Vampyr: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.vampyr-game.com/en
  • Game code provided by PR

A third-person vampire action adventure probably wasn’t what you expected the studio that brought us the unforgettable Life Is Strange to do next. This makes a lot more sense, however, when you bear in mind the fact that Dontnod’s first game was Remember Me. That was a third-person action adventure with a great story, but combat that lots of people hated, and… yeah.

You play the part of Jonathan Reid, who at the beginning of the game awakes to find himself with a thirst for blood that leads to him accidentally killing an innocent person that he knows very well. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Turns out that – spoiler alert – he’s a vampire. Thing is, he is/was a famous doctor that specialises in blood transfusions. Ironic, eh?

Jonny boy’s new duality of existence – a doctor trained to heal, a vampire urged to kill by nature – is used to extremely impressive effect not only within the story, but also in terms of gameplay. Virtually every NPC has a name, a huge amount of dialogue to get through, and sometimes at least one side quest. The world in which they live, London of 1918, is suffering a Spanish flu epidemic on top of the existing unsanitary conditions and rampant disease. You can completely ignore almost all citizens and their problems if you wish, but there are very good reasons not to.

The very first thing this game tells you is that the more innocents you kill, the easier the game will be. It ain’t kiddin’. This is a game with XP and levelling, and the biggest chunks of XP by far are to be had from leading an innocent person to a secluded area, and sucking their blood like what a real vampire would go and do guv. Yet there are twists to this! Firstly, the amount of XP a kill will reward you with is directly related to how well you know the person, and how healthy they are. For maximum evilness (and benefit), you can extensively talk to and help out a person, crafting and gifting cures for any illnesses they contract, before ruthlessly killing them.

The more innocents you harvest, the more confidently you can unlock and experiment with fancy vampire powers rather than health and stamina.

The more you refuse to take innocent lives, the quicker you’ll start to encounter enemies (including bosses) 7-10 levels above you. The huge XP incentive is a clever way to supplant the thirst for blood that the player (hopefully) can’t feel. Yet leaving citizens alone has benefits, too. Keeping people healthy – not to mention alive – keeps each district of London healthy as a whole. This means, generally, that areas will be less densely populated with dangerous enemies. Killing a citizen also instantly removes any of their associated quests from the game; and if a district becomes too unhealthy, people will go missing, which also wipes their quests. The best thing is that you’re given the freedom to indulge your bloodlust as much or as little as you like. You can go for a no-innocent-kills playthrough (as we did – very tough at times), a slaughtertastic run, or somewhere in-between. It really is up to you.

There’s some disappointingly cringeworthy dialogue at the beginning of the game, but the script rapidly improves, and stays at a high quality which complements the great voice acting. Despite a few twists that we saw coming miles off, we thoroughly enjoyed the story, and gleefully dived into all dialogue options with every character we came across. This being a Dontnod game, you now and again get a choice in how to reply or react to something. At certain points in the story, you’ll get to choose how to deal with a “pillar” (of the community, you see), the most important citizen in a district whose death or disappearance is likely to have disastrous consequences. It’s never quite as simple as ‘good choice A or bad choice B’, and besides, you get three choices each time. We were disappointed that the choice we went for regarding the first pillar had been very poorly explained, and had a result we did not intend at all. That one instance aside, it’s an idea that works very well, especially as a choice can sometimes cost you lots of valuable XP (something that is made transparent before you make the call) because it will cost you blood.

We can’t avoid the issue any longer: the combat is very bad, and there’s a lot of it. Awkward and clunky, it’s a low point of the experience that sticks out like a sore, bloody, delicious thumb. You learn to adapt (especially if you realise the importance of upgrading weapons), but fighting is never particularly fun. Especially not when it comes to the bosses, who are all much stronger than Reid and often have abilities he doesn’t have access to, even when this makes no sense in story context.

As a doctor, you can help people out… if you choose to do so.

Vampyr is also, quite frankly, a bit broken. We’ve never had a full-on crash; yet we’ve come across rare but embarrassing broken enemy AI, audio glitches, and the inability to interact with NPCs. Load times are just a little too long (and experienced every time you die), and respawning without items or ammo you used, and with virtually no Blood (used to power your vampire abilities) – yet with nearby enemies magically brought back to life – feels a little unfair.

In a bizarre design decision that seems antithetical to the rest of the experience, the epilogue traps you away from the city forever, blocking off any and all unfinished quests. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that you can only have one save per game, and manual saves are simply not a thing here.

We loved (most of) our time with Vampyr, yet reluctantly admit that we can not give it the unreserved praise we initially thought we could. With a major update, we would practically demand that you buy it. As it is, it’s very good, but carries a few too many frustrations.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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