Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Genre: Action Role-Playing
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Available On: Xbox One, Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows
Would you be willing to pull the trigger on someone in order to save your city? What about just yourself? What if you had the benefit of knowing that they were an absolute menace to society, or were irredeemably despondent? And assuming you were willing take their life, would you have any right to make that decision?
These questions and more are explored in Vampyr, an action role-playing game which revisits the themes and tone of the old penny-dreadfuls and gothic horror. The game uses its unique citizen system to tell a dark story about the nature of power. You play as the esteemed Dr. Jonathan Reid, a WWI veteran and newborn vampire, and the characters you meet in the now plague-ridden London factor into the city’s overall well-being. As a doctor, it’s Reid’s job to take care of these people, but as vampire these citizens hold the key to his evolution. Will he prey upon them, giving himself greater power to confront the evils within the city, or will he struggle along, healing and helping them to leave the city battered but whole?
Managing this upper level mechanic was key to not just the story, as a citizen’s death would affect the available quests and the other citizens in their social circle, but also to the main gameplay loop as the city’s overall health status can drop to dangerous levels. If this happens, violent beasts would begin roaming the streets in even greater numbers, even violating the so-called safe areas, making traversing the city even more a challenge. This is actually fairly significant in the game, as there is no fast-travel mechanic (a staple in many open-world games). At first, this decision seemed to be an asinine attempt to make the game more difficult, but upon reflection seems to have been an intentional design choice that forces the player to care about the health of the city.
On a more granular level, the gameplay consisted of third person combat which relies learning the enemies’ patterns, finding their weaknesses, and lots of dodging. Reid’s physical abilities rely on a stamina bar, while his various spooky vampire abilities run off of, you guessed it, blood which the player has to carefully manage. This is a pretty tried and true combat system, harkening to Dark Souls and other such games, however, it’s implemented a bit clunkily. Instead of always being rewarded for learning these patterns, your dodges will often be met with the enemies “sliding” towards you and landing the attack anyway.
Additionally, the vampiric powers don’t seem terribly effective, at least not when compared to just beating the blaggards with a large stick. This actually works against the narrative, bringing into question why you ate that nice young chap in Whitechapel if these attacks aren’t going to pay off as much tacking that bit of metal plating you picked up at a street vendor to your nightstick.