Twas the week of Death Stranding and the gameplan was to have everything finished so I could focus solely on that. Instead, I reviewed probably more games last week than ever, which meant less time to finish this review for Vampyr, by Dontnod Entertainment.
I’ve been a fan of vampires since ‘the incident’, The Lost Boys and the fact that I’m a bit of a sun dodger. When I caught a glimpse of Vampyr (it wasn’t a reflection) I had every intention of getting it. As we all know, you can’t game unless you have a backlog, so it was put on the backburner despite it being 15 notes in the local toy shop. Bargain.
I have PS Now, and one of the main reasons for sticking with it is because Vampyr is available to download. This was around the same time as it was released on the Switch, so saved me some dosh and played it on the PS4. Sure, the latter would have been a good option, but for this type of game, I expected the graphics to be a little more intense and didn’t want to risk it on the Switch.
Alright, Guv’nor? Come Ta See London?
He’s returned to London to reconnect with his family after being involved in the Great War. When we join him, he’s awoken in a mass grave, and for some reason, only he is alive. In the opening scene, Jonathan fatally bites his sister Mary in a sense of confusion. From then on, he struggles with his fate – abstaining from becoming a vampire or embracing it. Jonathan can either fight the urge to hunt the humans or drink their blood in ominous alley.
The alleys in Vampyr are very dark. Set in the early 1900s, the areas covered are based on real locations. West End, Whitechapel, the East End Docks and your base, Pembroke Hospital. With each district comes new NPCs who all have their own accounts to discover.
Jonathan doubles up as a bit of a sleuth. He questions those he encounters, leading to further character developments. These play an important role, not only in the story but with your own progression. The more you uncover about the character, the higher their XP. If you’re tempted to feast on them, you gain their XP to use and develop your own skills. More on that later.
Vampyr doubles up a character-driven story on one side of the scales, a full-on third-person bloodfest on the other. It’s not that they’re two entirely different games, but the pace certainly does change. I opted not to kill any of the NPCs to absorb their XP and feel this may have been a mistake.
XP can only be obtained through solving investigations and side quests, but they’re minimal. Jonathan uses a skill called mesmerise, which does the old Bela Lugosi and have your prey follow you somewhere quiet to feast on them. I just couldn’t do it though. Once the character is dead, that’s it.
Sure you can max out Jonathan but are you siding with his vampire self or helping people as a doctor? Decisions, decisions.
Taking A Slash
As a vampire, Jonathan can only go out at night, but as a result, he gets a variety of perks. Like most third-person games these days, he has a health meter, a stamina meter, but also a new one (like Bloodborne), a blood meter. Fill this up, and he can do anything from reheal himself to fire big bastard blood spears at NPCs.
Even the most basic ability is to be able to dodge at lightning speed and in a cloud of dark smoke. But to get your stats up, you essentially need to feast. By the time you’re facing up against bosses, it’s most likely too late. Combat can feel very one-sided – just because you took the ‘pure’ path. The only option is to upgrade your weapons.
Much like Bloodborne again, you can have a one-handed weapon in your main hand and a pistol or shotgun in the off-hand, though unlike Bloodborne, they use real bullets and not blood. My own preference is to use a one-handed weapon and a stun weapon with a stake in the off-hand. This method knocks down enemies, allowing you to bite them and drain some blood.
Depending on your stats, this method can take off a good deal of their health in the process. For me, this was a lot of fun as I would tire out a poor vampire hunter to drain their blood then use a spear on the mates with the blood I’d accumulated. Defeating enemies in the field – mostly vampire hunters and scummy vampires called Skal, don’t award XP. They do drop parts that you can use to power up your weapons, or they have elements that can make medicine.
You can then add a perk such as increased damage or less stamina in use. As a doctor, Jonathan can also produce serums he can inject during a battle to replenish blood, stamina or health. Alternatively, he can make medicines to cure an NPC. There are two benefits to this (if you aren’t including the feel-good factor of helping these low-lives in the first place).
The first is increases their blood quality. If you decide to go the dark route and maul these ‘innocents’, you will get more XP to develop your skills. Alternatively, the second benefit means that if you keep their health levels up, it makes your stomping grounds easier to traverse. Should a large number of NPCs get sick in a district, then it becomes a hostile place and enemies are harder to kill and more frequent.
The Blood, Sweat & Tears
The dialogue sections are similar to a point and click. A couple of paths you can take, but rarely do they alter the gameplay so much, instead, they open up hints and new dialogue with third parties. There was one occasion where I cocked up, thinking it wasn’t possible.
One of the patients was talking about their appearance and being the nice guy that I am, I complimented him. It didn’t sit well and as a result, stopped me from going back to correct it and unlock a new hint. Instead, there was a big red X over the proposed hint. Bollocks. Still, I’m pleased that actions have consequences – even if it meant I couldn’t unlock all of his hints.
Half of the time in Vampyr, I was cross-examing characters throughout the London districts. This alone was very engaging and in some respects, could have been a good standalone game. With the combat, I didn’t mind this either, but my biggest issue was the lack of progression I could make due to not killing anyone. Yes, it was my choice, but the game was almost forcing you down one route, which I didn’t like. Vampyr is a decent sized sandbox (ish) to play in, but a lot of the time it’s a fetch quest – hunting for scraps to boost your skills.
I do like a good period game (blood joke), and Vampyr’s setting couldn’t have been better. This is my site, so I can be as greedy as I like so on that basis, I would have liked to have seen the city a bit more occupied much like Assassin’s Creed. It would have made it harder to pull off a kill amongst a crowd, but Vampyr opts for a time where there wouldn’t have been anyone on the street.
Aside from the odd lady of the night – of which you encounter though no GTA action in this game. Otherwise, you’d be looking at Vampyr 2: Syphallis Spreads. In reality, the horror lies within Jonathan’s path, and he seems sincere with his remorse, but terribly conflicted.
Disclaimer: dodging the sun comes second nature to me, but my love of garlic deters me from vampire activities. Plus all that biting malarky. That’s just bent. My first taste of vampires (ha!) was notably the classic, The Lost Boys. It’s a classic, that’s it. Anyway, fictional vampires have always been cool since then. Even the ill-fated Queen of the Damned. It had a great soundtrack, mind.
If you aspire to be a vampire, you probably haven’t thought of the consequences and need to experience life a bit. Maybe you’ve just mingled with the wrong sort of people. For the rest of us with a conscience, Jonathan best represents us. Do we go with the primal instinct and have another biscuit, or do we resist the urge for another bite and let them live. Play Vampyr and make your choice, bitch. Sorry.