Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York is the latest visual novel entry in the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise and a sequel to 2019’s Coteries of New York. However, it has a standalone story and can be played without knowledge of its predecessor or the overall universe. The game follows Julia, an investigative journalist whose life falls to pieces shortly before she’s turned into a vampire and made a representative of the Lasombra clan, throwing her into an unfamiliar world where she needs to adapt to new rules and shifting allegiances.
It throws a lot of names and terms at you right away, which could be a little overwhelming if you aren’t familiar with the franchise. However, there is a dictionary that provides an explanation of every term, and it isn’t necessary to understand all the specifics to follow the story anyway. It starts out as you might expect from a vampire story, with Julia adjusting to her new condition and the new rules of her life. She is a fairly defined character, with frequent narration showing her view of the world. There are dialogue choices, but none that significantly diverge from her established personality. She also has a girlfriend, but don’t expect romance to play much of a role.
The story is set in New York and takes place in 2020, with one part that specifically brings up the COVID-19 pandemic even though it barely plays a role at all besides that. I found that to be jarring, although I suppose it does help ground the setting. Since we’re dealing with vampires, though, it doesn’t affect the main characters at all, and Julia has much different problems to worry about. Things take a twist when a powerful vampire turns up dead. Due to her background as a reporter, Julia is assigned to the case. While it’s a supernatural story by nature, it’s a murder mystery more than anything else, with a good dose of shifty vampire politics to go along with it. I was a little disappointed that you don’t get to do any investigating yourself, but it’s still enjoyable to watch the story unfold as Julia meets people involved and uncovers new elements of the case.
The art style has a shadowed look that fits well for the supernatural story it’s telling, and some backgrounds have dynamic elements to add a little more life. Only one character appears on the screen at a time, which at first I found jarring during conversations involving multiple people, but I got used to the style before too long. It’s largely a linear story, with monologues that occasionally get a bit too long and philosophical, and dialogue that sometimes includes references to pop culture or real world events that make it feel like it’s trying a bit too hard to sound relevant. However, aside from those points, the writing is generally fine.
As mentioned earlier, you have a number of dialogue choices to make. These change a few lines immediately after the choice, but have no impact on the overall story and don’t lead to any significant branching. You’re also given a few events to pick from each night, with short descriptions shown on the map. You won’t be able to do them all, so this provides some replay value since you can see different scenes. However, these once again have no influence on the rest of the story. The only significant choices are the ones that give you different traits. Traits basically determine your personality. For example, at one point you’re asked if you think a particular witness is alive or dead, and your choice will decide whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. Traits still don’t influence the story much until the very end, when your combination of traits determines which of the game’s two endings you’ll receive.
Shadows of New York is an interesting slice of the Vampire: The Masquerade universe, although its linearity makes it tedious to replay to see the other ending even with the ability to skip through dialogue. There is no manual save option unless you exit the game, and your save file is erased as soon as you reach the ending, so don’t expect to reload to try something different, either. The murder mystery had some interesting elements, but really it left me more interested in learning more about the overall universe than the story itself.