Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Focus Interactive
Release date: June 5, 2018
tl;dr: It feels like Diet Bloodborne when it could’ve been so much more
Price: £50/$60 (Across all platforms)
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You wake up utterly exasperated. An overwhelming stench of death infests your senses; burrowing through your nostrils, the smell hangs on the tip of your tongue and stings your eyes. You struggle to your feet, fighting against the weight of the dead, and clamber away from the mass grave. There’s a singular thought that rules your mind: thirst. It gnaws at you and grips your throat, the need to quench it is one of life and, well – not quite death. You’re clinging on now, but wait – a lifeline, some poor soul comes to help you. You, like a newborn, see only a means to an end. And so, piercing her neck, you drink.
These are the opening moments of Vampyr, the game that’s looking to topple the zombie game monopoly and replace it with the humble vampire. The only problem is that the way the game tries to do that is a tad underwhelming, giving us hints of how good it could’ve been. It settles, instead, for being an absolute treat to look at, but with fairly generic gameplay and story.
Playing as Doctor Jonathan Reid, you return to London in the midst of World War One and a fairly suspicious flu spreading throughout the city. You’ll take newly undead Johnny on an investigation to find out who turned him into a vampire and, as you do, become entangled in the war between vampires and humans, and even the civil war brewing within the vampire ranks – those immortals, they bloody love a bit of war.
Vampyr treats players to a wonderfully depressing tour of London during the Great War, with the city in the grips of an epidemic. It’s for these reasons that London is now home to only a handful of inhabitants, but apart from a missing several million people, it’s a great recreation of the city. It’s an intricate labyrinth that you’ll begin to figure out how to get around fairly quickly. Obviously, because you’re, y’know, a part of the undead legion, you’ll never get to see the city bathed in sunlight, but wandering through the cobblestone streets of Whitechapel, or strolling through the faded elegance of the West End at night is still a treat for the eyes.
Unfortunately, the game makes a bit of a misstep with how you traverse the city. Now, I’m not someone who thinks every game should set out to be a giant open-world, but Vampyr’s London seems like it would’ve worked better had it been let off the leash a touch. Instead, the map feels like a set of gloomy corridors, and much like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, you’re able to connect the city together by opening shortcuts, but it feels like a far more fractured system compared to the other two games. Perhaps because it’s based on a real place or because – as nice as the game looks – everything can begin to look the same. So, whilst previous titles have fed off revealing huge gothic structures in the distance to compel you to keep playing, Vampyr’s reveals never quite affect you in the same way.
This ‘heads or tails’ kind of gameplay is also seen in the game’s combat. Overall, what it offers is pretty enjoyable with a fairly diverse set of skills to help you out in a fight. You’re able to create blood spears that cut through enemies, the power to stop the flow of blood in your enemy and bring them to a standstill, and of course, you can summon a terrifying demonic abyss that shoves an ethereal spike through whatever poor soul crosses your path – and that’s just to name a few. But as enjoyable as these skills are, they all work to pigeonhole your playstyle. DONTNOD’s last trailer for Vampyr wanted to emphasise that you don’t need to kill in the game – and I’m sure you don’t – but with a non-existent stealth system, and only a handful of skills to help you out in a peaceful way, you’re left with no real alternative than to run into a gang of enemies, throwing caution – and usually your life – to the wind.
The game’s real strength lies in its world building. Yes, Londonian citizens are in short supply, but what’s there has a huge impact of the enjoyment of roaming around. Whether it’s the wannabe-vampire hunter you come across, the poet who’s adamant about hanging around a creepy cemetery, or the lady who believes she’s a vampire, there’s a great mixture of loathsome, intriguing, and even funny characters to speak with.
Along with the rag-tag group of survivors, you’ll have an active part to play in shaping the future of the city, in a system that mixes simulation with RPG in a fairly original and enjoyable way. Being a doctor, you can expect to help the sickly needs of those around you; whether through curing fatigue, pneumonia, sepsis, or even getting to the bottom of psychological issues through speaking with people. If you don’t hold up your end of the deal, characters become weaker, bringing down the overall health of the district. Let it go too low and citizens will go missing, monsters will infest the area, and you’ll feel pretty damned bad.
All this culminates in the choice to spare citizens or “embrace” them which is a horribly nice way of saying you bite some and drink their blood until they die. The embrace system will have you weighing up the lives of those around you, and your need for experience points so you can summon more demonic abysses. The system works so well because anyone is up for grabs, all you need to do is have a stronger mental state than them, something which grows as you progress through the story. If you choose to “embrace” these puny mortals, you’re treated to their dying thought as their limp body drops to the ground. But, whilst the player-choice system does offer up a nice slice of order versus anarchy, in the latter stages of the game when enemy levels are significantly higher than yours and boss battles seem to happen at every corner, the system feels less like a choice and more like it needs you to murder in order to finish the game.
Vampyr, the game that set out to bring the humble vampire back into the gaming limelight, doesn’t quite get the job done, but it doesn’t exactly fall short of that mark either; let’s say that it’s not something that we’ll look back on and say ‘it was a game changer.’ It has some interesting ideas, but what the game does well seems spread too thin, feeling like a teaser of what’s on offer. With a story and world that seem eerily familiar, Vampyr plays – at times – like one of two things: either a tight-knit world that bends to your will or a game that feels like a mixtape of previous titles that doesn’t quite flow.
- The city is charmingly bleak
- The relatively small cast of characters allows for some very welcome developed characteristics
- The ability to save London or plunge it into chaos is realised very well, and it’ll be the main feature for replaying the game
- It feels like the game was meant to be an open-world, before being reeled back and chopped up into parts
- The amount of boss fights leans on the ridiculous, and hardly any of them are enjoyable
- Combat is enjoyable but straightforward, a truly alternative playstyle would’ve made it much better
No, this isn’t Twilight, Vampyr is rated 18 in the UK and M for Mature in the US, expect strong language and, can you guess? Blood… expect blood.
This review is based on a codes provided by PR for the purpose of this review