Available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment
Published by Focus Home Interactive
You awaken atop a pile of dead bodies, confused and hungry for blood. Your sister, pleased and shocked that you’re still alive, is thrilled to have you back in her life but as you embrace your sibling, you give in to the thirst and sink your teeth into her neck. Welcome to third-person, action RPG videogame, VAMPYR, a tale of self-discovery amidst the backdrop of a Spanish Flu ravaged London in 1918.
The prospect of a vampire videogame set in early 20th century London got me all excited. I was thinking that I would go around killing people, Jack The Ripper style with teeth, to satiate my bloodlust whilst trying to blend in with the frivolities of society. However, VAMPYR, proved not to be what I had dreamt up in my mind. Instead of being a cheeky playboy of the night like Lestat, my character, Jonathan Reid, a doctor who specialises in blood transfusions of all things, is more akin to a slightly upbeat Louis. Similarly, the gameplay chooses to emulate the boring, depressive ramblings of Louis in Interview With The Vampire as Jonathan plays detective in trying to find out who bit and turned him into this creature of the night. This sets up the game in a different way to how I would have hoped but with developers DONTNOD being responsible for dialogue-driven game Life Is Strange, I should have known better. However, unlike their previous game which featured a strong narrative that backed up the dialogue and choices mechanic, VAMPYR doesn’t seem to quite hit those high notes and instead becomes a tale of a rambling doctor playing detective in what feels more like a linear environment rather than a true, open-world one.
Opening with a freshly turned Jonathan escaping the volatile streets of London and seeking refuge in hideouts and a local inn, the player must use Jonathan’s freshly acquired senses to find out who’s responsible for this ‘curse’. Acting as a tutorial, this section of the game has you asking questions of characters to establish what life is like in 1918 London and why he was being chased in the first place. It seems the presence of vampires may not be alien after all.
When the game finally settles into its stride, the player finds themselves based in the Pembroke Hospital; a ramshackled medical building relying on the good will of the tired doctors and nurses who work there. Jonathan’s role there is to learn about the patients and staff in the hope to find out clues about his transformation as well as to help these people around him in a professional capacity. Each of these characters has their own story to tell and whilst you have the option of “embracing” them ( drinking their blood), the game attempts to convince you otherwise. By listening to your humanistic thoughts and feelings, you’re doing yourself a thick ‘un because the game’s difficulty relies upon whether you give in to your thirst or not. By playing good guy, you’ll struggle to upgrade your character’s abilities such as health, stamina, blood capacity and fight skills. Biting citizens of London provide the much-needed XP required to upgrade Jonathan’s skills and tackle the higher level of enemies you’ll meet on the streets of London.
The people that you meet in London have their own personalities but strangely it’s hard to actually care about any of them. I even struggled to connect with my own character, Jonathan. With streams of dialogue that feel as though they go on forever, each character feels as though they blend into the next. I found that I spent more time talking to people than actually doing anything else. Though the dialogue sessions give you options, which ones you choose don’t seem to necessarily alter the outcome of the story and instead only serve to open optional dialogue hints. These hints explain more about a character and increases their XP which is important should you wish to bite them. However, you must be of the same or greater mesmerise level to lure your victim away in the first place before you can embrace them and take advantage of their XP. If you choose to embrace and therefore kill any character, there is repercussions on society in that particular district. Sometimes that manifests itself in certain characters who may no longer have hints revealed about themselves whilst a death can certainly affect the stability level of a district, plunging it into chaos. When this happens, many residents of the district can become ill and therefore need to be cured to stabilise the area. Jonathan has the ability to create remedies for fatigue, colds and other illnesses using the crafting workshop and ingredients he’s collected throughout the game.
When not playing doctor, Jonathan is able to roam the hospital and the London area such as Whitechapel. Whilst this is an open-world environment, it’s more on the linear side with only certain access points available at times and many locations pointless until you’ve followed the main storyline. There are a few side missions chucked in for good measure but these only serve to unlock hints for characters or to provide you with the opportunity to drink some blood. Outside of the dialogue, you’ll find yourself doing battle with skals, werewolves and the like using a choice of weapons, each of which can be upgraded. You’ll also be threatened by mortal enemies in the form of a self-appointed resistance gang, keen to weed out any vampires they spot whilst patrolling the streets. Fighting these and the supernatural enemies becomes tiresome and repetitive pretty fast with only the rapid dodge effect feeling fluid out of the various actions available.
Despite my dislike and disappointment of the game, VAMPYR has received positive feedback from most, including our reviewer David S. Smith, who seem to like the dialogue-heavy style. However, if you’re like me and was expecting a bit more action rather than a mopey, depressive narrative with characters that lack depth, then this game might not be for you. Regardless of this, the game itself is well made even if the combat mechanics could be a little better. The detective element of the game is where it appears to be the strongest and works rather well as you try and find out the origins of Jonathan’s fate. Perhaps the narrative itself isn’t an gripping as it could be but if talky games are up your street then you may well find something to enjoy here.