Tak­ing a lethal stroll around a dark and des­ti­tute London


bet­ter to drink the blood of a killer than a civil­ian, right?

Vampyr is an elu­sive one, flit­ting on the pe­riph­eries of our con­scious­ness but never quite show­ing its true form. Dontnod’s ac­tion-RPG has looked promis­ing in the past. Set in London, Eng­land dur­ing the Span­ish flu pan­demic of 1918, it prom­ises a re­ac­tive en­vi­ron­ment where no NPC is off-lim­its. Now, fi­nally, I’ve had a chance to play it. My hands-on be­gins in char­nel fash­ion, as the hero, a doc­tor-turned-vam­pire called Jonathan, awak­ens from the dead amidst a pile of corpses. Over­come by blood­lust, he dips into his sis­ter’s jugu­lar, killing her, be­fore flee­ing a mob of vam­pire hunters who bore wit­ness to his crime.

Dur­ing the chase, I en­counter three pur­suers on a gloomy quay. I dash to evade an at­tack, coun­ter­ing with a vi­cious flurry to kill the first as­sailant. While my stamina re­cov­ers, I chuck an oth­er­worldly Blood­spear at the chap reload­ing his blun­der­buss, killing him in­stantly. The fi­nal vic­tim isn’t so lucky, as I nom­i­nate him to be my blood donor. This re­plen­ishes my blood bar ( Vampyr’s an­swer to mana), which I sub­se­quently use to re­store my health.

The com­bat has a nice Souls- like crunch­i­ness, but at this point can be lumped in with the cin­e­mat­ics, voice act­ing, and vi­su­als as be­ing too rough to merit much ex­cite­ment. It’s what hap­pens af­ter this seg­ment that in­trigues me, when Vampyr opens out into im­mer­sive sim ter­ri­tory, and the mi­as­mic streets of London be­gin teas­ing their sys­tems.

Search­ing for an­swers about who turned Jonathan vam­piric, I make for the near­est drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment. In­side, a woman is clean­ing blood off the floor, a drunk­ard belches inane noth­ings, and the bar­man asks my tip­ple. I’m in­tro­duced at this point to two new func­tions. First, the abil­ity to suss out a char­ac­ter’s health (how tasty their blood is, in other words). And sec­ond, a screen that re­veals each char­ac­ter’s web of friends, rel­a­tives, and so on, as you get to know them.

I push the bar­man to give me a lead for the man I’m look­ing for. He also lets slip about know­ing the se­crets of ev­ery­one who passes through the bar, and that he has a soft spot for Sab­rina, the woman clean­ing the blood­stain. What would hap­pen, I won­der, if I were to kill Sab­rina? How would the so­cial web re­spond?

So­cial blood­fly

Un­for­tu­nately, I lack the Mes­mer­ize skill to lure Sab­rina into my deathly em­brace, but the de­vel­op­ers fill me in. Her death, they tell me, would lead the en­raged bar­man to spill his sur­rep­ti­tious se­crets, nam­ing names of lo­cal mur­der­ers, adul­ter­ers, and other sus­pects. These peo­ple then ap­pear on the bar­man’s so­cial web, al­low­ing you to track them down in search of an­swers, or per­haps just to feed guilt-free (bet­ter to drink the blood of a killer than a civil­ian, right?).

There is no moral force judg­ing you for your trans­gres­sions. In the case of Sab­rina, your mur­der of an in­no­cent may even un­earth in­ter­est­ing leads and se­crets about the world. The knock-on ef­fects of in­ter­act­ing with each of the game’s 60 or so NPCs are cir­cum­stan­tial, so you’ll need to ob­serve their be­hav­iors to try and an­tic­i­pate what might hap­pen. Kill too many peo­ple in a given area, how­ever, and it starts de­scend­ing into a law­less bat­tle­ground of hunters and vam­pires.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a de­vel­oper has vaunted a dy­namic, re­ac­tive game world, and it wouldn’t be the first time if it fails to ma­te­ri­al­ize. In its present state, Vampyr is com­pe­tent but un­pol­ished, bor­row­ing from greats like Dis­hon­ored and Blood­borne. Whether it can ex­cel on its own mer­its how­ever, seems to rest on an am­bi­tious sys­tem that, frus­trat­ingly, still re­mains untested.

David De Gea has be­come the scape­goat for the flu epi­demic.

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