Square Enix's Bloodmasque was undoubtedly the strangest game I saw at E3 last week, and in a year defined by indie titles and two new HD consoles, I think that's saying something. Square Enix has had a weird time with the App Store -- other companies like Capcom and EA have found a lot of success in smaller titles, but Square Enix has clung to its own console traditions, releasing relatively large and high-quality, high-production titles for a relatively high cost. Bloodmasque follows this trend (though the price has yet to be announced just yet), and it also brings one weird little twist that was actually more charming than I expected.
The game is based in an alternate universe, sort of steampunky version of Paris in 1890, where an empire of vampires (yes, a vampire empire) rules the world. One plucky adventurer has the guts and the magical powers to stand up to those empires, and that adventurer is you. Literally you, I mean, because the game scans your face, and then inserts it right on to the main character. That's me and my character above, though keep in mind that this was day three of E3, so if I look a little tired, that's why.
The face-scanning thing is a gimmick, and yet strangely it works: After my face was scanned in and my hair was tuned to the right shape and color, I watched as my character (a little more fit than I am) saved a damsel in distress, and carried out a vampire fight scene. I tapped to attack, swiped to dodge and then when the vampire was almost dead, pulled off a jumping leap and staked him right in the back of the neck. You can actually record three different faces, so you get one frowning, one standard and one smiling. Each of them can look very different, which can make the animation a little strange. Even under the best of conditions, the face looks weird and a little creepy, sure, but I could tell it was me, so I guess that's the point.
Bloodmasque itself is really just a series of missions, which you navigate around via an overworld map. There's a light social game built on it as well -- you can choose two friends to join you in battle scenes, and their faces will also show up on screen as you play (you can elect to keep your face private, if you like, or you can choose a premade face if you're not interested in showing your mug to the world). Your friends get bonuses when you use them in battle, and vice versa, so having an oft-used mug will earn you more blood for upgrades and XP for missions.
There are exploration levels, too, but I found them pretty bland, unfortunately. We'll have to wait until the full game arrives to see if the story pulls us in at all. But the setting is distinct (steampunk is always a plus), and that face gimmick makes for a very interesting twist indeed. If the combat can sustain the fun, Bloodmasque could be a riotous way to put a character together, featuring your very own look.
Square Enix seems attached to the idea that selling premium games at a premium price will work, and I'm not one to disavow them of that, especially as lots of other companies race towards the bottom. Bloodmasque should be an interesting experiment -- it's set to come out sometime later on this summer.