Vampyr Review: Call Me Vampire
Kalvin Martinez / Jun 7th, 2018 No Comments
Choice and morality were all the rage in video games for a long time, but when the limits of both became readily apparent, it stopped being the hot trend. When done well, these two elements can add an extra dimension to a story and role-playing. Yet, too often choice is an illusion and morality is something to be shed when convenient. How do you make these things matter?
Vampyr has some answer to that question as it positions choice and morality in such a way where it is inextricably tied to the gameplay and story. The decisions you make feel important because the consequences don’t feel immediately obvious. It forces players to walk a hard line between what they would do in Dr. Reid’s position and what they want to do in regards to progression and mechanics. Vampyr succeeds largely because it makes you question the actions you take at every step.
Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One…
Dr. Jonathan Reid was a renowned surgeon specializing in blood transfusions. Then the war happened. He shipped out to France as an officer to fight the Central Powers. When he returned to London, it was in the midst of a horrible Spanish Flu epidemic. Soon, he would be left for dead.
But, death is only a frontier.
When he awoke disoriented in a mass grave left for plague victims, he discovered a deep hunger that turned him into an animal. When a familiar face found him it was not succor. Rather, the hunger forced him to feed upon this friendly soul.
As the hunger faded, he was dismayed at his actions. Before he could process what happened, he found himself on the other side of a hunt. Fleeing for his safety, he only thought of the evil he did. When he processed the act, only one option could be proper penance. So he cocked a gun he flinched off an assailant and shot himself square in the heart. Death is only a frontier. Now, as a vampire, it is one Dr. Reid may never know.
When Dr. Reid finally shakes off his attackers, he finds himself face to face with a bonafide vampire hunter. Luckily, this person is also a doctor and a fan of Reid’s blood transfusion work. Naturally, Dr. Swansea offers him a residency in the hospital he oversees — a night shift, of course.
With a base of operations and a cover, Jonathan Reid is ready to get answers to his questions: Who made him? How does he stop the epidemic? Where is his family? What is the vampire hierarchy of London? More importantly, however, can you cure vampirism?
Vampyr’s story is full of fascinating angles. The twists and turns the story takes as Reid tries to learn hard truths about the epidemic and his own affliction are exciting and sometimes legitimately shocking. At the crux of Jonathan’s character and how he deals with his new reality is the regret and despair he feels about embracing someone he loves. While this could be chalked up to a simple tragic backstory in a lot of stories, Vampyr makes deft use of this moment to play up an amazing chapter arc with an emotional and barn burner of a conclusion and boss fight.
The story does a good job of parsing out these tantalizing reveals or introducing new characters to expand the scope of Jonathan’s world. In giving you these moments at a good clip, it keeps you from ever feeling like the story is spinning its wheels.
Fireside Chats without the Fire
What Vampyr does most successfully is make you feel invested in conversations and, by extension, its characters. It accomplishes this in a few ways. One is adding an investigative aspect to speaking with the characters you meet and tying character development into the clues you uncover in the course of talking to them.
More effective through, conversations play a major part in the game’s morality and its progression mechanics. The more you learn about a specific citizen the better their blood quality becomes, increasing the experience you’ll gain if you choose to embrace them.
So not only are you getting a richer appreciation for the different boroughs, their citizens and how the interpersonal relationships shape them, but also you can get a quick experience boost to help you become stronger. It forces you to think much harder about whether you should or shouldn’t embrace a citizen, mimicking hard morality choices much more than most games thanks to the investment you feel as a result of the conversations with each citizen. Are you a vampire keen to feed on rats and gain strength by chance or are you giving into the thirst without a regard to the morality of murder?
Dialogue is an important part of finding out more about each character and thereby improving their blood quality. If you can’t wheedle or conjole information out of them through dialogue or by finding documents hidden around the world, then you can’t learn their full story. However, there is more at stake than simply the character’s backstory. You can lose out on clues by failing to choose the right dialogue option when talking with someone, making their blood quality incomplete. It reinforces how important the decisions you make are not only to the story, but to gameplay.
While all of this focuses on approaching the game’s morality and its characters, what happens if you decide to embrace a character? The answers are not always obvious. You can play a middle-road morality of doing mercy killings like focusing on two-bit thugs or fargone patients of Pembroke — people who you don’t think anyone would notice missing or care about. The consequences to these actions are seemingly minor: higher prices in shops, more people coming down with illnesses (which affect blood quality and require you to treat), but mostly the status quo seemingly maintains.
However, let’s say you embrace the hospital driver who is trying to leave the city with his nurse girlfriend. The consequences are much more apparent. Everything that happened before happens — higher prices and more illnesses — but this time his girlfriend goes missing. We can chalk it up to her finally deciding the time was good to get going now that she had nothing keeping her at Pembroke, but that isn’t quite the truth.
You won’t notice the actual ramifications of some of your decisions until much later in the game, say when you’re exploring Whitechapel and you come across that nurse as a Guard of Priwen intent on eradicating the leeches from London. Now she is extremely high level and powerful, and she has an axe to grind with you. Not only did you lose a potential source of blood, but you made a powerful enemy. This is what makes the game such a thrilling experience.
I get what you’re thinking: is this an adventure game where you only focus on talking to people and junk? It isn’t, but it has those aspects to it, which are engaging and easy to get lost in. Vampyr also has plenty of action for those looking to roam the streets taking on vampire hunters, skals and monsters. What makes the game such a fun time is how well the story, role-playing adventure and action aspects play together. It results in a game with a lot of levels.
Combat in Vampyr isn’t super polished. Rather it is messy, loose and often tough. To be successful in battle, you need to have a lot of situational awareness and an ability to balance evasion and aggression. Much of what fighting comes down to in Vampyr is waiting for the right moments to strike.
Reid, while combat trained thanks to his efforts in the war and being a vampire, isn’t a relentless killing machine. He starts out pretty weak with little stamina and not much vampiric prowess to speak. It isn’t until he gets a taste of blood that he gains some edge against enemies that are better trained and organized.
The progression system has a wealth of options to make you a more fearsome entity. You can upgrade your health, stamina and blood gauges to make you more hearty, last longer in battle, and be able to use vampiric powers more freely. Vampiric powers are where combat shines. When you unlock these powers and upgrade them, you can do some fun stuff in combat.
There are a lot of vampiric upgrade options, including healing power, increasing your ability to bite in a variety of ways and unlocking three different offensive powers. You could also open up new defensive capabilities like blood shield, create new ways to use traversal as a weapon like springing down onto enemies, and reach your full potential with ultimates.
Adding these moves into your combat sequence can make fights much more dynamic, but it makes you much more capable of dispatching enemies. There is nothing more satisfying than throwing some simple hatchet combos before finishing an enemy off with powerful swipes from your claws.
Even though the combat is tense in Vampyr, it can be avoided, but stealth options can be a bit hit or miss. It has the same issue Assassin’s Creed suffers from where stealth is hoping an enemy doesn’t hear or see you while standing in plain sight. More often than not, you’ll have to enter the fray. What’s cool about Vampyr is that you are more than capable of taking on an overpowered enemy and winning. You may die a few times, but if you can manage your stamina and blood gauges effectively, you can fell even the fiercest of opponents.
The most striking part of Vampyr’s gameplay is how reminiscent it is of Bloodborne and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, which is high praise. It evokes feelings of those games in many ways, including in its chaotic fighting, visceral melee combat, the use of powers to augment combat, and how choice and story play an important role in gameplay.
Vampyr is a highly ambitious game that mostly achieves its lofty goals. At times, its budget shows a bit in terms of character models, but the art direction, lighting and its darkly gothic vibes help. Where it doesn’t ever falter is in delivering visceral combat and compelling story. In both aspects it excels so much that it is worth the purchase price alone.
Vampyr was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.
tags: dontnod entertainment , ps4 , review , Vampyr , vampyr review
tags: dontnod entertainment , ps4 , review , Vampyr , vampyr review