The night is dark and everything about this place is dreary. The air is cold, stinging and blinded by a heavy fog rolling in off the Thames. This is London town. Your hunting ground and your grave. This is Vampyr and… I am completely overselling it perhaps because I’m still in denial about the whole thing.
I am also getting way ahead of myself here so let’s get back to the start. Oh and expect a tonne of terrible vampire related puns.
Vampyr is brought to us by Dontnod Entertainment, the same folk behind Life Is Strange! And yes that loud high-pitched shriek you heard came from me! If you’ve ever had the misfortune to cross my drunken path then you’ll be aware of my ‘Life Is Strange Is Sh*te’ speech. It’s a bit of a jump from episodic graphic adventure to action role-playing game but not an impossible. Especially given the team’s penchant for story-telling… that said I wasn’t holding my breath either.
The game is set in 1918, London and the world gripped in a flu epidemic as the first great war draws to an end. You are Jonathan Reid, a brilliant surgeon who on his return home is attacked and turned into a vampire. Now as Reid, you must uncover the identity of your attacker while navigating the underbelly of this dank city and it’s denizens who call it home. All the while fending off the thirst for blood and unleash the monster within.
That part I’m not overselling! It’s premise is truly captivating but there’s more to sink your teeth into here. Vampyr poses one of the most interesting game mechanics I’ve come across in a while. As a vampire, you have the ability to feed on victims; doing so grants huge experience points to level and power up. As a result you can navigate the game more easily however it is not without consequence. You don’t feed on random NPCs; no your actions and feedings have a direct impact on the game. These blood bags when drained are gone forever and their presence or lack of one is felt by their community. Feed on too many or the wrong one and you could cause a community to collapse and throw the neighborhood into chaos.
The idea is brilliant! The execution not so much! The game disguises a clunky tutorial and mood setting that feels as if it’s a lifetime too long. The city of London is awash in greys, browns and shadows and while post Victorian London wasn’t exactly a cabaret of colour; it still had heart and it’s missing in this version. You can paint London as a monster and a hellish nightmare without having to resort to the drab palette; just ask Dickens! Visually the game weighs too heavily in this direction.
Chew On This
Combat in Vampyr is messy. You can lock on to enemies and unleash a torrent of blows and by torrent I mean 3 or 4 depending on if you dodge too. For a powerful monster Reid lacks a lot of stamina and you should develop this aspect of your character in the skill tree as soon as you can if you plan on staying on your feet for more than a few punches. The camera, all the while, is dizzying in trying to keep up with you and your target.
Then there are the characters you encounter and well I thought I was a bit sloppy when drunk (see above) but these folk take it a whole new level. Characters wobble back and forth like they’ve had one jar of gin too many in every encounter.
Bitten Off More
In a game where the characters you encounter aren’t just plot devices but central to your core mechanic then you need to get this right. And it just doesn’t come together which is a complete shame. If you can get over the unsteady character animations then you’ll have to contend with the sloppy dialogue wheel. These people you meet, nurses, criminals and other vampires are your path to completing the game – feed on them and harness their life experience or get to know their stories and engage them in a way few other games allow you to. When they themselves don’t work properly; the illusion of immersion the game is trying to develop and maintain is shattered.
— Declan Doody (@DeclanDdy) June 5, 2018
Blood, Sweat But Mostly Tears
The problem is the temptation to rip them open and devour them only increases after you engage them in a conversation. Your dialogue wheel options fail to fully convey just what Reid will actually say once selected and I’ve found myself accidentally offending one or two characters when I didn’t mean it. And from there it all falls apart.
The title checks so many of my boxes from genre, to story and the chance to wield vampiric powers but these aren’t enough to make up for all the things that have gone wrong. I could get over the equally sloppy combat mechanics and forgive the wobbly visuals but when you’re selling point is fully fleshed out characters and an intricate network of personal connections tied to power up progression and choice; it needs to be right.
Unfortunately Vampyr doesn’t hit the mark and I’m disappointed to report that back.
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!