Vampyr PC Review

Vampyr is a functional 30-hour diversion with occasional dashes of brilliance, but not much else.

By Woozie, Posted 04 Jun 2018

Vampyr sets up its main character’s drama brilliantly. A confused Jonathan Reid drained of strength shambles out from a pile of bodies, suddenly facing the reality of his situation: he has been turned into a vampire. Consumed by thirst, all that he sees around him is blood, prompting him to act upon his newfound craving. Unsure of how that came to be, he is thrust into a version of London beset by violence and the Spanish Flu. A favorable turn of events later and he finds himself with shelter and an ally at his side, ready to set out and make sense of things. But while its first few scenes are powerful, the title never manages to reach those heights again in its 30-or-so hours.

Jonathan Reid’s journey takes him through four districts that are home to people of different statures and backgrounds. Conversing with them will further Jonathan’s understanding of the situation while uncovering what makes each citizen different. If they’ve others in their social circle, they may unveil information about their close peers as well. They’re not immune to sickness, and healing them requires crafting proper cures from ingredients purchased off merchants or found throughout London. Sleeping  allows for distributing experience into various skills while also advancing time. This is when the situation in the districts changes, depending on who you’ve killed (or saved) and how many sick people you’ve healed. Sleeping also respawns enemies, often in the same configuration and same spots, which makes walking through the city less desirable the more it’s done.

Vampyr, Image, News

There are a few enemy types in Vampyr, with slight variations appearing as you level up. The vampire hunters of the Prywen Guard start off with simple crossbows, and then employ flame or gas; brawlers use their shotguns to finish off melee combos, while Chaplains shine holy crucifixes that stun unholy creatures. The supernatural spectrum hasn’t been overlooked either with Skals – crazed lower vampires – teleporting around and slashing at you, only to later explode when they die, while other vampires similar to Jonathan Reid make use of the same powers as him. Some attacks deal aggravated damage, lowering your maximum amount of health until you feed, heal using blood or rest. Fights can be tough, especially early on, until you get a hang of their strike-dodge-strike rhythm and get used to how enemies tend to lunge a bit more than expected. They require planned movement, use of barriers and careful stamina management, but the relatively small number of foes, alongside an AI that ends up relying on level difference rather than its limited skillset for challenge later on, makes fights become predictable quite quickly. The fact that each enemy has randomized resistances to different attack types doesn’t do a lot to help their case, and in some situations they can be cheesed when fought near invisible barriers over which they’re scripted not to pass.

Jonathan Reid’s powers are complements to good old pointy stakes, swords or pistols. One handed weapons can be dual wielded; two handers consume more stamina and attack less frequently but pack a wallop, while firearms can provide a solution from range within their ammo limit. Aside from health and stamina, there’s also blood to manage. The latter is basically mana, powering abilities, and can be drawn from elixirs, rats or enemies. It can also be tracked using your vampire senses which highlight its red hue in the environment. In order to make opponents vulnerable to biting, you’ll have to deal stun damage. This is tracked on a separate bar than health and weapons like stakes specialize in it. A light crafting system allows for upgrading weapons and slightly altering their effects, but this side of it ultimately feels tacked on. Some fights do require strategizing, but mostly in terms of which enemy you keep alive to fill your blood bar. Once you obtain a handful of powers, tackling enemies of a higher level is possible and quite easily doable as their set of attacks becomes easy to predict. Aside from passive increases to health, stamina and blood, experience can be invested in things like a barrier that blocks strikes, healing yourself with blood or a blood spear that can be thrown from a distance. Active skills branch into two different paths which have slightly different effects. Cooldown-based ultimate abilities top everything off. I was a fan of one which allowed me to slow down time, turn into a red mist and tear foes surrounding me to shreds.

Vampyr, Screenshot, PC, Review

Aside from its protagonist and a handful of rooms and scenes, there aren’t many things in Vampyr that impress visually. Its shortcomings are most evident when you engage in conversation. If the camera placed behind the protagonist for the most part can be overlooked, the bad lip syncing and incredibly stiff, at times awkward, facial animations cannot. It’s difficult to believe someone’s heartfelt regrets when their face looks like a mixture of a robot attempting to seductively bite its nonexistent lip and Meshuggah’s Jens Kidman in one of his more intense moments. Then there’s the out of place gesticulating and movement as if characters are trapped in an invisible reclining chair of sorts, which strangely enough doesn’t make them look more alive. No matter how successful the voice acting is at conveying emotion, all those efforts are absolutely destroyed by the way characters present themselves in conversation, which not only makes taking them seriously difficult, but also breaks immersion.

Discussions can naturally uncover local investigations which may have distinct (and thin) narrative threads but play out like fetch quests and rescues involving one, usually trivial, fight. For a supposedly invaluable asset known for his work with blood transfusion, Dr. Reid sure has a lot of watches, letters and wallets to collect and return. The “investigation” title is also misused, to an extent, as there’s nothing to investigate, given the game’s narrow streets and clumped areas, and how it always points out where you need to go. These quests struggle to be more than busywork, as the rewards aren’t really notable. They only sometimes provide more info on the characters in question, and even then, that information largely comes into play if you intend on killing them, given how knowing more about one character rewards more experience when you do so.

Vampyr, PC, Screenshot, Review

Portions of London are obscured by fog and rain; rubble and bodies litter the streets, all in an attempt to create a dreary atmosphere to complement the setting of a city beset by the Spanish flu and a plague of vampires. While undoubtedly claustrophobic, the aesthetic choice fails to impress in any way, as everything blends into the background, passing as unremarkable. While the main quest does come with a few ominous moments, the locations themselves play little part in that.  Once you’ve seen one destroyed interior, the rest feel the same, even if they look somewhat different. Vampyr’s districts, whether belonging to rich or poor simply fail to leave a lasting impression.

Talking to the secondary characters only seems to serve in making them tastier treats for Dr. Reid. Discovering hints and confronting them about their wrongdoings or troubles is rarely reflected in the world, making talking to a good part of them feel like a waste of time. With a few exceptions, dialogues feel short and characters are quick to let you know which important bits make them different from the rest, as if they’re hurrying to go through assigned bullet points. An old lady might have lost her grasp on reality, someone else might have survived a bombing and sinks his guilt in alcohol, but that rarely goes anywhere. Letting someone know a friend slept with their wife, or killing someone’s son only prompted an extra line of acknowledgement, or another character moving into an area I rarely visited anyway. The most significant reaction I got was that of being accused of killing their close ones and them refusing medicine from me. While these characters do bring up various issues, from women’s rights to the horrors of the First World War, mental health and beyond, they feel done in a hurry. It’s hard to establish any relationship with them, or care for their tribulations.

Vampyr, PC, Screenshot, Review

Jonathan Reid is supposed to be savior or judge, jury and executioner. I killed those I found wretched – the embrace animation is gruesomely satisfying – and some that I didn’t. The remorse I felt was about the same in both cases – close to none. It might be that I’m just a heartless bastard in general, but having the player make tough moral choices without properly reflecting them in the world itself, or building up investment in the characters leaves them ringing hollow. Even with the districts in a serious or critical state, areas remain largely the same. Sure, a merchant may raise their prices; an NPC will move five steps to the right and mention your actions in a line of dialogue, and a few more enemies will spawn, but going through a district after shaking its foundations without pushing it into complete chaos felt almost identical to doing so beforehand.

But what about the main story, then? It’s arguably where Vampyr shines the most. The choices concerning important figures of each district are among the few which actually carry weight and have visible repercussions, going beyond a distressed dialogue line and a lower percentage on the status bar. There’s a good dose of mystery and one unexpected twist or two as well. I particularly enjoyed how discordant cellos would mark intense moments, sometimes mirroring the battles – whether internal or external – taking place. However, even here the game stumbles. A tendency to introduce new, potentially interesting figures only to do away with them shortly after makes the story feel disjointed.  Dr. Reid’s motivations are fairly muddled and in some cases it felt like he didn’t care about being pushed around, willfully accepting anything thrown his way only because the plot had to reach its end at one point. A character that had just branded me a traitor and sent acolytes after me, offered their help without question two missions later. London’s situation may be desperate, but that shouldn’t excuse lazy writing. Vampyr only takes the time to develop a few of its characters and, at least for me, ended in an ambiguous way that made me question the actual impact of my choices.

Vampyr, PC, Screenshot, Review

The lazy writing I mentioned can also be seen in some of the choices which could potentially stop you from getting hints about characters. “This is a private matter” and “This is a private concern” were different options in the same conversation. Certain dialogue seems to cater to only one of the responses, or all of them. I’ve had cases where happily agreeing to help resulted in a response more suited to me being reluctant to helping. There were also answers that could have easily applied to any of the available choices. That’s not to say other games don’t fall into this trap, buy Vampyr is bad at hiding it in quite a couple of situations.

There were few moments in my time spent with Vampyr when I didn’t feel indifferent to what was going on. Its setting tries to create a dark, ominous atmosphere but only manages to be drab. Secondary characters more often than not feel like checklists instead of people, giving little natural reason to take the time and walk around London healing them. Respawning enemies lead to repetitive encounters littered in the same spots on a map that will have you walking the same dull streets a good number of times. The seemingly small impact of the choices made only enhance the artificial feeling of the game’s world. While the combat itself has both weight and speed to it, and the vampiric powers add just enough spice to make Dr. Reid a capable fighter, fights quickly become a familiar a dance of slashing and dodging. With a main quest that, while having its moments, insists against spending time with potentially interesting characters, alongside stiff facial animations that annul any potential emotion in the voice acting, Jonathan Reid’s journey failed to grasp me. Ultimately, Vampyr is a functional 30-hour diversion with occasional dashes of brilliance, but not much else.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Vampyr

60/100

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Focus Home Interactive
Developer(s): Dontnod Entertainment
Genres: Action-RPG
Themes: Vampires
Release Date: 2018-07-06

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