We peer be­hind the veil and sink our teeth into this role­play­ing vam­piric fan­tasy

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Adam Bryant Pub­lisher Fo­cus Home In­ter­ac­tive De­vel­oper Dontnod For­mat Xbox One ETA JUNE 2018

When you think about it, Dontnod’s lat­est of­fer­ing is a bit like a macabre su­per­nat­u­ral farm­ing sim­u­la­tor. You’ve got your cat­tle, in this case the un­wit­ting cit­i­zens of Lon­don, which you main­tain. Then, when they’re full to the brim of that fine sticky red stuff, you feast on them. Yes, this po­ten­tial pro­duce can talk and con­fide in you about the peo­ple they care for and de­scribe in de­tail their goals and as­pi­ra­tions, which can cause even the most die-hard of meat eaters to have a cri­sis of con­science. But it’s

ba­si­cally the same. At least that’s what we think is likely to go through the head of Vic­to­rian sur­geon turned Gothic agri­cul­tur­ist Dr Jonathan Reid as he wakes up among the dead in the mid­dle of a mass grave hav­ing re­cently been turned into a vam­pire. That and he’s prob­a­bly had bet­ter morn­ings.

Our two-hour play ses­sion be­gins with Reid hav­ing no mem­ory of how these events tran­spired, and no time to find out – as he’s im­me­di­ately set upon by vam­pire hunters. On the run and shrouded in con­fu­sion, he goes in search of his maker.

It’s dur­ing this time that we get our first tangy taste of com­bat. It’s far more tac­ti­cal than Dontnod’s

Re­mem­ber Me, which cen­tred around rhythm and chore­og­ra­phy. In Vampyr it’s all about po­si­tion­ing, sim­i­lar in some ways to FromSoft­ware’s

Souls se­ries. You’ll be dodg­ing and strik­ing at op­por­tune mo­ments, but this is nowhere near as bru­tal and un­for­giv­ing as Souls. It’s clearly meant to be ac­ces­si­ble rather than pun­ish­ing. Af­ter lock­ing onto an en­emy you’ll be us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of dodge, parry and at­tack us­ing melee weapons, pis­tols and a range of su­per­nat­u­ral abil­i­ties. Although the com­bat does feel slightly stilted, it’s en­joy­able and a no­table im­prove­ment on their pre­vi­ous at­tempt.

Live and learn

The vam­piric abil­i­ties that you’ve been blessed (cursed?) with can all be im­proved, or evolved, and you can even gain new ones, but ac­quir­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence needed to do so comes at a great moral cost. The 60 or so unique char­ac­ters you’ll meet through­out the game not only pro­vide quests and in­for­ma­tion about the world and its peo­ple, they also hap­pen to be the ves­sels of ex­pe­ri­ence that you’ll need to con­sume in or­der to be­come more pow­er­ful. This presents a huge dilemma for Dr Reid – does he be­tray his Hip­po­cratic oath and em­brace the im­age of the mon­ster he’s ex­pected to be­come, or does he stay faith­ful to peo­ple of Lon­don who so clearly need his help?

“The bet­ter the qual­ity of the blood the more ex­pe­ri­ence you’ll gain”

To en­tice you even more, ev­ery char­ac­ter has a cer­tain blood qual­ity which can be im­proved through treat­ing their ail­ments or by sat­is­fy­ing a par­tic­u­lar need – the bet­ter the qual­ity of blood the more ex­pe­ri­ence you’ll gain. But other than the ob­vi­ous moral im­pli­ca­tions there are more di­rect con­se­quences to your ac­tions. Take out the peo­ple of a par­tic­u­lar area and you’ll leave it open to be in­fested with other vam­pires and ghouls. Not only that, but any quests a char­ac­ter may have pro­vided will

be lost for the en­tirety of the game. “The ul­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence in the game is know­ing that if you take a life you won’t be able to go back,” ex­plains nar­ra­tive di­rec­tor Stephane Beau­verger. “You can’t re­vert to a pre­vi­ous save. When you de­cide to kill an NPC in the game that’s it for them un­til the end of the story.”

We ex­pe­ri­ence this first hand later in the demo when we wit­ness a drunken man mur­der an­other. Ap­proach­ing him we use our Mes­merise abil­ity, which al­lows us to sub­due and lead him into a dis­creet lo­ca­tion so as to bring swift jus­tice. But with­out know­ing all the facts our con­science gets the bet­ter of us, and we let him go.

The de­vel­op­ers want to give you this free­dom so that you can play in ex­actly the way you want. “The chal­lenge was to main­tain and de­liver on the prom­ise of be­ing able to play as a vam­pire and be free to take any­one’s life,” says Beau­verger. “Which means you can reach the end of the game hav­ing killed every­one or no one, or cherry pick who you want to kill or spare. But in the end you will face your fate ac­cord­ing to the choices you’ve made.” This will lead to mul­ti­ple end­ings, and a rea­son for you to re­turn.

Spring-heeled Jack

Although you be­hold many im­pres­sive vam­piric abil­i­ties, don’t ex­pect to be jump­ing and tele­port­ing all over the place. “We wanted the player to feel the op­pres­sive labyrinthine as­pect of Lon­don,” says Beau­verger. “It would be too easy to reach the roof of a build­ing and choose your path freely so we de­cided to cre­ate these nar­row streets and dead end al­leys. It won’t be like As­sas­sin’s Creed where you can climb up ev­ery wall.” The ob­vi­ous ef­fect of this is a far more grounded and in­ti­mate tale.

The ex­pe­ri­ence gained from its pre­vi­ous ti­tles has al­lowed Dontnod to hone its craft. “Af­ter Re­mem­ber Me we learnt to be more ef­fi­cient at cre­at­ing games that con­tain choice and con­se­quence for the player,” ex­plains Beau­verger. “We also learnt that each time you de­cide to cre­ate an al­ter­nate ver­sion of a scene, sit­u­a­tion, or end­ing, it means you will dou­ble or even triple the time of pro­duc­tion. So you have to care­fully choose which parts of the game will have dif­fer­ent branch­ing di­rec­tions.”

It was also im­por­tant for the team to pull out the his­tory book if they were to achieve the ini­tial vi­sion they had. “We did a lot of his­tor­i­cal re­search about how Lon­don was at the time,” ex­plains Beau­verger. “Such as the med­i­cal knowl­edge they had and how Lon­don coped with the Span­ish flu epi­demic, to try and di­gest all of that and recre­ate this vi­sion of a grim, sad and de­spair­ing Lon­don that had no clue about what was go­ing on. That was true, even with­out the vam­pire as­pect. Then we added the vam­pire epi­demic and su­per­nat­u­ral crea­tures on top of that and cre­ated our own al­ter­na­tive ver­sion of this pe­riod.” Con­sid­er­ing that Lon­don houses all the dif­fer­ent so­cial lay­ers and has the dif­fer­ent dis­tricts in such close prox­im­ity, it’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter lo­ca­tion.

Of course it could have been sim­ple enough for Dontnod to set the game dur­ing Jack the Rip­per’s most pro­lific pe­riod, in 1888, but 1918 seemed a more in­ter­est­ing time. “The blood trans­fu­sion tech­nique was per­fected dur­ing the First World War and the main char­ac­ter is a sur­geon who is a spe­cial­ist in this brand new way of sav­ing sol­diers,” ex­plains Beau­verger. “It was in­ter­est­ing for us to cre­ate a story where there is ob­vi­ously a deadly epi­demic hit­ting the city of Lon­don, and to cre­ate a main char­ac­ter that is very aware of all the new med­i­cal knowl­edge and is the most pro­fi­cient per­son at the time ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing what is go­ing on. He un­der­stands how vam­pires and the Span­ish flu mixed to­gether to cre­ate a brand new plague.”

Re­gard­less of whether you like your luck­less vic­tims raw, well done, or sim­ply not at all, the choice is en­tirely yours. The team has gone to great lengths to give you this free­dom. But when your face is splashed with blood af­ter tak­ing yet an­other life and you raise your eyes at the night sky, you have to ask your­self: was it worth it?

“In the end you will face your fate ac­cord­ing to the choices you’ve made”

Main You might not re­alise it, but the hard­est thing about be­ing a vam­pire is main­tain­ing a mys­te­ri­ous im­age while walk­ing down dark al­leys.

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