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