BLOOD ON THE STREETS, A SURGEON IN THE SHEETS
The older I get, the more I suspect I’m going to be saying this quite a lot about games: “I really wanted to like X, but…” So, let’s get this out of the way now, shall we? I really wanted to like Vampyr, but all it really made me think as I was playing it was that I’d much rather be playing Dishonored instead.
Now, to be fair, it did make me also think how much some of Vampyr’s mechanics would really add to Arkane Studio’s game of leaping assassins stabbing people in the face. Vampyr does a lot of very cool things, in a very cool setting, but I feel it also squanders a lot of those mechanics in trying to tie them all together in a game about, well, vampires.
For a game about a doctor infected by a disease way more complex than he’s used to, London in the years after the Great War is a wonderful setting. The world has seen militarised murder on a scale never seen before, and the u pandemic is just kicking off, making the dark, sooty streets of the city perfect feeding grounds. Yet, for all of that, Vampyr’s London – made up four discrete districts inspired by real locations, but compressed for the sake of gameplay – feels disappointingly homogenised. It could be London from any period in the 1800s to the early 20th century, and the fact that the game takes place entirely at night (because sunlight will kill you, natch), doesn’t help. A certain degree of grim-dark is expected in a game about gothic vampire horror, but Vampyr possibly goes a bit too far. There are some stand-out locations that change things up, like the hospital that forms the hub of the rst act and main area, but otherwise it’s all winding alleys that seem indistinguishable from each other in the game’s overhanging gloom.
The people that inhabit these districts are more interesting, and this is where one of the game’s key mechanics comes into play. As the just turned Jonathan Reid, you’re pretty much always hungry, and all your newfound powers rely upon blood to use – more importantly, you won’t be able to unlock or improve those powers without dining out on some more or less innocent people. The game’s built-in dif culty curve is based around the need to feed, which in turn causes your current district to become more chaotic and dangerous, or to protect those around you – in which case you’re more or less a good guy and people like you, but the game’s combat becomes that much harder as you lack the more effective ghting abilities.
The game’s focus on the central moral quandary of being a vampire is further diluted by the game’s focus on combat. The majority of conversations are simply a matter of clicking through every dialogue option – combat is where the game really gives you a lot of toys to play with, with a range of active and passive vampiric abilities to unlock. But they’re all about ghting, and while the game effectively ‘punishes’ you for dealing harshly with the ne folk of London, drinking blood while in combat is essentially harmless. Nor can you really avoid a lot of the
ghting. Mechanically it’s sound enough – you lock onto enemies and then whale on them with weapons in either hand, damaging and stunning by turns, drinking blood to power up your abilities, then rinse and repeat.
The game is, in nearly every aspect, nearly good. Great, even, but nearly everything it tries to do has been done better elsewhere, which adds up to a particularly disappointing experience. Vampyr is a game that is aiming to for its whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, but those parts simply don’t add up, and even fall just a little too short to be truly likeable.
Genre: RPG• Developer: Dontnod Entertainment • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive • Platform: PC; PS4; Xbox One www.vampyr-game.com