Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong review for PS5, Xbox Series X, PC

Platform: PS5
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch
Publisher: Nacon
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

Vampire detective stories should not be as boring as they are in Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong.

To be sure, some of this is on me. I?ve never played a Vampire: The Masquerade game in any form ? whether we?re talking about the tabletop game or any of its various video game adaptations ? so I went in without knowing anything about the world or its characters. It?s entirely possible that if I knew who these characters were or what they were talking about going into the game, I would have been a lot more invested in it.

Of course, the flip side of that is that Swansong doesn?t give you all that much reason to care about what?s going on. It tries to set the stage with a few introductory paragraphs, but even this introductory text can?t help but devolve into hyperventilating, lore-heavy exposition about Code Reds and the Boston Camarilla and the Hartford Chantry. While this may be riveting if you?re already a fan of the franchise, it all sounds like a bunch of nonsense if you?re not.

However, it?s pretty good prep for what happens the rest of the game. Swansong may pretend to be a mystery RPG where you play as a vampire detective ? which sounds pretty amazing, when you see it written down like that ? but the reality is that it?s a poorly written visual novel with a slightly higher budget. Seemingly every interaction is accompanied by a note saying that there?s a new codex entry, which is great if you feel like interrupting the game constantly to figure out what exactly is going on.

This is a game where characters named Emem and Drory and Galeb and Journey monologue at each other, spouting lines like ?We?ll have to increase our diplomatic presence to the Warlocks? and ?You?re not like the other Children of Malkav.? Obviously, such overwrought dialogue would be clunky even in the hands of incredible voice actors ? but Swansong doesn?t have those. I mean, they certainly try their best, but it all comes off as flat and lifeless.

In that respect, it matches how the game looks. Swansong tries so hard to fill its world up with mysterious, cool-looking vampires, but the illusion is lost any time any of them speak. They mostly look like shiny character models with dead eyes, and when they talk they move their bodies in the same, repetitive motions over and over again until they?ve finished their lines. The best comparison I can think of is to Frogwares? Sherlock Holmes games, where the characters all get trapped on the far side of the uncanny valley and make it impossible to get that invested in what?s going on because they all look so silly.

At least Sherlock is able to offset those looks with gameplay that?s somewhat serviceable. Swansong aspires to be a detective game, except you?re constantly funneled to where you need to go. On top of that, it bogs its mystery down in an impenetrable, needlessly complex ?disciplines? system that never fully explains itself ? which, of course, makes it the perfect accompaniment for a game that?s in love with its own impenetrable lore.

As I said up top, I get that it?s a little unfair to come into a series that?s been around for a couple of decades and complain that you don?t know what?s going on. But at the same time, the more you play of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, the more you get the sense that it?s being so convoluted because it doesn?t know what else to do. It tries to wrap everything together sometime around the 15-hour mark, but there?s really no reason why you should want to stick around for that long.

Nacon provided us with a Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong PS5 code for review purposes.

Grade: C-