Vampires are probably the most well-trodden and overused monsters within horror. Every decade since the 1910’s has seen near countless revisions, rehashes, revivals, and reimaginations of these iconic undead perversions of humanity on various screens for our viewing pleasure. From Sybil to Orlok, to Dracula and Severen, or Lestat to David they are often used as metaphors for the human condition, as expressions of our primal natures, our passions, desires, excesses, lost innocence, and even our vulnerabilities. Vampires provide a compelling vehicle to tell a fantastical story alongside some more contemporary and mundane commentary due to not only their similarity to us, but also their distinct and monstrous differences. Vampires of late though have lost much of their bite to twinkling emos or drained of menace via various anaemic representations that have infested most of the last decade across popular media. But I still adore them. In part, this is likely due to when I grew up. For me, vampires were monstrous, terrifying, and sexy. My teens were spent in the late 80’s and 90s, and it was a hell of a time for vampire fiction. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Fright Night, as well as the creations of Anne Rice there was no shortage of delicious sanguine fantasy to sink my teeth into. And then came The World of Darkness and Vampire: the Masquerade, where you could live the fantasy yourself. As a nerdy high schooler, nothing could have been cooler… well except actually being cool that is.
Coteries of New York is the third video game adaptation of the White Wolf published tabletop role-playing system, and just as the classic PC game; Bloodlines (and to a lesser degree Redemption) did before it, it absolutely nails the lore and personality of the shadowy underworld populated by monsters, misdirection, and deep political and religious machinations. Sadly, also like Bloodlines, it has some issues, more due to spotty execution than conception or design, but they do mar the experience, nonetheless.
Unlike the pure CRPG of Bloodlines, Coteries of New York is a Visual Novel RPG hybrid that streamlines almost all of the typical RPG mechanics, but still retains the feeling of its tabletop roots. You have very little choice in who your character is apart from selecting their name, and how you respond to various conversations throughout the game. Still, as long as you embrace the game as a slightly deeper than usual visual novel, and not as a shallow RPG, you should find a lot to like here, but that could be a bridge too far for any long-time devotees of The Masquerade.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York begins as any self-respecting vampire game does – with your death and rebirth into the World of Darkness as a member of 1 of 3 vampire clans; the brutish Brujah, the sensual and mystical Toreador, or noble elite of the Ventrue with their power to compel and control others. Each clan will offer you different conversation options, as well as two unique vampiric abilities you can use to manipulate, manhandle, or misguide others you encounter, both undead and alive. As you travel deeper into the World of Darkness, you’ll become embroiled in an age-long struggle between the ancient Camarilla who are dedicated to keeping vampire society safe by maintaining both the ancient vampire clan hierarchies and customs, and the Anarchs who rebel against the elitism and privilege of Camarilla and its elders.
Gameplay falls very much into the usual visual novel fare. You’ll meet various characters and through branching dialogue progress through the story. Unlike other visual novels, you can call upon your vampiric powers to influence how an encounter may play out. While these are somewhat limited, they do an admirable job of eliciting some of the excitement of living the vampire fantasy. You’ll also need to feed, which adds another layer to the gameplay and offers up some interesting questions, opportunities, and even moral quandaries. Not feeding will weaken your resolve and could lead to you purge your remaining humanity and embrace the Beast within, but every feeding opportunity is a risk, in terms of not only discovery, but it could also violate an agreement, truce, or have some other as yet unforeseen outcome. These choices both in and out of conversation may cause some encounters to unfold differently, but for the most part, these are window dressing or additional flavour, as the core story will ultimately unfold in a similar fashion regardless of how you approach it. The strength of the game though is not in how these choices affect the overall narrative, but in how they add to the story and provide a little more depth to the storytelling. The linear nature of the game only really becomes apparent in subsequent playthroughs, but as each storyline can be completed in less than five hours, it is worth calling out.
Coteries of New York manages to evoke that unique World of Darkness tone and kept me entertained throughout each of my playthroughs. That tone is enhanced by a haunting score and evocative incidental music along with gorgeous hand-drawn art. The lack of any animation may disappoint some, but for me, it did an admirable job of keeping me in the world.
The writing, for the most part, is great, and the actual world-building and tone are fantastic, but it does have some serious if intermittent problems. The writing occasionally loses its way falling into earnest unintentional parody, like that cape-wearing goth kid at high school who insisted on wearing sunglasses indoors and only listened to The Cure and quotes Edgar Allen Poe. I also encountered a fair few bugs such as crashes which caused some progress loss, and a bunch of grammatical errors which may be a result of translation problems from the developer’s native Polish.
All in all, though I enjoyed Coteries of New York, but as an established fan of the vampire fiction, and The World of Darkness products, I am the target audience. Hell, I liked Kindred: The Embraced a quickly cancelled 90’s TV adaptation of V:TM, so take all of this with a sizeable grain of salt.
+ Beautiful art
+ Compelling storytelling for the most part
+ It’s a visual novel with flourishes
- Lack of meaningful roleplaying
- Occasional inconsistent writing in terms of execution and tone
- No animation