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Conceptually, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodhunt is… unique.
Taking the pen & paper RPG series that would later be adapted into popular adventure games and creating a battle royale may seem strange on the surface, but, after just one or two matches with the upcoming PS5 version (out April 27), we’re impressed with just how seamlessly the genres blend, and how keen we are to keep playing.
Matches in Bloodhunt begin with players choosing a class to specialise in. This will affect the abilities the player has in-game and the look of the character. These abilities include things like projecting a version of yourself for enemies to shoot, or disappearing into a cloud of smoke. They seem extremely effective, and it doesn’t appear as though there’s a clearly dominant character, although we’re sure that’ll emerge once more players get their hands on the game.
In either Solo or Trios mode, the aim is simple, be the last vampire standing. You’ll do this by picking up weapons and hunting down your fellow creatures. It’s incredibly satisfying to see someone running off in the distance and stalking them across Prague. The mixture of dark city streets and neon glow makes the horror elements of battle royale games feel even stronger.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt PS5 preview
Throughout the visually impressive Prague map, there are areas guarded by The Entity, armour-clad sentinels that shoot on-site and boast a large pool of health. Taking a full group of them down is not easy, but they also hold the keys to high tier loot which can quickly turn the tide of battle. They also serve as a great distraction, as once they engage with an enemy, it makes it significantly easier to get the drop on them or sneak by.
This also means that if you’re going for the high tier loot and you’re not prepared to take them out quickly enough, you’ll create a large advertisement showing other players exactly where you are.This also happens if you’re spotted on the street feasting on an NPC character. These various Prague residents each grant players special buffs that can be stacked if you continue to feed on the same type of person. For example, one person may increase for melee damage by 5%, but finding and blood-sucking three of the same type will make your melee power pretty much unstoppable.
We found that the game manages to have a healthy variety of weapons that appear to be viable. From contemporary guns to crossbows and even a katana. The melee weapons were especially deadly, as we managed to pick up a few victories combining them with the aforementioned melee buff.
The shooting feels satisfying, if slightly floaty on PS5. Players used to first-person twitch shooters may have to spend some time adjusting, but the movement and abilities all feel great on the controller and intuitive. 3D audio and haptic feedback have also been included in the PlayStation 5 version of the game using the DualSense, something developer Sharkmob is exploring implementing in the PC version.
A key sticking point for players in the live service era is monetization, and from our conversations with the Sharkmob team, it appears that it is well aware of the potential pitfalls it faces, should it get this element wrong.Currently, the game will only allow players to buy cosmetic items and a battle pass. While the game is free to play, there are various paid-for versions of the game that will come with cosmetic items, but in all of our conversations with the team, everyone we spoke to was adamant that the game wouldn’t explore any pay-to-win mechanics.
Cosmetic items are a natural fit for a subgenre of horror that’s so synonymous with a certain style of fashion. Players will be able to make their character look like anything from a 90s mall goth to Van Helsing to even some outfits inspired by films. We’re 99% sure we saw a legally-distinct Twilight-adjascent costume, but sadly no baseball uniforms celebrating the greatest scene in vampire cinema.
Sharkmob claims it’ keenly monitoring how long it’s going to take players to unlock more of the battle pass, and are ready to adjust rates quickly, something that other live services, such as 2021’s Halo Infinite, struggled with at launch.
All of the characters and the game world look fantastic. Being set at night, the city of Prague is bathed in exaggerated moonlight, and every corner feels like it’s home to a neon sign factory. This makes running across rooftops and soaring over streets look excellent, with a fantastic sense of speed achieved, while also making each area feel distinct.
Large set pieces like a smouldering church make for the recognizable landmarks that you and your team will be meeting at game after game. After a few rounds, we found the city to be easily navigable. It’s certainly not the biggest map in the genre, but for a game that features fewer than 50 players per round, this is a good thing.
Maintaining stealth while gambling to acquire loot or feed on an NPC is a large part of the game, so if the map was enormous, it wouldn’t feel so perilous for the alarm to be raised and your location illuminated on the map.
Ultimately, Vampire The Masquerade Bloodhunt will live and die on its ability to attract an audience and keep them happy. The gameplay feels great, even at this early stage, and while some abilities and weapons seem to complement each other so well as to make many of the guns feel supplementary or irrelevant, we didn’t have a single round that wasn’t enjoyable.
Threading the needle of compelling narrative in a battle royale setting is always difficult, and we’ll wait until the final release and first season of content to cast judgement on how that is handled, but Prague is one of the most compelling battle royale maps in the modern era of the genre, and provides a stark visual difference from similar offerings in its class.
Intelligent monetization and a sentiment from within the Sharkmob team that it has a strong vision of the future of the game is promising, but as we’ve seen with a recent spat of live service games, it’s less about the plan and how it can react when the plan goes wrong.
Crucially, that tension-filled excitement of being in the last handful of players is thrilling in Bloodhunt, and with a map, that while not the size of Verdansk, is dense with intrigue, Vampire The Masquerade could potentially join the battle royal heavyweights.
Sharkmob told us that there are already discords full of fans that were drawn to early access by the role-playing elements of the game, rather than the battle royale, so there’s a real chance that it penetrates a group of players uninterested in the various traditional shooters in the genre, but for us, it’s about what Sharkmob can do to maintain that “just one more round” feeling that’ll truly reveal whether Bloodhunt gain battle royale immortality or a stake through the heart.