Vampyr is an interesting concept. A Vampire who works in a hospital and must choose between keeping his patients healthy keeping with his oath as a Dr or healing them up to be his next meal! It’s a concept that could have been amazing but unfortunately, due to some combat and difficulty issues, is never quite realised.
Vampyr takes place in the murky streets of London during the First World War, while the city is in the clutches of the Spanish flu epidemic. Players take control of Jonathan Reid, a top doctor who has found his way to the bottom of the Thames after apparently being murdered. As he emerges from the river and staggers through the gloomy docks, he gives in to his overwhelming hunger and feeds on the first person he sees. As his memory returns, it is apparent that his first meal was someone close to him and so begins a tale of murder or redemption, depending on the choices made by the player. Fast forward a few days and our brooding doctor has some fresh clothes on and a job in a hospital filled with a host of unique characters, each with their own stories and problems that Jonathan can help with….for a price.
The core gameplay of Vampyr is that of an action RPG but the interesting twist is that the quickest way to earn experience is to eat the citizens of London! The game is open world and is split into 4 sections, each with around 15 or so NPC characters. Each character has a blood bar which shows how much experience Dr Reid will gain from consuming them. As Jonathan talks to characters, he will earn hints about other characters and those they have relationships with which will make the amount of experience available for consuming them grow. Characters will also get sick from time to time which will decrease their experience unless the Dr creates and administers a cure. This is an interesting mechanic as the player must choose the opportune time to feed on a character to get the most XP, but this may result in a quest being lost as once a character dies, they are gone for good. This is a very interesting idea and opens a morally grey area for the player to deal with as the NPC’s are well-rounded with interesting back stories. Do you allow Dr Reid to give in to his base nature and feed or do you follow the Hippocratic Oath and protect the citizens of London. The reason that this doesn’t work particularly well however, is that XP can be earned from solving investigations and killing enemies and as the combat is pretty easy throughout, killing civilians is never really necessary. If the game allowed XP to solely be earned by killing patients, the game would be gut wrenching, choosing who to kill would be an awful choice to make and would add a level of depth that would have been rarely seen in other games; Do you kill for the most XP or kill someone you feel more guilty about but that have exhausted their usefulness? Unfortunately, I was able to get through the whole game by completing investigations and killing bad guys without killing a single civilian. There is even a Trophy/Achievement for doing so which unfortunately, makes the whole tough decision aspect of the game a little moot.
Some of the most fun I had with Vampyr was nurturing relationships with characters and discovering their stories by building a picture from several different characters. Sometimes hints are given from other NPC’s, sometimes from finding literature around the map and sometimes by eavesdropping on characters private interactions. This to me, coupled with some interesting side quests made the game rise above what could have become another mundane action game. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is ruined slightly by some terrible dialogue and odd character movements/animations. Each character I spoke to seemed to stagger and wobble on the spot like jelly on a stick for no apparent reason. I get that the developers were aiming for natural movements rather than the characters standing deadly still, but it’s hard to take a character seriously when they’re talking about a gruesome murder while doing the equivalent of an Irish jig! There were also a few holes in the dialogue that felt a bit unforgivable, one such instance was an interaction with a character in which I did not utter my name and he apparently didn’t know me, only for him to know who I was in the next conversation. If a game includes a complex tapestry of characters that weave a dialogue together, that web needs to be sound without glaring gaps.
The combat in Vampyr is unfortunately its weakest point by far and its ease and repetitiveness is what stops the game from becoming great as opposed to just OK. Jonathan is able to wield either a 2 handed weapon or 2 weapons at a time, one for damage and one to either serve as a ranged attack or to stun an enemy. The attacks are very simple; one button for the first weapon and another to stun/fire/parry depending on what is equipped. As well as weapons, Jonathan can bite his enemies to fill his blood gauge which allow him to use special vampiric attacks to do more damage. Unfortunately, this is as deep as the combat gets and the AI is pretty stupid at times, allowing for little challenge. Most enemies are standard grunts with blades or guns with the odd brute thrown in to mix it up. All have a very similar attack pattern which can be easily learned and usually mashing attack will kill most things. If enemies fight in a group, they tend to be polite and wait to attack one at a time and if Jonathan does take a few too many hits, he can regain health by biting himself. The power to regain health has a very fast cool down which further adds to the lack of challenge in battle. The only challenge I found in my pacifist play through were the bosses as I was slightly under levelled due to refusing to kill my patients, but after a few attempts and learning the patterns, these were completely manageable and anyone who has played the Dark Souls series or similar, will find it a breeze.
As for looks, Vampyr again falls into ‘OK’ territory rather than achieving greatness, which again is a huge shame. The developers put a lot of detail into London which shows. The whole city is full of detail and the multi-level areas do well at feeling dank and claustrophobic. The only issue with the city is that due to the whole game being set in London, everything looks the same, no matter what area you are in. As for the characters and overall aesthetic, it all looks a little dated and very much like it would be at home on the PS3. Nothing really stands out as beautiful and it all looks a bit muddy, with the character animations being especially unpleasant at times. The also game suffers from a myriad of technical issues which kind of ruin the immersion; scenery pops up from nowhere, textures disappear from walls and doors and the collision detection is awful at times, especially with breakable items like barrels.
Overall, Vampyr had some big ideas and if they were implemented better it could have been a truly great game. Unfortunately, sub-par graphics, technical issues and a glaring hole in the games main mechanic make it mediocre. The story is genuinely engaging but will not be enough to keep everyone interested and the dull combat means that traversing the city (due to no fast travel) can feel like a chore as enemies respawn frequently. Worth picking up at a discount but I feel very few people who start it will see it through to the end.
- Deep characters.
- Engaging story.
- A detailed account of London.
- Dull, repetitive combat.
- Mediocre graphics.
- Technical Issues.
- Core mechanic is a great idea but is rarely used.