Third person swordplay merged with social game-style resource acquisition may seem like a match made in hell, but Square Enix's Bloodmasque manages to merge these two elements without ruffling too many feathers. The question still remains, however, as to whether this vampire slaying action game is worth sinking your teeth into, or if it should just be staked and forgotten.
Bloodmasque puts you in control of a Dhampir vampire hunter tasked with uncovering a vast bloodsucker conspiracy that threatens to strangulate Europe. The story here is surprisingly well done, with good voice acting, great music, and some thematic twists and turns, including a few hints of genuine themes and internal conflicts — you know, things you'd find in actual stories. Before you get absorbed into too many cut scenes, however, you'll be asked to create your character.
Bloodmasque has a nice number of character customization options -- different hairstyles, faces, gender selection, etc., but what really sets it apart from most is that you can take a picture of your own face and upload it as the face of your playable character. This is some future tech stuff we're talking about, and it's pretty damn neat. Be forewarned, though, if you take your picture in poor lighting or from a weird angle the results won't be pretty. They'll be even less pretty if you decide, as we did, to take a picture of your cat, and also your Predator figure, and try that out as your avatar.
Once you've got your character ready to go you'll be able to choose from several missions, each offering its own rewards and equipment. Like most RPGs, you can equip different pieces of gear to increase your character's power, with specific pieces of gear having special abilities to suit your playstyle. There are two types of currency earned by playing -- gold and blood. The game gives you decent amounts of both, but you'll acquire much more currency if you network to your buddies through the game's built-in social outreach system, and use your friends' characters as back-ups to your own character during combat. If you don't have any buddies playing Bloodmasque, don't worry — there are plenty of pre-generated characters available to use, each with different stats and conferring different bonuses based on your Hunter clan and their own Hunter clans.
After all of the gear-swapping and social politics have been smoothed out, and after you've finished walking around town talking to people and gathering intel/supplies, you'll be spending much of your time duking it out with the dark denizens of the night. The vampire battles are fun, fast-paced, and varied, with the vampire's henchmen typically attacking first, then the vampire assaulting you in its human form before you pummel it long enough to get it to reveal its not-so-sexy true vampire form underneath. You'll tap the screen to attack and swipe side-to-side to dodge incoming blows; perfect dodges grant openings for counter-attacks, which deal extra damage and fill your super meter. Speaking of which, upon activation of the super move, you'll go into a cinematic cut scene/quick-time-event that harkens back to the summon attacks of Square Enix of old. These super moves are beautiful and exciting... the first time you see them. They're quite lengthy though, and do get repetitive after a while.
Bloodmasque may not be a perfect game, but its fast combat, (mostly) appropriately-priced upgrades, and minimally-intrusive social networking all mesh together to create a tasty action game for any wannabe vampire hunter.