How refreshing is it to see something other than zombies in a game? Don’t get me wrong, I love zombies, but a bit like the Battle Royal epidemic that’s taken over the world, you do get a little tired of seeing the same thing all the time, right? I’m pretty sure this is exactly what the developers Don’t Nod (geniuses behind Life is Strange) had in mind, when they created this dark, blood thirsty, RPG – Vampyr. Even with this fairly ‘newer’ concept in games of today, is it actually good and should I spend my hard-working cash on it? That’s why you’re here, after all…
You wake up in a pit of dead bodies, what do you do? This is the very situation Dr. Jonathan Reid, a well renowned doctor, was faced with as he entered a very different world to which he was previously used to. It’s 1918, London and the city has been swallowed whole by the Spanish flu. More bodies are on the ground than standing upright. People are coughing and gasping at every foggy corner and here you are, thrown onto a stack of decaying corpses unknowing mistaken for another flu victim, but alas…it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Your body aches, your skin is as cold as ice and your thirst for blood is spiraling out of control. Jonathan asks himself repeatedly “What is happening to me?” as he stumbles out of the rancid, deathly hole. He see’s someone walking along the cobbled lane near him and realized he can see this person’s heart, beating and inviting him in. He can’t control this impulse, this desire. As he gets closer, the individual turns around and joyfully cries out “Jonathan!”, but it’s too late, you now know what you are and the dreadful mistake you have made.
There is no humour, positivity or even a little bit of cheer in Vampyr. You may tell me, “Well, duh…It’s about vampires in Victorian England where everyone is dying! What do you expect?”, but for me, even with the darkest games, I’ve always found that it needs somewhere, something to lift the gloomy cloak once in a while. Vampyr doesn’t offer this for a second which may appeal to many people, but for me this got tiresome at times and left me eating an entire tub of ice cream on the sofa watching something funny just to dispel how it made me feel, which was quite heavy hearted.
Needless to say, despite its wretchedness, the premises is extremely interesting. You’re a ‘fresh from the jar’ vampire so you get to experience all the new feelings that Dr Johnathan Reid faces; the anger, despair, guilt, dilemmas and who took his life away and made him a creature of the night? As a doctor you must find a cure to save the city’s flu-ravaged citizens, but as a Vampyr, you are cursed to feed on those you vowed to heal. You help Reid to understand what he has become and how the change took place by searching the streets, at night obviously, looking for his maker as his last memory is that of a strange figure murmuring a dark poem, making towards his neck.
The main conceit of the game is your moral choices – something DONTNOD has always been very good at. The main gameplay comes in the form of your exploration of the fictionalised semi-open world composed of Districts – Whitechapel, The Docks and The Eastend – each with their own characters and stories to be told. These Districts have about 12 people each, all of which you can talk to, get to know, and ultimately either save or feed on. Your investigations skills come into play here as you query what’s wrong with them: figure out more about their personality and their blood quality will go up. This means you can either fix up a District and have a healthy, thriving section of London or you can cultivate a veritable feast for yourself as the higher someone’s blood quality when you feed on them, the more XP is conferred to Jonathan. Vampyr constantly asks you: will you kill? Will you feed? Will you embrace your dark gift? Or will the guilt and morality of your human side prevent your vampire side coming through?
Some of the vampires you will face are other vampires like you, aristocrats who go by the name of Ekon; sewer-dwelling vampires known as Skals; the Vulkod, a stronger breed of vampire resembling werewolves; Nemrod, vampires who hunt their own kind and last but not least the Guard of Priwen—a secret society of vampire slayers…yes, Buffy was even around in 1918!
I found Vampyr’s combat a wee bit too rough to be fun. My attacks didn’t appear to combo, so the animations repeated without flow, becoming awkward and frustrating even though I was meant to hit three-hit combos like dodge rolls, and parrying, I found most of the time I couldn’t or It took more effort than it should’ve. There were times I’d hit buttons, but they just didn’t register or were a second or two behind turning me into a raging button basher. Probably the most frustrating part was when I was faced with more than one vampire, as you’d lock onto one the camera quickly switched to the other impending vamp making me feel quite overwhelmed whilst hitting the air a lot. The stake stun was useful and introduced nuance to fights, but even that is a matter of repeatedly hitting your enemies with the same attack until they fall down.
Combat is clearly a core part of the game because all of the skills you can level up related to it. Though, even the skill tree – which comprise of shadow, instinct, and social abilities – lack thrill: besides a few new attacks, like the blood harpoon and a sweeping claw attack, they are all made up of invisible numbers – a 5% increase to your blood bar, a 20% buff to your health, and so on. Undeniably those increases are useful, but it looks like you will be able to unlock all the combat abilities relatively quickly, and then everything after that is simply numerical improvements.
As you further on in the game, but still relatively closer to the beginning, you come across a hospital where your newly required vampy skills and your also your medical skills proving useful here. The hospital hub is full of people you can talk with, learning about their lives and depending on your proclivities, letting you ease their pains or draining their blood. So long as your level is high enough, you can drink the blood of any character in the hub area, killing them off in return for a healthy dose of XP. The option to mesmerise a character sits temptingly in the top left of the screen whenever you talk to them, tapping that lets you lead them away into a dark corner where you can turn them into a plasma smoothie. Killing off other characters won’t just hurt your conscience, though: it will destabilise the district, attracting the attention of vampire hunters and making the place less safe for you. Something to keep in mind when you are eyeing up that patient’s tasty throat.
The murky, dark alleyways of London were flawlessly beautiful, keeping the atmosphere right where you’d want it with a game like this – suspenseful and dire. Your path is mostly lit by streets lamps while outside, giving only a glimmer of light in some areas and anxiety about the areas it doesn’t shine on, wondering what lurks there. The character’s clothes were wonderfully stitched and in keeping with this era, nothing too bright with mostly browns, beige and black.
Unfortunately, the animations are a letdown. Sometimes I found, while I was talking to a character, that what they said didn’t match up to what was on the subtitles. This especially giving people with hearing difficulties some issues here and also while we are trying to provide better accessibility to those of all disabilities in the gaming world, this was disappointing.
I also saw that I couldn’t make the text size bigger, medium still remaining quite small, again quite disappointing for those with vision impairments. I sincerely hope that DONTNOD can follow suit with other gaming companies who are opening their world so that gaming is accessible to everyone, no matter their needs. Another area that could’ve done with improvement was the faces of the characters. They lacked facial emotion for a lot of the time and came across quite robotic hence, as said before, making them quite hard to like or truly connect with.
The music in Vampry was near to perfect! Olivier Deriviere served as the composer, infusing the score with industrial music to portray the solitude and inner struggle of the main character. Eric-Maria Couturier played the cello, whose sounds were intended to go from “emotional” to “bestial”. The bass flute, piano, double bass, and cimbalom (chosen for how it reflected that period in London) were also employed, each characterising an aspect of the story. Deriviere saw the choir as representing an oppressive influence on the main character, and thought its combination with industrial music was effective, he definitely wasn’t wrong here.
The accents of the characters were decent, which is a big compliment given that so many gaming developers get this basic mechanic so very wrong. Going from ‘cockney London’ to a much more ‘well to do’ intonation depending on who you were talking to. Johnathan’s voice was quite soft and, like a lot of aspects of this character, emotionless and lackluster. Basically, you really couldn’t excite this guy if you tried!
As with any choice driven game, you will always have the ability to come back and play the game again as you choose a different path. Maybe this time you’ll just feast on everyone you see and witness the decay of the districts? Answer something differently and suffer/enjoy the consequences? It’s pretty exciting to have that power, the power of choice and that’s what DONTNOD have implemented superbly here. Also, Vampyr will include 29 trophies in total, many of which seem to be directly related to completing the game’s main story. It is clear from looking at the list that the decisions players make during their play-through will affect the trophies they unlock.
Of the 29 trophies available in the game, 6 are bronze, 17 are silver, and 5 are gold, with the final being the ever-coveted platinum trophy. A full breakdown of the trophies available in Vampyr are as follows:
Time is on My Side – Earn all trophies
From Here to Eternity – Go to the Shelter and rest…
At Dawn We Row – Take a ride with Doctor Swansea
Just take a Bite – Embrace Clay during your first meeting with him
Merciful Release – Let Clay live during your first meeting with him
Pest Control – Eat 10 rats
Unlife is Strange – Save this poor plant with water
The Tools of the Profession – Find all melee weapons
Keep Your Distance – Find all ranged weapons
Weapons of Choice – Find all off-hand weapons
Bloody Roots – Find the recollection of Paulus Aurelianus
Lore Keeper – Gather all collectibles
Hippocratic Oath – Heal 10 citizens
That’s Better – Upgrade a weapon with a module
Work in Progress – Upgrade a weapon
Solid Metal Gear – Upgrade a weapon to level 5
Interview with the Vampire – Take care of Dorothy’s fate
Sacrificial Lamb – Take care of Sean’s fate
Prepare to Die – Take care of Aloysius’s fate
The Dying Swansea – Take care of Swansea’s fate
Anarchy in the UK – Turn a district to hostile status
A Taste for Blood – Complete the game
Not Even Once – Finish the game without killing any citizens
Defeat the Beast – Defeat Fergal
Hail Mary – Defeat Mary
Death on Stage – Defeat Doris
Bury the Hatchet – Defeat McCullum
Unnatural Disaster – Defeat the Disaster
London’s Burning – Turn all districts to hostile status
As much as I loved the concept of the story in Vampyr and one of the many reasons I was so excited to play it, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. It felt like one of your favourite bakeries made this beautiful looking cake, the filling was everything you could ask for, but when you finally bit into it, although it had flavour, the quality just didn’t match up to what you expected.
I think one of my main issues, as previously stated, was likeability and connection with Johnathan, or really anyone I met. They all came across quite hollow and lacking depth. The entire concept was fresh, new and inviting, but it didn’t pull it out of the bag for me completely and I felt like, even though the idea around how everything worked and the mechanics were excellently thought out and engrossing, in truth, it made me feel a little empty.
Vampyr receives a Thumb Culture Silver Award
A code was supplied in order to complete this review