Vampyr PC Review
While many people began their love for Dontnod Entertainment after discovering the wonderful and heart-crunching Life is Strange, I was rather keen on the studio’s first game, Remember Me, a cyberpunk action-adventure title that had some smart ideas and a wonderful world, but its core combat mechanics were a little short of greatness. That said, it showed that the team from France could create an imaginative place, which was only more enforced with Life is Strange, moving their storytelling and character building to award-winning results. Enter Vampyr, a game that has the studio taking what they have been excelling at and moving it to a rather ambitious genre for them, the action role-playing game. The question is, though, has the team learned from Remember Me and brought more than just their strong storytelling and atmospheric world building to this vampire infested title?
Vampyr is set in London, 1918, during the final year of World War I and with the Spanish Influenza pandemic in full force. Players take on the role of doctor Jonathan Reid, a specialist in blood transfusions who has recently returned from his role as a combat medic at the trenches in France. The game begins as Jonathan wakes up in a puzzled state, having no idea what is going on, he has a strange urge to walk towards a lady in the distance, who seems to be upset at something, but knows Jonathan and gives him a hug. Something overcomes the Doctor as he gives into his craving for blood and bites the lady, which turns out to be his own sister. Distraught at what has just unfolded, Jonathan vaguely remembers something attacking him with a bite on the neck, going on this detail, he vows to find out what is happening to his body while hunting down the one that has turned him into the folklore known as a Vampire.
With Dontnod Entertainment at the helm, you can probably guess that the storytelling is one of the stronger points, and just like their previous title, Life is Strange, there is an emphasis on player choice and the consequences it has for the game. In fact, it’s such an integral part of the game’s design. This is due to being able to talk to most of the non-player characters (NPC) and the mechanics tied to each of them. You see, NPCs are food for the player, using his thirst for blood as a lure to help players boost their levels much quicker than playing through the game and gaining experience from killing enemies and completing quests – Vampyr is literally making NPCs human food so that players can become powerful much earlier than normal. There are reasons why you might want to delve into living out the blood soaking fantasies of a nocturnal undead beast; the game has no difficulty setting, so some areas feature enemies that are higher level than yourself to add challenge, making them harder to kill, effectively being bullet sponges to your damage. Having this choice to be evil and dry the city dwellers of their blood is a good spin on the consequence/choice concept, and it feels right at home when the player is in the shoes of a vampire.
Jonathan makes his home at Pembroke Hospital – he is a doctor after all – and is left undisturbed during the day, allowing him to come alive at night to investigate. Being a doctor and a vampire, Jonathan is stuck between doing what he believes in or feeding on the blood of the many sick that fill up this hospital. It’s easy to take someone ill and have them as your next snack. An early example of the choices the game offers comes when exploring the under-path near the river, where two guys are fighting it out and one of them falls into the river, while the other is badly injured and requires medical attention. As the player, you now have the choice to either take him to the hospital to heal his injuries or lure him away to devour on and gain a boost of experience. These aren’t one off choices, as I decided to keep him alive, well, that was until I found out how much of a bastard he was, so one night I lured him away from the hospital and had my first satisfying blood suck of the game – he fully deserved it.
It’s the amount of work that Dontnod Entertainment has put into the NPCs that makes the experience enjoyable. The vampire story is no stranger to being over told, but the mixture of the overarching narrative and the deep characterisation makes this story engaging. Each inhabitant has something to tell you, and while some might be more key than others, they each have a role to play in this world. Vampyr goes as far to offer a statistic page of each NPC to see how their well being is, the better they are, the better quality the blood and the more experience gained from feeding on them. Being a doctor, though, means you can offer medication to make them better, making them a better meal for later on, or, you know, just being nice and doing your profession in a professional manner. Of course, if you just hate them, you can eat them, but this could potentially lock out information on other characters or quests that were related to them – which can also happen through dialogue choices if incorrectly answering what other people are expecting to hear.
Killing off characters also changes the district they were living in. Newspapers will begin to notice people disappearing, which will put more vampire hunters on the street or other foul creatures that are stepping further out of their dark shadows to find their next meal, while item shops will up the prices due to high demand. Removing an NPC from the game feels like it has a meaningful impact on London, which isn’t something that can often be said for choice driven games, more so in larger games, such as an action RPG.
But no matter how well the story is developed or fleshed out the characters are, there is still part of this game that isn’t quite as polished as those elements, and that is the combat. Encounters are a plenty on the streets of London from various enemies, such as religious priests using the power of Christ to weaken Jonathan, vampire hunters who want to put a stake through his chest or other mythological beasts. Combat is certainly functional, it’s not poor per se, but it felt like an afterthought to the rest of the game, a bit clunky compared to other games that have more refined combat mechanics, I don’t even mean character action games, like Bayonetta, but titles like Sleeping Dogs or the Batman: Arkham games feature more interesting and engaging combat than Vampyr.
Players have light and heavy attacks often used with bats, knives, swords, axes and stakes, while range weaponry includes stuff like revolvers and shotguns. Stamina management is key, as performing attacks and defending drains it, but it does recover quickly when given a break. Gaining blood from using item vials, biting enemies during combat or feeding on rats enables the use of such vampirism powers as razor sharp claws, teleportation attacks, blood shields, or even releasing the devastating beast from within with one of three ultimate moves can help make the combat flashier. These abilities, plus a few others, can be unlocked and levelled up through experience points when going to bed, but they are all based around the combat, so don’t expect any true RPG talents that would help you speak to people better or bargain in shops. This ain’t no Kingdom Come: Deliverance in that regard, but it isn’t trying to be.
As I said before, taking on an action RPG isn’t an easy task, and it is evident from Vampyr‘s release that the experience is this area isn’t Dontnod Entertainment’s speciality, and just like Remember Me, it manages to bring all their good stuff into the package – now with more experience, making it more defined – but is tainted a little by the fairly standard combat system and mediocre side activities, an area that the studio hasn’t had much development with when looking at their past titles. The rest of the package is good – visuals offer a dark and damp beautiful London, which can have an hiccup in performance if everything is set to max, so dial down some of the extreme anti antialiasing options. Audio and voice acting are quality, especially the soundtrack, which offers a very unique score that piles on the mysterious with heart tension stringing of instruments that really get the sense of a suspense thriller into the game.
Fans of Dontnod Entertainment will find plenty to like with how the team has developed this action RPG. If you want a game that delivers an engaging plot, great character building and memorable personalities, while offering choice above the often black and white “choice matter” options, which give a sense that the NPCs have meaning to its world, its characters and the player, then this is for you. Sure its combat is the weakest aspect (it’s still okay), but Vampyr is a unique release this year, one where its inhabitants take centre stage, entangling with the player to offer an enthralling experience and story. This doesn’t quite carry on through to the game’s action on the streets, but despite that issue, this is another strong narrative release for Dontnot Entertainment. It’s just a shame that it is in a genre that has to be more than that, so Vampyr, while I can recommend – just don’t expect it to hit the superb heights of action RPG classics of the last few years.