Mixing elements of Remember Me and Life is Strange; Vampyr takes the strengths of Dontnod’s previous titles and successfully blends the two into a mighty offering.
What if you awoke to find that you had become a blood-sucking creature? That’s exactly the premise behind Vampyr and in the opening scenes, the game establishes the main character, Doctor Jonathan Reid, and sets a vague back-story. So begins a quest to save London from an epidemic, and more importantly, find out how Jonathan has become a Vampire.
To do this you must guide Jonathan through many varied conversations with the inhabitants of London, spread across four districts. Despite being a vampire most people are only too happy to chat and only by talking with all of the NPCs will you unravel the many mysterious stories that each of them hide. Talking not only reveals hidden secrets about the world, but side quests can also be uncovered, which potentially means more XP can be gained, which is the cleanest way to unlock your vampiric powers.
Should you decide to fully embrace the life of a vampire, revealing all hidden information about each character before you ‘embrace’ them (read bite them in the neck) will reward the maximum amount of XP for their demise. A mesmerize mechanic means you need to be at least the same level as an NPC you wish to bite, meaning you can’t wipe out someone integral to the storyline.
If you can’t resist the urge to bite someone or need a swift boost in XP then you will not only risk losing quests, but whole social circles can collapse and eventually the district these people reside in will fall to chaos. Instead of the streets being lined with vampire hunters, they fill with all manner of evil creatures – werewolves included.
It’s a wonderful system that keeps you constantly considering whether the risk is worth the reward. This is further exasperated by an XP system that is only deposited when you sleep in a safehouse, only then can you spend XP in skill trees. It’s during this moment that time moves and each district’s health changes depending on your previous actions. It’s a really neat mechanic that will make you ponder the best moment to use your banked XP – sleeping while a district is close to turmoil, a citizen is in danger or neglect to craft some medicine to heal a district’s inhabitants, and it will fall into chaos far quicker.
Districts can also fall through your own negligence. What may seem like an insignificant character can often turn out to be someone of great importance. Then there are characters that are pillars in each community – let these people fall and the whole area can be wiped out in a single night. It’s an incredible feat that DONTNOD have expertly crafted using all their experience from developing Life is Strange – but if you don’t like to talk then you may find Vampyr quite the bore.
Despite its many accomplishments with the narrative, the game’s biggest and must surprisingly downfall is the combat. I loved the combat of Remember Me, so I am a little bemused at how DONTNOD have got it so wrong with Vampyr.
In the early hours of the game the combat is brutal. One hit kills are unfair and you get ganked by groups of thugs. Invest some XP in one or two skills and craft your weapons up a few levels and soon you will have no problem with the combat. This does mean that boredom can set in pretty quickly. Each combat scenario is essentially a rinse and repeat of the last – not even boss battles can provide enough respite.
Eventually, facing the same enemy types over and over becomes a drag and towards the end of the game defeated enemies yield little XP, meaning I opted to just run through the streets of the London rather than battling through them.
The combat isn’t a complete loss. Despite a lack of finesse there is a neat system of health, stamina and blood. Health is the obvious trait to explain, as is stamina, which governs whether you can attack or dodge. Blood restricts your use of vampiric powers and only by using certain weapons or syringe buffs can you restore your blood quickly.
Another way to replenish blood is to bite an enemy by first stunning them by either sneaking up on them or by knocking their stamina down. Each enemy is also resistant to certain attacks so there is a rather edgy side to combat, but one that is ultimately lost when you reach higher XP levels. The early considerations that make the combat so damn tough are quickly left by the wayside once you invest in some skills and craft better weapons. Soon you can cut through each fight by simply bashing the attack buttons while occasionally dodging and launching the odd vampiric attack.
Vampyr creates a wonderfully neat spiderweb against a stark environment so it’s a shame the combat wasn’t more polished. If you enjoy the conversational side of games – learning about people and solving tangled mysteries – then Vampyr will be an utter joy to experience. Tracking down people and piecing together their lives became a strange addiction and before deciding to bite down on a neck, I always strived to find out all I could about them. Ultimately though, your enjoyment of Vampyr will largely be governed by how much you’ve enjoyed DONTNOD’s previous work.