Infinity Blade-style action RPG set in the world of vampires. Carried along by an interesting story and characters, the game’s vivid graphics, animation and audio will draw you into this rich Parisian vampire-ruled world that Square Enix has created. The icing on the cake..you get to play game as YOU…quite literally. You have the option of capturing your actual face into the game and it is put onto the main character, and it looks quite believable. You’ll probably spend a good deal of time in the character editor screens alone as you try to get your likeness just right. This is the big hook that really sells the game for many people and quite honestly, the effect is rather good! This is certainly what initially got my interest piqued.
Speaking of the audio / visual aspects of the game, one oddity is that there are plenty of brilliant animated cut scenes with subtitles, complete with impressive voice work, intermixed with other animated scenes in which you ONLY see the characters’ lips move, but it is set to music and there is no voice work. As a result the scenes in which you see lips moving, but no words felt broken or unfinished, I wish the whole game had included the voice work. Hopefully this gets updated in a future build.
Along the way, there are some opportunities to walk around and explore the beautifully rendered environment, however there really isn’t much to do, other than tap on townspeople who have very little to say and find random gold drops. It feels underutilized and instead, the meat of the game comes from the cut scenes and combat.
Combat sequences take place in three to four stages. The first involves taking out the minions, these are usually weaker attackers than only take a handful of taps to eliminate, and usually you won’t take any damage during these one-sided skirmishes. The second stage involves fighting off a more powerful vampire while he or she is still in their human form. You fight simply by tapping on your enemy and you can swipe left or right just as they are about to strike to dodge and perform a counter attack…which consists of just more tapping. As you fight your blood becomes stimulated (the process is called vampire fusion), and eventually it builds to the point of climax where you can unleash your inner (dormant) vampire for a very powerful attack which consists of (you guessed it) tapping the screen as fast as you can for 2 seconds, followed by a cut-scene attack on your foe by each of the other two members in your hunting party.
Then comes the “bloodburst“, which is a super powerful attack that differs by clan, but it is initiated in a rhythm game like fashion, by tapping on the screen just as a large outer circle shrinks to meet up with the smaller inner circle. Vampire fusion and bloodbursts can be performed multiple times in the same battle if your blood gets re-stimulated quickly enough. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t perform more than once in the same outing, it happens to all vampire hunters (or so I hear).
Once you’ve done enough damage to your foe, it will eventually shed its human guise and show its true grotesque vampiric self. Then the battle begins a new with a stronger attacker and a lot more tapping. The human and vampire forms of the same enemy will have differing fighting styles, so you have to adjust your dodging swipes accordingly. Finally once you’ve deplete all of your enemy’s power (for the second time), it is time to deliver the fatal blow and “stake the fiend”. It is once again a rhythm-like gesture to initiate, time it well and you’ll be rewarded with extra blood from your foe.
You may have noticed the number of times I used the words ‘tap’ and ‘tapping’ in the description of the fight mechanics, that’s because unfortunately while the story itself is interesting, the combat leaves a lot to be desired and all to quickly becomes a rather redundant tap-fest. There really needs to be a lot more variety in the attacks, making use of multi-touch gestures or something to get the player more engaged. The most you really have to think about is swiping to doge, otherwise it just deteriorates into mindless tapping, with no real strategy. Square Enix should take a look at what the Game Bakers have done with Combo Crew and use that as a guide for future updates in this area to spice things up.
Bloodmasque has a tightly integrated social component to it where you try to build bonds with other players from around the world. You select the other two members of your hunting party from a list of actual players and then after a battle you can choose to siphon your fellow players to form bloodbonds to be able to recruit them again for future hunts more easily. And you can earn rewards even when you aren’t playing, just by your friends recruiting your character in their own hunts. When selecting your hunting team it is not just your friends you need to consider, there is a whole clan system that adds another element of strategy as each clan has its own strengths, including gold bonuses, damage bonuses, blood bonuses or additional items.
While that’s all well and good, there is one major downside to this heavy social integration and that’s that the game WILL NOT FUNCTION unless connected to the internet. Personally, I think this was a huge oversight on Square Enix’s part and one that was only worsened by the fact that the initial App Store description (now corrected) made no mention of this requirement whatsoever. While I think the social aspect of the game adds a pretty interesting component, I feel there NEEDS to be a way to play offline. With a 12 to 20 hour campaign, this is the type of game people will want to play while on long car, train or plane trips, and places where they may not have access to the internet. So why not cache up the data and send it over the next time a player connects, or offer a set of standard hunting companions that can be used while you are offline? There are definitely alternative options.
Finally, there is a fairly extensive (and at times confusing) system of upgrades for weapons and armor that can be purchased using the game’s two different in-game currencies, gold and rubies. Square Enix insists that the game can be played all the way through without having to spend any real money of premium currency, but I would have preferred just a single currency as I’m always immediately a little weary of a two currency system in a paid game. So far it has been okay, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
Many will go into this game (like me) thinking it will be great, after all it’s like Infinity Blade with vampires AND you get to control a character that looks just like you. While it is true that Bloodmasque places iOS gamers into a beautifully crafted 3D Nineteenth Century Paris wrought with vampires, stellar voice work (when implemented) and eye-catching animations and cut-scenes, the game fumbles a bit in the gameplay department. The 3D world exploration never feels like it is utilized to its full potential, the combat system feels too repetitive and too simplistic and I honestly wonder that if arguably the game’s biggest selling point of putting yourself in the game were not there, would I have even played Bloodmasque as long as I have? Probably not.