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When blood-soaked action RPG Vampire The Masquerade: Redemption launched back in 2000, its stunning visuals and intriguing multiplayer cemented it as a cult classic. Now, twenty-one years (and a middling 2004 sequel) later, Vampire The Masquerade has finally risen from its dusty crypt – only it’s not the strigoi we once knew.
Developed by Tencent-owned Swedish studio Sharkmob – which was formed by ex-Hitman and Division devs in 2018 – it’s fair to say that this eyebrow-raising proposition isn’t exactly what fans were expecting. In fact, given its increasingly old predecessors, reimagining this decrepit RPG as a free to play battle royale seems like a brave choice. Yet for the action-loving Sharkmob, vampire royale was the perfect fit – with the nosferatu’s superhuman abilities adding an exciting new twist to an increasingly predictable genre.
“When we started work on Bloodhunt in 2017, Battle Royale was still kind of an emerging mode, at the inception of becoming a genre,” recalls Martin Hultber, Sharkmob co-founder and Communications Director. “We felt there was something about that core experience that kind of resonated with the idea of vampires being at war, there can only be one etc. It felt like battle royale was a good match.”
Much like its genre mates, Bloodhunt sees players racing to arm themselves to the teeth before battling to be the last coven standing. Yet as fun as riddling 45 vampires with bullets is, what really differentiates Bloodhunt is its pointy tooth parkouring.
“The thing that I personally get out of this that I don’t get anywhere else is the Freedom of movement,” says Game Director, Craig Hubbard. “Just being able to go wherever you want without any restrictions feels so liberating. When I go back to other Battle Royale games it just feels… restrictive.”
Hopping into a two-hour pre-Alpha preview of Bloodhunt, Hubbard has a point. Scurrying through the city as the stealth leaning Prowler, I run directly up a tower block wall like a demented Spider-Man, sliding and jumping my way from rooftop to rooftop. Playing like a giddy blend of Fortnite and the classic PS2 Spidey games, the parkour and punchy pace combine to make looting feel new again.
Chucked into a map with 44 other players, the eerily locked-down city of Prague becomes the backdrop for a merciless vamp turf war. Thanks to the modern setting, however, your weapon set is disappointingly generic, with AK47’s and shotguns littering the rooftops rather than magic or blood-powered weaponry. Yet mercifully, gameplay here isn’t just parkour and pistols – because where Bloodhunt really excels is in its namesake.
“The thing that I personally get out of this that I don’t get anywhere else is the Freedom of movement. Just being able to go wherever you want without any restrictions feels so liberating. When I go back to other Battle Royale games it just feels… restrictive.”
While your main objective is, of course, to take down your player-controlled rivals, in order to be your best vampiric self, you’ll need to feed. As you leap from rooftop to rooftop in this gloomily-lit Prague, tasty-looking NPCs obliviously roam the streets below. While most won’t be worth the bellyache, certain humans have rare blood coursing through their veins – and drinking it nets you a match-long buff.
From granting you quicker movement speed to higher melee damage, gorging on the right NPC can give you a significant advantage – if you’re willing to take the risk. If caught feeding by another mortal, the NPCs will raise the alarm – triggering the ‘Bloodhunt’ and making you visible to every other player on the map.
Where many Battle Royales can be pretty slow-paced until the nail-biting finale, the option to feast on tasty NPCs adds a nice level of risk/reward tension to matches. While you can still opt to play a stealthier class and use your noggin, in the matches I played, the lure of a tantalising buff often proved too much for players to resist, regularly coaxing out rivals who soon became easy targets.
It’s a cool touch, and one that stops people from just camping until the final seconds. Which is indicative of Bloodhunt’s second to second gameplay as a whole, really – as this broody battle royale is firmly focused on fast-paced action. Unlike the more punishing Apex Legends or PUBG, your vampiric avatar is authentically bad at staying dead, able to reanimate themselves via different single-use respawn points.
As the map closes off around you and your coven of undead bitterly fight for survival, the skirmishes over these spawn points become increasingly intense. Why? Once used by a player, the spawn points vanish forever, resulting in match-defining Domination-esque showdowns.
Thanks to these cool touches and the unique abilities offered by each of the game’s three clans (which are comprised of two different archetypes), based on our early glimpse so far, Bloodhunt certainly looks promising. Yet despite adding an intriguing new twist to the battle royale, the question is, have players already moved on from what many see as gaming’s latest fad?
“I mean, it might be considered obvious, but now battle royale has become a proper genre of its own – and every genre has its successes and failures, “ replies Hultberg, “ Not every battle royale game can be successful just as not every shooter or RPG is successful…”
“After 20 years in this industry, I’ve found that there’s no success formula to a game,” Hultberg continues, “ But what I have learned is that you need to find the essence of whatever is appealing to people and then add enough stuff that makes something new. I think we have that. The more mature setting, a highly detailed city, vampires with their supernatural powers… Hopefully that’s enough to create something different and interesting in this space.”
It helps of course, that playing Bloodhunt won’t cost you a penny, and that in a nutshell is Producer David Sirland pitch to those with battle royale fatigue.
“Do you miss the old arena games of old, and want to mix it up with Parkour in really modern, fast millisecond to millisecond gameplay? Then this game is for you. And er, it’s free… did we mention that?” laughs Sirland.
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodhunt launches on PC at a yet to be confirmed date in 2021. A closed alpha is planned for July 2.