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Vampyr (PS4) Review

July 5, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Vampyr
6
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Vampyr (PS4) Review  

I’ll preface this by saying I generally like Dontnod as a company. They “made it big” with Life is Strange, but their previous game, Remember Me, was an interesting thing. It was set in an evocative word, had a good main character, and features some unique gameplay systems the game didn’t take full advantage of. It also had a nonsensical plot, a really bizarre level up system, and a combat system that can charitably be described as “functional”, if ungainly and weird. Vampyr sticks closely to the Remember Me formula, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any future Dontnod games that aren’t adventure games.

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In the strictest sense, Vampyr isn’t a bad game. The main character is interesting, it’s a setting that hasn’t been done in a game before, and the RPG/conversation mechanics are solid, if a bit plain. But the combat — my god the combat — drags what could be a serviceable-to-decent game into a dark morass of tedium and cheap deaths.

You play as Jonathan Reid, a semi-famous doctor known for his pioneering work in blood transfusions. Get it? The game opens with you awakening as a vampire, not knowing what happened to you or who turned you. You are quickly offered a job at a hospital by an administrator who knows what you are and doesn’t seem to have any big problem with it, so long as you can cure the plague that is ravaging the city. You soon come up against vampire hunters, Skalls (rabid vampires), and a vampire aristocracy.

The controls in the game are part of the problem: Your main-hand attack is performed with square, while your off-hand attack (or counter) is with triangle. Circle is your dodge move, and holding it in lets you sprint while you have stamina. The shoulder buttons are your vampire powers, which you can remap freely. Up and down on the dpad are used for healing items or various potions, while you can use left or right on said dpad to switch between two sets of weapons (either a main- and off-hand, or a two-handed weapon which takes the place of the off-hand). X is used to do vampire biting in combat, and to pick up stuff around the environment.

Starting with the bad, there are some oddities with how combat plays out. To be effective in combat, you pretty much have to use a two-handed weapon, either the scythe, cudgel, or some variant of them. The “parry” ability, mapped to the triangle button, is a necessity for fighting in the game. A well-timed parry will stun the attacker and give you time to bite them to replenish your blood powers.

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This game is also basically Dark Souls-lite. You have a pretty severe stamina bar that dictates how frequently you can attack and how much you can dodge around enemy attacks. You can get about four hits in with your weapon before the bar empties and you have to wait for it to refill. This doesn’t need to be a pure action game but, because there is such a stringent limit on stamina, it can make combat a real chore.

Another bad aspect are the boss fights, specifically against some of the larger enemies. One of the earliest boss fights is in a sewer arena against what basically amounts to a werewolf. I am not kidding when I say this fight took me around fifty attempts. The boss could basically one-shot me with certain attacks and even its baseline attacks could wreck me within two hits. A great discovery I made after dying the first time was that your gun ammo, potions, and blood don’t refill. Thus, the precious few potions I had were used up during my first attempt, and I was stuck because I couldn’t make more.

A later fight against a hulking type of vampire took me approximately thirty tries. He possessed the fun ability combination of being able to teleport as well as spawn shadow copies of himself, with the final copy having an un-dodgable attack. I am harping on the combat being…not good for a few reasons. Firstly, combat is at least 70% of this game. There are a few places in London that don’t feature combat, but most of them teem with either vampires or vampire hunters, and that makes getting around a real pain. The other reason I bring it up is that it feels like Dontnod regressed from the combat in Remember Me. That was a pretty blatant Batman combat rip-off, but it felt responsive at least. Jonathan, by contrast, just feels like he is wading through molasses much of the time, and it makes me dread having to deal with most of it.

The other 30% of the game is basically the RPG mechanics. This involves you talking to various citizens in towns, doing sidequests, upgrading your gear, and sucking the blood from people — if you so desire.

Conversations are somewhat influenced by Life is Strange. They aren’t as detailed or multi-layered, but it’s the same type of system. You can usually talk to people about their life or the city itself. Going through each dialogue option frequently unlocks additional options where you can use your vampire powers to delve deeper into the NPC. Sometimes these chats lead nowhere, other times they can lead to even further conversation topics with other characters, a sidequest you can do, or else a type of dialog choice where you can occasionally get an answer wrong.

On rare occasions, there are more story-intensive choices to be made that can seriously impact the rest of your game. For example, one main character becomes a Skall but still has his faculties and thinks he can hold his hunger at bay. You have three options: kill him, spare him, or turn him. Killing him is an obviously negative option, but it’s there. I chose to save him or, in this game’s parlance, “spare him”. I only realized later this was in fact a bad choice as well since — surprise surprise — he wasn’t able to remain sane and went on a killing spree in the district. The third option is turning him, which you would think is another bad option, but is actually considered the “good” one. It does cure him of his bloodlust but also takes a chunk out of your own experience points

The big moral choice in the game is whether or not you actually want to embrace (suck the blood of) the NPCs in town. Doing so provides a massive experience boost, which lets you unlock new abilities and upgrades far more quickly than when playing a morally good character. This has the effect of bringing down the health rating in the area you’re in, as well as netting you the “bad” ending once you complete the game.

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I’ve mentioned districts a lot in the game, because it’s the crux of how the map works. London is split into different districts, each with its own health rating. This impacts the blood quality of the citizens: if they are sick their blood won’t give you as much experience points if you drain them. Also, deteriorating health ratings can affect the prices of items to buy and lower the safety of the district. If it gets too low, the district will become infested with vampires, which leads to more combat.

The counter to this is that, as a doctor, you can heal people if you so choose. This makes their blood healthy for snacking and increases the overall health rating for the district. There are nine different ailments to remedy, from the Fatigue to Neuralgia. Various citizens you meet might have a condition and, if you have the treatment, you can heal them right up. It’s really not the deepest system but it does at least give you something to do for other people; too bad it doesn’t seem to do all that much in practice.

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Actually getting experience is handled one of two ways: The above way of drinking people’s blood can provide big experience boons at the cost of causing panic and a bad ending. The other way to level is by doing side-quests and fulfilling main story quests. I’m not sure if you even get experience points for dealing with low-level bad guys, but if you do, the experience gain is so low as to be practically invisible. Once you get experience points, though, you’ll need to rest for the day to actually turn them in. This opens the level up screen where you can allocate experience points into passive or active powers, as well as boost them.

Resting brings a new night, and district health ratings can go up and down based on your actions. People can also get sick again, which is where my “doesn’t actually seem to do all that much” comment comes from. I had a district with a 99% health rating and rested for the day. During the summary of my actions, at least 6 people in the district got sick again for no good reason. This required me to start healing them again even though I had just done that. It can be a bit demoralizing to see a lot of your progress reset after you rest.

I’ve been fairly negative for most of this review, but I will highlight two positives I came away with: The first is that the game looks really good. It has some agonizingly long load times, but when you get out into the city and see how good everything looks it almost makes up for it. This is what The Order: 1886 should have been. It obviously doesn’t have the facial quality down, but it actually is an open city for you to explore and doesn’t have widescreen bars obscuring your vision.

The second thing to mention is the writing itself. It generally feels like a pretty fleshed-out world as you explore, be it the flavor text of certain documents, the NPC conversations, or Jonathan himself. This game wouldn’t win any awards for game writing, and the friendship between Max and Chloe in Life is Strange was much more expansive, but Vampyr doesn’t have the growing pains that Life is Strange’s writing had either.

6
The final score: review Average
The 411
If the combat was simply better or there had been less of it, Vampyr could fill the vampire game niche pretty well. However, it fumbles this key system and the game never fully recovers from it. The actual story and characters are decent, but getting from place to place becomes an enormous hassle due to the dozens of enemies you can encounter along the way. Vampyr seems slightly at war with itself: it wants to tell a story but is mired in gameplay problems that hinder it.
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Vampyr, Marc Morrison

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