Bloodmasque [Free] from Square Enix is a true oddity. It's part RPG, part Infinity Blade [$5.99] and part Clone Booth [$0.99]. You play the part of a vampire hunter who has sworn his (or her) life to ridding the world of the bloodsucking vermin, starting with nineteenth century Paris, France.
You start out, as in any RPG, with creating a character. The difference with Bloodmasque, however, is that this character can actually be you. Sure, there are a bunch of head types and faces to choose from and you can pick a character off the shelf, but things get extra fun when you use the game's pivotal gimmick, the actual Masque system. It's here that you use your device's inbuilt camera to snap a mugshot and watch in awe as said shot is wrapped around the polygonal face of the hero. You are given adjustments to tweak, such as scale, position and even lighting and once you've chosen the correct shape of your noggin, the results can be both ego-boosting and hilarious, often at the same time.
You have three faces that your character displays, the default "idle" face, angry and happy. This is where some pure unadulterated hilarity is available in the game. You see, with the non-playable characters, the facial animations are as smooth as butter, eyes blink, mouths twitch, and expressions change as you'd expect in a modern 3D game. With your "masqued" character however, facial expressions are attained by flicking between the aforementioned selfies. Going from the default, hard as nails look to a comical grin in the middle of a cut-scene is hilarious, even more so when one of your comrades, a real live person from somewhere else on the interweb, has decided to use the face of a kitten to display their anger.
So, taking photos of yourself and gluing them to the head of a half-vampire is fun, but how's the game? Luckily, Bloodmasque has more to offer than just a gimmick, one hell of a heap more.
You spend your time split between the hunter's HQ, where missions are handed out, and in the streets of Paris. In the HQ, you access missions as they appear via a map and each mission is re-playable. In fact, the game recommends you replay earlier missions as you progress, so as to unlock extra hidden items such as weapons. When missions first become available, you must travel to the applicable location and seek out the NPC who will give you the information about the vampire you are about to slay, such as any items likely to be recovered. Each completed mission can then be accessed directly from the map.
There are four "bloodclans" in the game. Your hunter can swap bloodclans whenever he/she likes, and you'll want to do it as often as possible since each clan has specific attributes and abilities that clan members can use in combat to get an edge on otherwise resistant enemies. While kinda odd on its face, the clan system is a pretty meaningful combat layer that strengthens the core and gets you to think and prepare a bit before battle.
When you have chosen your clan and accepted a mission, you must select two comrades to help you dish out the vampire whup-ass. These are real people and while they don't join you in realtime battle, you do need to have an active internet connection to play.
To attack, you tap the screen. To evade blows, you swipe left or right and you also have access to super-duper vampire special moves that can be unleashed when you have collected enough blood, earned by bashing heads. Once your vampire foe has had enough of being hit in the smacker, it will throw off its human skin and reveal the grotesque beast within. Vampires can also use tricky moves such as teleportation and siphoning, which drains your precious blood supply, thus increasing theirs.
To help rid the world of evil, you have a large supply of weapons, armor and other bits and bobs such as fangs and rings that deliver various powers and protection abilities. There is only a very limited range of items attainable from the get-go but more are trickled out as you progress.
As well as helping you fight, your comrades help gather blood via a "blood bond". This blood can be used to level-up both your character and their affinity to your chosen bloodclan. This is vital if you want to progress further than the first ten missions or so.
Should you fall foul of a vampire, you have the ability to continue by way of a healing salve. These cost rubies, which, by the way, take a while to collect. Also, to help with the blood collection used for leveling-up, you can use a variety of stakes from wood, to gold, each one holding more of the red stuff than the last, though all but the wooden stakes are consumable, thus costing gold coins.
You can collect gold by searching items and beating up vampires. You can also grab some via in-app purchase. If you're a quality vampire hunter and generally make good calls in combat, IAP isn't necessary. It's still kinda annoying that it's there though since this game cost money and all up-front.
Bloodmasque is a deep, involving action RPG with oodles of style. The visuals are great, the soundtrack suitably cinematic and French and the gameplay honed to a fine point. Oh, and then there's the side-splittingly hilarious Masque feature.
There are oddities, such as some cut-scenes being fully acted-out by quality artists and others relying on simple text, online connectivity requirements, and for the non-RPG player, it's definitely recommended to step through the guide every now and then to ease confusion. IAP quibbles aside, I'm really into this game. It has found itself a nice little cozy spot on my iPad, where it will remain for a very long while. You should check it out, too.
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