A dark figure stalks a woman amid the misty streets of London. As she enters a back alley, he strikes, snapping her neck and draining her blood. It’s a moment repeated a thousand times over, but Vampyr asks two important questions: What led to this point, and how will this affect the vampire himself?
The story of Vampyr follows the First World War, with Doctor Jonathan Reid returning from the frontlines as a different man. As he has recently been turned into a vampire, Reid struggles to both uphold his Hippocratic Oath to cure an ongoing plague and satiate his thirst for blood.
Vampyr’s greatest strength stems from how it treats the character of Reid and the choices the player must make. As your powers are specifically bolstered by the blood of the innocent you cannot rely on drinking from sinners to gain strength, and every person you slay has their own social network of figures. Kill one person, and it will deeply affect the others, both on a grand and small scale. Sometimes what is best for you is not best for London, as what appears to be criminals at first are among the few keeping the city afloat in its time of need. To more effectively hunt your prey, you need to research them in detail, and yet what you find might put you off from actually ending them.
The game’s brilliance is that there is no inherent difficulty setting, and everything is decided purely by player choice. As the rewards for missions are so minuscule, the only way to truly grow in power is to drink blood, and yet you are given every reason to be repulsed by such an act. Whether or not you can stomach truly avoiding it is down to the player. It could have easily failed due to any number of ways, but the way in which the city is written to focus on how individuals create a larger society helps it to carry these ideas. This is all without mentioning that, killing off the wrong person or allowing a district to fall into chaos can immediately lock off any number of quests. It’s one of the few games beyond Witcher 3 where you are constantly being pulled toward one side or another, and there really is no easy answer.
While Vampyr is obviously constrained by some notable graphical limitations, most of these are hidden away behind the stylised depiction of London’s streets. However, the studio’s obviously limited budget, unfortunately, hinders the game in other ways. Chief among these is the combat system, which is both clunky and unintuitive. It follows the familiar Arkham Asylum inspired series of dodges, strikes and kicks, but it lacks that same elegance. At the best of times it’s flawed, and in the worst of moments its constantly getting you killed due to unintuitive feedback. It’s a definite sticking point, as the bulk of most missions follow you smacking in the heads of vampire thralls.
Yet what truly hampers it is the choice of dialogue and extremely hit-or-miss voice acting. While the narrative and character profiles have been expertly handled, far too many lines lack subtlety or read as if they are a High School student’s first stab at handling drama. Sometimes an actor is good enough to still make it work, but in other cases, poor deliveries can sink entire scenes. If you don’t believe this then please know that “What is glass but tortured sand?” is not only a line in this game but one delivered with total sincerity.
No one will deny that Vampyr deftly handles its subject matter with an attention to detail rarely seen even in AAA games. However, there is such a steep divide between these strengths and its failings, that it holds back the game from true greatness. While many fans will draw Vampire: The Masquerade comparisons, they really are two of a kind. Both deeply flawed but thoroughly engaging nevertheless. If you’re a fan of Gothic horror or wish for a vampire game which forces you to do more than regard humans as Happy Meals on legs, give this a look.
VAMPYR / DEVELOPER: DONTNOD ENTERTAINMENT / PUBLISHER: FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW