Vampyr – Dull and defanged – Review

Gare – Tuesday, June 19, 2018 2:32 PM
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Well, I feel drained. Not of blood, of course – my condition isn’t that severe – but I do feel a little exhausted after finishing Life is Strange developer Dontnod Entertainment’s latest story-driven tale, Vampyr. Which is a game, if the title didn’t quite give it away, about vampires. Vampyrs, even. It stars a talented doctor by the name of Jonathan Reid who, following his service in World War I, returns to London in 1918… only to get turned into a vampire shortly after arriving. Life has indeed become quite strange for him, you could say.

One of Vampyr’s chief selling points is the moral dilemma it presents: having become a vampiric physician, Jonathan must balance his need to feed and kill with his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. Naturally, this would lead to all sorts of difficult decisions for the player: do we give in and embrace the blood-hungry beast or choose instead to resist that basic urge in order to retain our humanity?

The London nightlife

Vampyr’s representation of the above moral dilemma is done decently enough – in fact, it’s one of the more positive aspects of the title. It works like this: in order to become stronger, you need to spend experience points to level up, purchase upgrades (new vampire powers, more HP, etc.) and so on. Getting experience points by simply defeating regular grunts is a tediously slow process, and while the game does reward you for progressing the main storyline, it probably won’t be enough to comfortably defeat enemies that get progressively stronger as the plot advances, to a point where you’ll eventually run into foes a good ten levels above you. This is the game’s way of tempting the player, as biting an innocent civilian will grant you a massive XP boost, but said civilian will also be permanently dead, so whatever they might have brought to the adventure (a side quest, some dialogue, or shopping services) is gone for good. Not to mention that killing an NPC like this also makes the epidemic ravaging London spread even faster – and once it reaches a critical point, the district becomes FUBAR’d, with monsters freely roaming the streets. And you probably don’t want that. Oh, and the interesting part is that getting to know an NPC better will increase their XP payout, should you choose to chomp on them, making the decision even more difficult. What’s more, a good chunk of Vampyr’s citizens are either friends, family, or people with loved ones – fathers, sisters, sons, and so on. Are you desperate enough for an XP boost to deprive a boy of his father? Or a wife of her husband? These are the questions Vampyr indirectly asks, and it did make me stay my hand – or rather, fangs – on several occasions.

The game, by the way, uses an autosave system that records everything you do with no option of taking back your choices, so you really do need to think twice before ruining someone’s life with an extravagant feeding session. And provided you don’t rush through the storyline and instead take the time to talk to every single NPC, you’ll spend a whole lot of time chatting with them. And by “a whole lot”, I mean you’ll probably spend at least half of Vampyr’s entire campaign just conversing with friends and strangers alike, which, understandably, makes for an extremely slow-paced game for anyone that aims to do a completionist run or has a hard time looking the other way when a potential side quest is dangled in front of them.

Another aspect of Vampyr I feel is worthy of note is its level design. Dontnod created a London that’s an absolute joy to explore, with dark, twisting alleyways, interconnected streets, and and a whole array of moody areas to scour for goodies and side quests. Visually speaking, I felt it was one of the more atmospheric games I’d played in a while – in fact, plenty of its environments reminded me of the 2014 Thief reboot with a splash of Dishonored thrown in there for good measure.

Un-life is strange

VampyrPlatform: PC, PS4, XBox OneGenre: Action, RPGDeveloper: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveRelease: 06/05/2018Rated: 18+PEGISo that about sums up the things I either liked or felt were done decently enough in Vampyr. The game, unfortunately, is significantly less successful at pulling off a variety of other, far more important things – like telling a compelling story. Indeed, while Vampyr is a game bleeding from several wounds, by far the nastiest one has to do with its plot. Or lack thereof. Playing Vampyr is like waiting in front of a candy store, hoping it would eventually open and unleash its tasty treats upon the world, only to find out that it was actually a dentist’s office all along and the sole treats it’s going to be handing out are made of pain and bitter disappointment. I kept telling myself that if I soldiered on, something interesting would soon happen; that the next chapter would surely deliver the dark, deep intrigue, the twists, the meaningful character-development and everything else I might have wanted from a vampire game set in 1918 London during a mysterious epidemic outbreak. But it never did.

Characters show up and serve no other purpose than to force the player to make an end-of-chapter moral choice. Potentially intriguing bosses dance into the frame, only to be taken out by Jonathan not long after their first appearance. One particular character even held the potential to give the plot a very interesting turn but ended up being used in the most painfully disappointing way imaginable and was then promptly discarded.
There’s even a forced, completely out-of-nowhere romance between the main character and a certain lady that’s about as expected as the Spanish Inquisition and less fleshed-out than a painting consisting of a single brush stroke.

Things sort of just happen and characters sort of just show up, but none of them come together to form a unified, consistent, or entertaining whole. The final stretch of the storyline reeks of tired clichés, while the unnecessary epilogue achieves little more than force another dose of tedious, exhausting dialogue down your throat, only to end as unsatisfyingly as it began. Vampyr was the kind of game where I heaved a genuine sigh of relief the moment I saw the end credits pop up. It’s boring. It’s forgettable. It’s everything you don’t want a story about vampires to be.

The actual content of the storyline is hardly Vampyr’s only problem, though. The way it’s presented isn’t any better, either – the script is littered with an embarrassing amount of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors, the writing itself is a little dodgy at times – especially in the case of miscellaneous letters and collectibles – and the voice acting, particularly for the main character, feels rather overdone in places, as if his lines were read without much knowledge about their intended tone or context. Dialogue options are often poorly or confusingly worded and make Jonathan sound like a colossal dunce instead of a supposedly brilliant surgeon. The entire thing feels unpolished and undercooked, making me suspect that the game might have been rushed out the door before it was finished.

The combat system is adequately functional, I’ll give it that. It offers a bit of variety in the form of different weapon types and a few vampire powers, but once I’ve found the one strategy that worked exceptionally well (that is, upgrading a powerful two-handed weapon and abusing mid-battle feeding), I basically used it throughout the entire game and never looked back. Oh, and despite playing as a vampire, a dweller of the shadows, the game doesn’t give you too many compelling reasons to really bother with stealth. You can occasionally teleport up to balconies to get around a group of enemies, but in most cases, it’s easier to just rush into the thick of things with guns blazing.

Killing regular enemies comes with zero moral consequences, by the way, which is both a relief and a somewhat peculiar state of affairs considering how much of an emphasis the game places on the act of taking a life. While not particularly bad, the combat nonetheless becomes a bit of a chore later on, especially if you insist on completing every side quest, as doing so will require a decent bit of trekking back and forth between locations and continuously encountering groups of freshly-respawned foes. The worst part, though? There’s no fast travel option in Vampyr whatsoever – why the developers didn’t allow you to instantly travel between already unlocked safe houses, for example, is more than a little baffling.

In conclusion

Vampyr is a game that had a decently interesting premise and a wonderfully atmospheric world, but then went on to completely squander any potential it may have had by using said world to tell an astonishingly weak story. The game’s plot points are just as forgettable as its cast of characters, and while exploring London’s lovely streets and completing a few side quests can serve as a temporary band-aid for boredom, they never manage to make up for Vampyr’s crushingly dull narrative and clumsy attempts at creating a romance between the main leads. Despite my initial optimism and an enjoyable first few hours, by the time the credits began to roll, I felt thoroughly exhausted – drained of energy by this vampire of a game.

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