Having grown-up with shows like “Masterpiece Mystery” and “Midsomer Murders”, I couldn’t help but feel the writers of “Vampyr” were fans of the ongoing series. While “Vampyr” is easily one of the most intriguing mystery-games that I’ve ever played, it requires a lot of patience (and patience for patients). We bit into “Vampyr” this week and the highly-anticipated game is now ready for a review.
I’ve been following the development of “Vampyr” for over a year now, and despite having access to countless press-releases, trailers, and developer roadmaps, the game was completely different from what I expected.
I knew going into “Vampyr” that killing people was going to be a double-edged sword. While biting into the people around me would make the game easier (giving me massive XP bumps and bettering my supernatural powers) it would also create challenges within the game’s story and probably alter my ending. When I started the game I was so worried about killing people that I ran away or hid from everyone in my path. I didn’t realize at first that this moral dilemma was focused on the dozens of NPCs that I would meet later in the game, and that it did not involve the Vampire hunters that were blocking my path and trying to kill me in the streets. I figured things out eventually, but it would save you a lot of time and effort if you knew that going in. That’s a running theme in “Vampyr,” picking things up as you go along, sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s not.
“Vampyr” is an amazing story and a very particular game. To give you some perspective into the gameplay, I was about four hours into the game when I realized I had participated in about 10min of combat. I was seven hours into the game before I could run around the city and start exploring on my own.
In those seven hours leading up to me running about on my own, I was making rounds at a hospital, searching through boxes and drawers, and talking to everyone I met for hours on end. “Vampyr” is essentially a mystery thriller, with a few action scenes thrown into the mix to build suspense. “Vampyr” is not an action-RPG, which is probably for the best since the combat in the game is actually the weakest part of the design. We’ll get to the combat in a bit, but first we should setup “Vampyr”.
In the story you play as Dr. Jonathan Reid, a newly turned vampire who was a prestigious surgeon before his attack. Dr. Reid had been pioneering blood transfusion research in his previous mortal life, something that will certainly come in handy now that he is a blood-sucking leach.
You meet Dr. Reid on the night of his attack, a quiet night set within 19th century London during an outbreak of Spanish Flu. The maps you explore in London are sectioned off by districts and the flu has caused wide-spread despair throughout the city. Each district has a “pillar,” or the leader of the community for each map. This person serves as the connective tissue for the district, and usually the story-quests revolves around this person’s struggle. This could be a priest, a union leader, a Doctor in a hospital, or a bartender, and you will meet a dozen or so characters in each district with their own storylines and quests.
The districts themselves have personality (though they all basically look the same in the rain) and they have an ongoing health status that you have to monitor. If the health of a district drops out completely, you can lose all of the people that live there. You lose the quests, the benefits, the XP, and will have to fight your way through the location every-time you need to pass through. The health of a district depends on your choices in the game, and the health of the people that live there. These people get sick all of the time, and to keep them healthy you will need to scavenge the map for supplies, craft syringes, then track them down to cure them.
The characters and storylines created for the game are top-notch. It’s extremely gratifying to solve their problems and learn more about everyone around you. The characters are well motivated, have interesting origins and objectives, and there are macro-themes of immigration reform, faith, political struggles, women’s rights, and the basic human condition, all woven within the individual storylines. Almost all of the people in each district are connected, and it was thrilling to slowly unravel the mysteries of each district and the lore of Vampires overall.
For the majority of the game you will meet individuals within a given district and learn all there is to know about them. You will find out how they are connected to the other people you have met, you will gather clues about their lives, and then you will make dialogue choices that will either help you solve their problems, or learn more about someone or something else.
When you talk to someone, they might tell you a “hint,” or detail about someone else you know. This hint will unlock a new dialogue option, thus furthering the conversation and help you solve the ongoing investigation. Sometimes you will have to make a choice during the conversation, which can have drastic consequences on that person’s well-being or the district as a whole. People can die from these dialogue options, with their quest-lines lost forever.
While all of this is going on, you have autosaves (there are no manual saves) so every choice you make in the game is final. You can’t pick a dialogue option to see how it turns out, then hit reload when you don’t like the outcome. You are stuck with your choices in “Vampyr”. This can be a thrilling mechanic, except when the voice acting doesn’t match your take on the conversation-clue. One time I thought I was telling Dr. Reid to kindly tell someone they should move on with their life after the death of a family member, but instead, I angrily shouted out this person that they need to get a grip and stop being such a baby about it. Not what I wanted, but there was no going back now.
That’s about 90% of the game, investigating the people and districts around you as the storyline quests tell you more about vampires and vampire history. Then there’s combat.
Your supernatural powers make stalking down prey and overpowering a group of vampire hunters really fun, but the mechanics are clunky at best. There is a lock-on mechanic that helps you stay centered during battles, but with multiple enemies and a third-person camera swirling about non-stop, the action in the game borders on just plain button-mashing and hoping for the best. In most games this kind of combat would be an issue, but combat in Vampyr isn’t a primary focus.
Mystery and investigations are the focus on Vampyr, and while the game may suffer from a few hiccups on the combat side, Vampyr does mystery well. The game has a terrific score, and while the graphics and animations can seem a little last-generation at times, the title is one of the best stories on the market in its genre.
“Vampyr” is now available for the PS4 and Xbox One ($59 at Amazon) or Steam.