Written by James ‘Judge’ Hayward
Released: 5th June 2018
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Genre: Action RPG
Reviewed Platform: PlayStation 4
1918 London, gritty, dangerous and plagued by an epidemic of somewhat epic proportions. Dr. Jonathan Reid, revered surgeon, must come to terms with his grueling transformation from man to vampire. You, the player, will choose to either save his city or make it his bloody playground.
DONTNOD do a good job of presenting a treacherous London. The ‘Wet Boot Boys’ gang are Reid’s Peaky Blinders-ish average goons to chomp through. There’s also the accurate representations of social standpoints at the time, such as the suffragist movements and secret interracial relationships born among the strife. Blood and death are not the only tools in their arsenal. All these small additions to the community surrounding Dr. Reid help draw players in. You can explore and unlock ‘hints’ by conversing with citizens paying mind to their worries and day to day tasks. The dialogue options highlighted in blue are the result in Dr. Reid’s questioning and discovery of said hints somewhere else in the game. Coupling this with a more than fair range of voice acting meant the mundane side quests, that some games consistently get wrong, became intriguing and enjoyable. One of Vampyr’s biggest selling points was the option to save or kill, play the doctor, or play the killer. I argue that the biggest grip off the bat was the balance between action and investigation.
To kill a citizen you must have a high enough level of ‘Mesmerise’, showed in the top left of the screen. If triggered, you force the citizen under your influence, take them to a safe corner, and ’embrace’ them! (that means eat by the way). Should you choose to kill an individual their social circle will suffer, as well as the area in which they reside having consequences. The top right corner in the next clip shows the citizens health status. The healthier they are, and the more hints you have unlocked for that citizen, the more experience points available for Dr. Reid to feast upon. The ‘Citizen Menu’ demonstrates who’s social circle encompasses who. Camellia here is perfect for demonstrating these features as she doesn’t talk much…:
How great does ‘the Penny Dreadfuls’ sound!
Graphically, Vampyr also achieves a full and somewhat alive night life in London during its darkest hours. The characters suffer the most visually and some of the smaller details seem to favour quantity over quality, but is not bad by any means. An alleyway will consist of wrinkled newspaper, grimy bins with a shilling or two inside, a corpse curled in a corner, and the wet paving stones reflecting against the street light. Towering buildings at either side, accompanied by ominous music, radiate an eerie sense of awe and loneliness .
Combat worried me at the beginning of the game but over time I was put at ease. Players must use stamina to execute basic, and more advanced, attacks like many action RPG’s we are familiar with. Moreover, Dr. Reid needs to consume his blood meter in order to use vampire abilities (MP for magic, you guessed it). Fear not, it doesn’t take too long to advance in certain power trees and maximize your utility in a fight.
You can enhance Dr. Reid’s bite for more damage or more healing potency depending on the upgrade branch. Teach Reid an extra attack using his claws and follow one of two strands there for additional stun damage or more blood gain with each hit. It is the management of stamina and blood gain that give you an edge in a fight. The best of these abilities stems from his ‘ultimate’ attacks. Choose from 3, and upgrade them all to cause massive damage, either melee, shadow, or blood damage to be specific. There are also tactical skills to upgrade for a stealthier approach but, I must admit, stealth isn’t really a factor in Vampyr. You can land a significant first strike on an enemy if you unlock, upgrade, and use ‘Shadow Veil’ correctly. Otherwise it is more of ‘who-can-hack-and-slash-their-way-to-the-end-first’ kind of deal. Different enemies have different resistances so choose your selections wisely.
Now for the negatives. The sheer volume of loading screens! It isn’t a huge disruption but it is certainly noticeable. Entering and exiting the sewers grated on me very quickly and one of the hideouts required the same wait. Sometimes walking through certain areas trigger a shorter, but annoying, loading time too. Individually, these wouldn’t normally be a problem but when combined they can make travelling in larger scale missions a chore. Not to mention there is no fast travel – at least I haven’t discovered it. Call it lazy if you will, I know the map isn’t enormous, but players will call for it. My advice; when you enter the sewers, or exit the hideout, be sure you’ve stocked up!
For a relatively good game, there were too many restrictions and repetitive elements. If DONTNOD do a follow up I would like to see more freedom, a little bit more going on in the background, and less loading screens! Collectibles, for example, made no impact on me and I have no desire to go back and search for them. Some consist of interesting writing and lore but with a lack-luster world surrounding them I just didn’t feel compelled to read on. The option to spare or kill citizens is interesting but why not expand further? How will we kill them? Add more stealth into the game to go hand in hand with darkness and shadows, so far it barely feels tip toed upon. If we spare them, perhaps make the citizen in question a playable companion and not just a passing acquaintance but with their own skill tree and crafts, or unique abilities. As I mentioned, the characters are well fleshed out but they are literally all that’s there and, even then, some just vanish.
Final score, 6/10.
I know I keep saying this but the standard is very high now and Vampyr just doesn’t quite hit the top tier for me. What started as an enjoyable game soon dipped and never seemed to rise again. It felt like a very big cage to run around in, but a cage none the less.