This review contains spoilers for the game, so please read ahead with caution.
If there’s one Halloween-related thing that I love (besides the candy), it’s vampires.
Vampires in fiction have always fascinated me — even if these days, portrayals from Twilight tend to overshadow the dark, seductive nature that vampires have always held for me. Read: the glorious, unforgiving personality of Alucard in Hellsing.
Needless to say, when Vampyr was first announced, I was ecstatic. Reading up on its premise only made me more excited: players would step into the shoes of Jonathan E. Reid, a doctor who returns from the trenches of war in the year of 1917, only to be turned into a vampire.
The premise promised on many things – Jonathan’s struggles in maintaining his reputation as a doctor, who also needed to sate himself on humans in order to survive as a vampire; actual repercussions of choosing either path, and actually being able to choose which victims to feed on.
It was like a dream come true. Here it was: a vampire game that sounded like it had come straight from my head.
The moment pre-orders were announced, I rushed straight to Steam to make my purchase. I made plans to stream my play through of the game. I was just that excited.
Fast forward to now, as I write this review… and well. Maybe not all dreams are meant to be fulfilled.
Vampyr is by no means a bad game, but it could have been a better one.
Gameplay feels as though the developers were trying a whole bunch of different things; but not quite able to settle on what they truly wanted. The combat system gave a lot of Dark Souls-esque vibes, except that the controls were a lot clunkier. There have been more than a couple of instances where I end up dying to an enemy because I got stuck and the controls did not allow me to get myself out in time.
The enemies themselves are fine. Although after a while they get a little stale, as there’s not much variety. What I did like however is that the enemies can actually go up against one another if they are in opposing factions. It’s a small touch. But its one that integrates the state of the NPCs and how they interact with the world and each other. That’s something I can always appreciate.
Still, the most fun part about the combat system were definitely the abilities that you get to use as Jonathan.
As Jonathan levels up, players can choose the active and passive skills that he can either obtain and/or upgrade. With a reasonable selection to choose from, players can form a style of their own that suits to their taste.
There are, of course, limitations since the pool is not large. But what there is, is good enough for players to feel like they have options.
And speaking of leveling up—
Vampyr’s method of leveling up leads you to make some interesting choices.
In the game you only gain experience via one of two ways: by killing enemies; or by feeding off from unsuspecting victims, which in turn will kill them.
It’s established very early in the game that drinking blood is by far the better option for players, should they wish to level up quickly. This is where things get interesting.
Unlike other games, all of the NPCs in Vampyr are presented as actual living, breathing people.
They’re more than just random faces in some computer-generated crowd. Each NPC has their own stories and struggles for Jonathan to discover. And more than that, they’re also people who—surprise!—actually have relationships and connections between each other.
If players think they can just randomly go up to an NPC willy nilly and murder them for that boost in experience; they’re going to have another thing coming.
In a city where everybody knows one another, it makes sense that when somebody suddenly disappears or is found dead, others are going to react. Vampyr makes a reasonable attempt of making that happen. Every NPC has their own circle of friends, families and acquaintances. When that NPC dies at the hands of Jonathan, that circle of people react in various ways; depending on their relationship with the dead NPC.
It’s interesting that some NPC deaths can even be a positive thing. There’s one instance, where a mother attempting to make up for the death of her psychopathic son adopts an orphan.
This aspect of the game opens up how players can make some potentially interesting choices. Will the player decide to end the life of a deluded mother who has been emotionally manipulating her child in order to help the child? Or will they simply go and drink the blood of one of their colleagues who has committed malpractice? Or will the player elect to go down the difficult path of not drinking anybody’s blood at all.
It’s all in the player’s hands. And these mechanics definitely bring an interesting angle to the genre.
As interesting as the mechanics can be, this is still a narrative-driven game. And the narrative definitely has more than a few issues.
The beginning is incredibly compelling. Jonathan wakes up, finds himself suddenly a vampire; and the first victim he bites turns out to be his sister. After that, he finds himself thrown into a world where that he does not know how he got into in the first place. The questions that plague Jonathan throughout his journey serves as the driving force for players to keep on going. In order to unravel the mystery, you just have to move forward.
The mystery continues to build, giving players just enough breadcrumbs to pick up and want more. There are answers, but both Jonathan and player also gain new questions in the process. It feels enough like these questions promise a satisfying pay-off at the end. Spoilers: it doesn’t.
The ending of Vampyr makes the whole journey feel moot.
After all the mystery and suspense that the game builds through roughly 30 hours of playtime, all you get at the end of it is a boss fight that comes like A Space Flea Out Of Nowhere. There’s an exposition dump that attempts to cram in everything in the worst way possible; and one of four endings that depends on how many people you’ve decided to drink from.
The multiple endings, in particular, fell really flat for me. Because it only concerned itself with the fate of Jonathan’s love interest and nothing else. There’s a huge disconnect from the your actions to the actual plot of the story – and this did not sit well with me. It definitely feels more than a little lackluster, and just screams ‘rushed’ all over.
Ultimately, Vampyr had good ideas, but falls short on the delivery.
The concepts and ideas that Vampyr tries to put out—while ambitious and engaging—simply fall just off the mark of really being able to flesh out the truly interesting aspects of the genre that it attempts to be.
It seems to suffer the same fate as the studio’s flagship game—Life is Strange. Just like with Life, the plot and gameplay is incredibly compelling, but overall, the game ends up being bogged down by a weak ending.
Vampyr could have been a good game, and there are elements of that within. The soundtrack, in particular, is a highlight of the game, doing well to capture the atmosphere and the feeling that the game attempts to invoke. Unfortunately, as a complete product this game did not deliver as well as I would have hoped.
Still, it is a game that can be fun if you are just looking for a good time. And if you’re as into vampires in fiction as I am, and have the cash to spare, feel free to pick up this game during a sale. Just don’t expect anything grand or amazing from it.
Check out Vampyr’s official site over here!