With Vampyr, Paris-based developer DONTNOD (the creative team behind Remember Me and Life is Strange) tries its hand at a horror-themed action RPG. The game’s atmospheric trailers have turned heads, and it has been considered one of the most anticipated horror games of the year.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent Vampire-themed RPG, at least it feels that way. Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines was such a fabulous game that while I’m sure there have been other games in the Vampire RPG genre since then…I can’t think of any.
There was a fair amount of expectation around Vampyr, the next title by DONTNOD has been slowly hyping up their latest release since E3 last year, and gamers looking to unleash their inner-bloodsucker finally have something to sink their teeth in. Following on from the narrative-driven adventure and cult hit, Life is Strange, was always going to be a thankless task and for those expecting Vampyr to essentially be Life Is Strange, only Vampires’, you’re going to be left thirsty.
So from a story point of view, it’s 1918 and Britain has emerged from the First World War victorious, but Dr. Jonathan Reid returns home to another bloody battlefield. Bodies line the streets of a post-war London hit by the Spanish influenza, while armed gangs patrol the streets, rivaling local vampires in their bloodthirst. Reid wakes up in an open burial mound as a vampire, and after inadvertently murdering his own sister he finds himself fending off virtually everyone in the city by whatever means necessary.
Dr. Reid, confused and weak following his transformation into an undead bloodsucker, is rescued by the Pembroke Hospital and tasked with saving as many human lives as possible, despite his vampiric nature. Questionable employment practices by the hospital aside, this is where Vampyr excels. As seemingly the only doctor available within ten miles of the Thames, Reid is given ample motivation to heal those around him. You’re not presented with a list of patients and other NPCs at the outset of Vampyr—instead you’ll have to instigate medical enquiries yourself. This means scouring around London—from the Pembroke Hospital to the West End—for characters to check up on.
Sometimes in games you’re not quite sure why your character is bothering helping everyone that surrounds them, but in Vampyr it makes perfect sense: Reid is a doctor, and he’s doing his job. There are four total districts in Vampyr’s London, and Jonathan Reid is single-handedly tasked with keeping every resident in the four districts healthy. You’ll need to take whatever gear you can scavenge from around London and use it to craft medical supplies, before delivering the right cure to the corresponding citizen. If multiple citizens are left untreated, the safety status of a district can decline from ‘healthy’ or ‘stable’, tumbling down to ‘serious’ and even ‘hostile’
The combat also has a unique focus that, in my opinion, works extremely well with the overall concept. It’s fast moving, but with heavy, lumbering attacks that require a little practice to balance. More importantly, there is no way to block and countering can only be done with certain weapons. And while dodging is a big part of any combat encounter, healing seems much more important. This can be done either by biting an opponent or through an ability you get very early on. You have to be tactical to do it though, stunning your enemy or keeping your blood level topped up. Healing, especially at the cost of your enemies’ health, gives you this delightfully powerful feeling we’ve all come to expect from impersonating a vampire. You are not a mortal anymore, you are not prey, but the thing that hunts in the night.
That doesn’t mean that combat is easy. Vampire hunters work in groups, with later versions are equipped to deal with your unique powers, and the other monsters that stalk the night can have equally powerful healing factors. Using all the abilities at your disposal, you’ll still struggle to overcome certain bosses and groups, unless you get a little help.
Off the back, Vampyr states that it is a difficult game. Enemy levels always seem a touch higher than your own, meaning you’ve got to be cautious with each encounter and utilise your newfound abilities to deal with them. Experience points allow you to level these up, gain more health and follow the usual RPG progression, but it’s a slow process.
You can, however, drain any of the characters you encounter – quest givers, shopkeepers, even mission-critical ones – and their blood gives you a significant experience boost. The richer the blood, based on their social standing, importance in the district and other factors which you can effect with medicine and information found on them through conversations, the more experience you get. Drain a few of them and you’ll be able to power level Reid and find Vampyr a lot easier but at the cost of potentially plunging a district into fear and chaos.
It is possible to complete Vampyr without giving in to your darkness addiction, but you will feel the challenge as a result of your mortal ethics. I played as both sides of the coin and it is obvious. While my better nourished doctor had some many different abilities to play with, toying with most enemies before killing them. My good doctor, on the other hand, had to focus on upgrading a select few abilities to take on the bigger enemies.
If I have one complaint it’s probably that there’s no fast travel, which in turn makes for quite a repetitive element to Vampyr as you go from one district to another, heading back and forth, trying to uncover the reason Dr Reid became a Vampire in the first place. This can be quite mundane sometimes as it often feels like you are on one fetch quest after another, with fights against random enemies on the way to your destination often feeling like deja vu.
Vampyr isn’t without flaws, but I had a lot of fun with it. While the dialogue system feels like an unexpected misstep, the combat, setting and story all make up for that stumble. Stalking through London and inciting fear into the hearts of the overconfident hunters felt fantastic. The spooky setting is filled with short but juicy stories worth finding, places worth exploring and detail worth appreciating. With a more interesting dialogue system, it would have been marvelous. As it stands, overlooking the occasional visual bugs and graphical lapses, Vampyr is still great fun, but like all undead, you’ll have to take the negatives with the positives.
Vampyr might not be what many wanted after Life Is Strange, but it’s still an enjoyable – well, as enjoyable as its grim nature allows – game nonetheless. It follows the modern action RPG template almost to a fault, but the agency the player has in shaping the districts by disease control and straight up murder is a lot more interesting than some of the moments in other games within the genre, where they present you a binary choice that pushes the plot forward. It’s a decent idea holding up an otherwise solid game, but overall Vampyr is worth a look if you’re looking for something to plug the gap in your life in this Summer.
Vampyr is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Vampyr reviewed on PS4.