Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC
Rating: M for Mature
These days the video game mar-ket seems to be flooded with zombie games, it’s a craze that has even infiltrated non-horror series like the Call of Duty franchise. It seems like there is only enough room for one supernatural creature for players to sink their teeth into. However, developer Dontnod Entertainment says, “Not so fast,” aiming to prove there is plenty of undead awesomeness to go around with their latest release: Vampyr.
Between Two Wars
Vampyr is set in London during the 1918 influenza outbreak. The horrors of World War 1 are still ripe in the minds of the capital’s citizens, which makes the deaths from this Spanish flu even harder on England and its people. But the war waged against the flu is not the only one, as our protagonist Doctor Jonathan Reid discovers when he wakes up dead. Yes, you read that right. The good doctor was attacked by a mysterious assailant, leaving him an undead blood sucker, also known as a vampire. Reid must track down whoever turned him into this creature of the night while also coming to terms with his thirst for human blood. This is made even more complicated still when Reid soon lands a job at a local hospital overridden with patients. This creates an excellent juxtaposition between the doctor’s two most compulsory needs: that of taking lives and that of saving them, both of which are critical game mechanics.
The Vampire’s Kiss
This is an RPG title, meaning you won’t be able to run around London unleashing dark and horrible mystic powers on the city’s bad guys from the get-go. You will first need to level up by defeating lower level bad guys, talking to residents, and completing main and side quests. There is one more, even faster way to gain experience points and acquire magical powers sooner though, and it’s called embracing. Each citizen has their own moral compass, some are good guys, some are bad, some are more morally grey, but all have their own relationships and connections to other individuals in the game’s ecosystem. The more you talk with, heal, and aid through side quests, the more each person’s blood will improve. The better the blood, the more experience points you will gain from embracing (biting) them. But beware, once someone has been embraced they will be re-moved from the game world, so choose wisely. Furthermore, there are specific sections in the game that forces you to make big choices that will severely impact the game world. This truly puts you in the shoes of an undead doctor, when do you kill and when do you save?
The battle system is relatively simple, you can attack with a primary weapon or whittle down an enemy’s stamina bar with a secondary weapon. Once their stamina is depleted, you can bite your foe, which not only deals damage, it also refills your blood meter, allowing you to use your super moves. Once you have enough experience points, you will need to retreat to a safehouse where you must sleep. After picking an ability to upgrade, you will need to sleep until the next night. The process of time can lead to changes in the environment, for instance, if you kill too many of a district’s residents it can plunge that area into chaos.
A Dark, Gritty World
Vampyr’s version of 1918 London, is a murky, rain slicked world full of crooks and monsters around every corner. This gothic aesthetic works well in comparison to the narrative’s tone. There are rat infested alleyways, isolated docks, werewolves lurking in sewers, poets musing in graveyards, and much, much more. The environments are more detailed and pleasing to look at than the character models, which could have used a little extra spit shine. Nevertheless, the graphics are serviceable, albeit nothing mind blowing. The orchestral music that trails you through the streets sets the right mode yet can become irksome after time.
Vampyr does an excellent job of constructing a living, breathing, if not entirely fleshed out London. The power to kill anyone and at any given time, even if they are a quest giver, is exhilarating. The only let down is the somewhat clunky battling and unpolished character models. This is not a game for those who just want to fight as an overpowered sub-human, half of the fun has to be taken in getting to know the many Londoners. Some may struggle to become invested. However, once you are sucked in, you won’t want to leave.