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For: iPad   Also on: iPhone

Vampire face-off

Product: Bloodmasque | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: iPad | Genre: Action, RPG | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Bloodmasque iPad, thumbnail 1
Unless I'm very much mistaken, the whole vampire craze that swept through our cinemas and living rooms a few years back never quite spread into games.

Not to the extent that the whole zombie thing has, at least.

Which is probably why the vampire fantasy setting found in Bloodmasque initially feels so refreshing.

Blood feud

The other reason, of course, is that this is an alternative history vampire setting. Oh, and it's set in Paris rather than New York. Vive la différence!

In Bloodmasque's fiction, a long-established worldwide vampire dynasty keeps mankind in check, and only a resistance force made of of half-vampire "hunters" stands in the way of total dominion. You play the part of one of these half-breeds.

A lot of work has evidently gone into Bloodmasque's setting and lore. It succeeds in keeping you engaged even when the gameplay lets you down.

Infinity Stake

If Bloodmasque's story makes it feel relatively fresh, its hack-and-slash gameplay is somewhat tiresome.

Here's another developer seeking to emulate Infinity Blade, and it's yet another to have comprehensively failed.

Unlike Chair's single-combat masterpiece, Bloodmasque contains an overly simplistic and deeply repetitive combat system, with a thick layer of cluttered upgrade, social, and IAP systems spooned on top.

Oh, and a sprinkling of confusing JRPG menus and half-baked gimmicks to finish.

Immortal combat

The trouble with Bloodmasque's combat system is that it's wafer thin. You swipe left and right to dodge left and right, and tap the screen to attack. That's it.

The idea is to dodge just before an attack from one of your vampiric (or human) foes lands, which will set up a counter-attack opportunity. There's no rhythm or skill to attacking, though - you just hammer away at the screen between enemy swipes.

Occasionally you'll get the opportunity to launch a special attack by - wait for it - pressing a 'special attack' button. This involves watching an overlong attack animation (think Final Fantasy) with an occasional bout of QTE-like screen mashing or timed tapping.

The main vampire enemies, too, go through the same dull cycle. You fight each one twice - once as a smug humanoid and again as a slightly tougher clawed beast. It's a bit of a slog, which isn't helped by an irritatingly pointless time limit that can undo all your hard work - unless you splash out real cash on a time-extending item.

The tempo and nature of the enemy attacks vary every so slightly depending on their clan, which is a nice touch. We would have liked to have seen this stretched even further.

Misery loves company

IAPs explained
This is one of those games in which you are charged a lot of money upfront (relative to other, better iOS games) and then asked for more money through IAPs.

Unless you want to grind through a lot of extra, boring battles, you'll need to purchase rubies to complete the game.

You use rubies to acquire time and life-extending items when you run out of time or die - both of which are all too easy to do when you're just trying to play through the story stages.

69p / 99c will get you 100 rubies, which is good for one of these items in a pinch. You can spend up to £39.99 for 10,000 rubies if you want to. We didn't.
Everything else in Bloodmasque, save its well considered universe and lore, just feels like so much padding. You can equip your hero with various weapons, armour, and trinkets, but they don't meaningfully alter the simplistic battles.

There are two AI companions who fight with you, but you can't bring them into the fight in any meaningful or tactical way. They just hang around, sucking relatively small numbers of hit points out of the enemy.

It's neat that these companions are often characters created by other players, but, again, without more use within the fights it's a bit redundant.

Then there are the roaming 'adventure' sections that feel somewhat superfluous, other than to introduce the next cutscene. It's a nice way to show off the Unreal Engine, but walking stiffly through a basic street for 30 seconds, tapping on characters and awkwardly floating symbols just feels... off, somehow.

Shoot me now

Bloodmasque is full of these bright but half-baked ideas. Another fine example is the one you may have heard about - the ability to scan your face onto your character.

Essentially, you're asked to pose in front of your iOS device's front-facing camera for three pictures - one of you in a casual pose, another looking angry, and a final one looking happy.

This seems like a neat personalising touch, but it completely clashes with the serious, brooding nature of Bloodmasque's story. When your character's hideously deformed face (though that might just be me) flicks from a blank stare to a comical 'grrrr' expression to denote that something serious is happening in a cutscene, it's unintentionally hilarious.

Ultimately, Bloodmasque is every inch the vampire. Externally it's graceful, imposing, and a little bit different. Peel away its skin, though, and you'll find a bunch of elements that haven't been allowed to mature and evolve in a natural fashion.
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 26 July 2013
Bloodmasque is a truly odd mish-mash of swipe-based action, social, and JRPG elements, but only its historical vampire lore is executed with any great conviction
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