I don't often get grabbed by team shooters. There were the regular 3am TF2 seshes as a student, and I spent most of 2016 playing a load of Overwatch, to the exclusion of almost everything else. But the battle royales have largely passed me by, either because they're all kind of muddy war games or cartoony war games, and neither of those concepts really set me on fire. But as the emo-adjecent kid who would tell anyone who'd listen that S Club 7 sucked, a battle royale game based on the World Of Darkness IP - the setting for Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - is very much speaking my language.
Obviously, now I am a sensible adult I know that S Club 7 songs go hard - but so does being a vampire. So let's take a closer look at Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt, the aforementioned, free-to-play, bloodsuckers' battle royale that has just been revealed by developers Sharkmob. Having played an early preview, I can confirm that it's loud, messy fun. I also don't think I should have been allowed to play it.
Bloodhunt is still very much in development, and the closed alpha (which you can sign up for via the official site) launches at the start of July. So I can sort of tell you what it's looking like now but, more than most games I see pre-release these days, there's also no way of telling if this is how it'll end up looking by the end of the year.
At the moment, Bloodhunt is covering all the battle royale basics. You spawn in with no weapons and scavenge supplies as you go, and you can play rounds in teams of three, or all vs. all. Every so often a burning red mist will also spread into the streets, shrinking the map size and pushing you all closer together. We only played on one map in the preview - the city of Prague - but it had a good mix of dense streets and corners, large landmarks (like a burning church and a neon-lit red light district), and a few open areas that leave you exposed, but are good hunting grounds to stake out. There's a graveyard that was host to many a showdown, as one team took position inside and others tried to flank or openly assault them.
Bloodhunt is shopping around a few USPs for your attention, though. Your classes and abilities are drawn from the vampire Clans, each providing two classes with different supernatural skills (and there are plans to add more Clans in the future, in that good ol' games-as-service model). Heavies like the Vandal are punchy and mobile, with a big area-of-effect slam attack and a huge jump to get into the action quickly. These were the go-tos for a lot of players in the preview, especially in the solo match, but for team play there are support classes for healing, and mid-range sorts that are a bit sneakier like the Saboteur.
Bloodhunt also uses the concept of the Masquerade - that is, keeping the vampire world a secret from stupid humans. Regular Prague residents can be found wandering around and are useful as bloodbags for healing, as well as conferring passive buffs with their blood resonance (the particular emotional flavour of their blood, an idea that existed in the early builds we saw for Bloodlines 2). If a human spots you being all vampiric then you become bloodhunted, a bright red idiot showing up on everyone's screens for a whole minute. There are also car alarms, shop alarms, and NPC mercs to keep an eye on, too.
To avoid all this in as practical a way as possible, most people naturally take to the rooftops. This is the most fun and unique thing about Bloodhunt. It has a good sense of verticality, and the act of moving around in Bloodhunt is dynamic and diverting. You can run up the side of every building, so soon every match became a series of silhouettes screaming through the sky, sliding down tiles and leaping around like a bunch of Cirque du Soleil performers rehearsing for a new, extremely violent show called Le Fusil.
Because, for all the cool powers like poisonous smoke grenades and people-seeking drone bats, you're mostly just going to use guns. At its best, you and your mates will have mastered your attacks and can work in concert to chase down and TPK another team. But I have a feeling that most Bloodhunt matches will come down to people shooting wildly at each other, leaping around a car park and waiting for their abilities to recharge so they can have another go at finishing off the last few opponents.
I'd kind of like to see the team at Sharkmob - a new studio formed in 2017, with some big-title experience from companies such as Ubisoft - just go "fuck it" and throw caution to the wind. Tweak everything so that it's a bunch of almost-immortal vampires dressed like nightclub rejects and thundering around the Prague skyline, flinging abilities around like fireworks. Make the vampire powers the guns, basically - otherwise I feel like it's going to run the risk of just being goth Fortnite with extra steps, right?
But it's hard to make judgements about Bloodhunt because, as mentioned, it is so very clearly still in development. Much as I like more vampire content, if I'd have had my druthers I wouldn't have been given hands on with this until after the alpha at least - or when it began, if you insist. I don't want to jerk the curtain too much, but the list of known issues the devs are looking out for is preeeetty long, and I'll be surprised if this bad boy hits its "late 2021" release window, to be honest. It also doesn't feel entirely consistent at the moment either. There's real beauty to be found in some of its small details, for example, like the exquisite tarot cards used to illustrate the lore sections of the menu, but this currently feels completely at odds with the chaotic nature of the meat of the game. The guns are functional, but all feel very similar to use, and the broad strokes of character animations are in place, but frequently go on the wonk. Aiming your abilities feels very imprecise, too, and are equal parts funny and frustrating.
I don't expect games that are still weeks off their closed alpha to be finished - but this is why I don't usually get to play games that are weeks off their closed alpha. Especially not ones that need a bunch of people playing all at once to road test its features, because that makes the likelihood of visible wonk increase with every new player added to the mix. My take, then, is that this is a game to keep an eye on if you're interested in either The World Of Darkness or battles royale in general, and I hope development goes well and we see a cool game at the end of it. Which is functionally the same as what I would have said without going hands on with it.