Any game that lets you play the role of a vampire is a must play for me, so naturally Vampyr has been on my radar for some time. It’s also developed by Dontnod, who’ve proven that they’ve got what it takes to make a gripping video game after their work on Life is Strange. Of course, this is an action-RPG and not a narrative-adventure filled with teen angst, so it’s a totally different experience this time around. Is it a good one though or will it end up forgotten like the studio’s other title, the ironically named Remember Me?
Vampyr puts you in the shoes of Jonathan Reid, a doctor who had returned to London following the Great War but found himself attacked by a vampire and subsequently turned into one. Nice welcome home, right? Now only does he have to deal with being a vampire now, but he’s also investigating the Spanish Flu (which is killing off thousands of London’s inhabitants at an alarming pace), how it might be connected to the vampires, and how he might be able to cure himself of it. Of course, it’s difficult to balance it all out with Jonathan’s new-found hunger for blood…
I’m a fan of vampires anyway so naturally Vampyr’s tale appealed to me, but the fantastic writing of the game and the intriguing twist and turns it took really kept me hooked in. It’s an incredibly atmospheric game too, whilst the way it ties into real-life events such as the first World War ensures it remains gripping throughout. Dontnod had proven they can offer a great narrative tale with Life is Strange, and the trend continues here too.
Now before I get into how the game plays, it’s worth mentioning that playing as a vampire is ridiculously cool -whether it’s turning into mist to get around, your insane reflexes, your brutal fighting abilities or just simply sucking the blood from your victims.From a gameplay perspective Vampyr is far from perfect, but it does at least nail the vibe of being a vampire.
Back onto the game itself, one of the core features of Vampyris based around your moral choices. This doesn’t just take into consideration decisions you make during the story though, but what you actually do to the characters you meet. I mean, you are a vampire, and you do need to feed…
You can gain experience points from vanquishing enemies in combat, but you’re also able to suck the bloodof the NPCs you encounter throughout each district of London in order to obtain experience points too. This isn’t just a simple case of finding someone, luring them to a dark place and sinking your teeth in their neck, though – every character in the game has a unique personality and their own little story, and you’ve got to choose who lives and dies. You’ll interact with these NPCs, help heal any illnesses they may have, and even complete quests for them, so you’ll actually form little bonds with them that might actually convince you to let them live. On the flip-side, the more you do for them, the more experience points you’ll earn if you do decide to suck their blood. Tempting, right?
It’s a ‘risk versus reward’ situation though, because the boost in experience points comes with some hindrances. For one, you’ll lose access to any potential side quests you’d have had with that character, but more significantly, it’ll make the district that they inhabited all the more dangerous. Each district of the game has its own level of safety – if you kill too many NPCs in the district, that level will dwindle down until it’s eventually in a bad state and full of vicious monsters out to kill you. If it stays full of healthy NPCs though, it’ll be a safer place for you to venture across. The question is, what do you value more: experience points or your safety?
It’s a clever mechanic and one that brings genuine repercussions to your actions. It really does factor greatly in Vampyrtoo, because you earn the largest amounts of experience points when you kill NPCs. Sure, you can complete quests or battle a ton of enemies, but the most powerful vampires will be the ones who feed the most. Personally, I killed a whole lot of NPCs – I’ll be a kinder (and weaker) vampire on my next playthrough. There are multiple endings on offer that take your approach into consideration too, so it also adds to the replayability of the game.
Of course, it doesn’t matter if you’re a kind or brutal vampire – you’re still going to get hunted in the game. Vampire hunters are common in Vampyr, as are the myriad of brutal monsters that wander London, so you can expect to find yourself in plenty of bloody battles. This is where the game falters a little; it’s not that the combat mechanics of the game are bad, but rather that they’re just a little uninteresting and formulaic.
I’d have thought that battling as a vampire would be great, but instead I found it mostly consisted of button-mashing some attacks and dodging when I needed to. Sure, some of your abilities can be neat and the use of ranged weapons can spice things up, but for the most part it all felt a little bland. Every so often it’d show signs of being as free-flowing as the likes of the Arkham games and there were even moments where it felt as tactical as a Souls game, but for the most part it’s just a bit repetitive and dull.
At least the abilities you can use are neat though. Obviously, you can suck the blood of your enemies, but you can also make their blood boil (literally), use sharpened claws to rip at their flesh, teleport between them with slicing attacks, launch bloody projectiles their way, or even possess their bodies to make them easy targets. The selection of skills you can unlock are insanely cool and certainly take advantage of your vampire status, but it’s just a shame they’re not complimented by a more thrilling combat system.
Outside of combat and progressing the game’s story, you’ll obtain plenty of side quests from NPCs (provided you haven’t killed them). These are known as investigations in-game and they often lead to some interesting scenarios, especially for those who find themselves interested in Vampyr’sexpanded lore. Don’t get me wrong, from a gameplay perspective they follow the ‘kill this’ or ‘obtain that’ style of design so there’s nothing too exciting about them, but I enjoyed seeing how they played out from a narrative perspective.
On a technical basis, Vampyr can be a bit hit and miss. The world itself looks fantastic, with the gloomy London setting feeling incredibly atmospheric and grim, whilst the character models look impressive too. However, the frame rate wasn’t always consistent, especially during some of the busier moments of the game. Don’t get me wrong, there was never anything game-breaking, but it was noticeable even when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro. There are quite a lot of lengthy loading times to get through too, which is always a pain when you just want to get back into the action when entering a new area or following a death.
I had fun playing through Vampyr, but there’s no denying that it’s a little rough around the edges. The emphasis on moral choices and letting the player decide what kind of vampire they want to be is great and really intriguing, but then the combat feels a little dull and bland. The game world is neat and the setting is atmospheric, but the long loading times and occasional stutter in the frame rate don’t always make it a pleasure to explore. It seems that for everything Vampyr gets right, it does something poorly too. Does this make it a bad game? Definitely not, but it does make it one that doesn’t always reach its full potential. Despite this, I’d certainly say that the positives outweigh the negatives and that Vampyr is worth playing. It might not be the best action-RPG style game that you’re going to play, but it certainly is an intriguing one that does a lot of interesting things.
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC