This is …Vampyr, Vamp-eer. Vam-pyre. Good ol Mr. Vamps. Captain Fangs! Death Nibble (my fave).
In Vampyr you play the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid in Victorian London during one of history’s nastiest influenza outbreaks. Reid is a bit of a famous character for his breakthrough in experimental blood transfusion during his service at the front lines of WWI. Back to London, on way to visit his ill mother but fate does what it usually does – a right ignorant git, is fate – and gets in the way.
We wake up in a mass grave, confusion and fear fighting for the top spot on the emotional leaderboard. Crawling over burnt husks and corpses piled high, climbing out of the pit. Our protagonist cannot think, barely see, shambling forward. Everything is in grey tones …except for a pulsing red light and as we get closer we can hear it pounding in time. It’s a heart we see, the heart of a woman. She’s talking to our man but we can’t hear her, it’s like she’s talking from the room next door. She embraces our clearly unwell doctor and that’s when it happens, he sinks his teeth into her neck. The first drink. As the craving fades away colour and sound is restored to the world. We discover that this good samaritan was in fact your sister, she had been out looking for you.
Pulling on those emotional heart strings right out of the gates, Vampyr sets the tone from the offset as a morally brutal game of decisions and repercussions. A third person action game where you play the predator as well as the saviour, think Sherlock Holmes with an eating disorder and you wouldn’t be far off. RPG elements and detective work at it’s finest. It’s London at the turn of the industrial revolution and it’s dark, gritty and claustrophobic.
The opening cinematic pleased me greatly, presented as an animated graphic novel with superb voice work and soundtrack. A standard that is only exceeded as the narrative progresses. Every character you meet has a background and a story to tell. All of which are voiced accurately and cheese free. The ambient music throughout is stellar, mixing strings, wind and accordion, tunes that reminded me heavily of the Sherlock Holmes movies staring Ironman (that’s his real name see). It sets the mood perfectly, setting the atmospheric bedrock.
As a newly sired vampire and good intentioned doctor your moral compass is at war with the nature of the beast within. Your decision to help someone in distress or chow down has long term results. For example, having a neck buffet on Clay Cox – a notorious gang leader – causes infighting for the gang leader position and a spot of bother for yourself at later stages of the game.
I’d heard comments of disappointment in regards to the visuals, that the graphics are somewhat average. Well I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve not seen a better representation of London lit by gaslight. The attention to detail down these eerie and hostile cobblestone streets is stunning. Not once have I come across an graphical bug or a tweaking polygon, nothing breaking my immersion.
When it comes to gameplay it’s fairly solid, nothing complicated but nothing special either. It’s a shallow hack and slash affair, attack using X and Y. Depending on your weapon of choice Y will either handle your off-hand weapon or parry/interrupt your assailant when using a two-handed scythe for example. I love the dodge by the way, so simple but looks great – become a shadow ever so briefly and teleport a few feet away.
The antagonists range from blood starved and feral almost-vampires, scavenging the refuse and detritus for anything hot blooded to hulking bat beasts – like a werewolf but bat instead. The vampire hunters, Guard of Priwen and the Ascalon Club – the vampire authority, judge and jury should you shine too much light upon the nocturnal nation.
You can upgrade and customise melee weapons and firearms and a workbench to boost their damage capability or stamina and blood drain efficiencies and workbenches are found within a safe house situated in each district.
Everything seems fluid and natural apart when moving up or down stairs. There is no change in the animation when ascending or descending. Also you can shadow step 10s of meters but not over a locked gate or wall. Also, holding B to sprint makes it significantly harder to control your direction, specifically when you need to close ground quickly upon a target that’s doing its best to evade you without being locked on.
Load times are exceptionally nasty, making death especially cruel and sprinting everywhere causes the game to pause and load in assets which gets worse towards the later stages of the game. Entering specific doors and sewers cause loadings screens to pop and these are often small areas that make you question their necessity to begin with. Having waited around 60 to 90 seconds to enter a one room flat just to use the bed for upgrading your abilities made me want to not bother. Thankfully not all of the safe houses are behind loading screens.
To keep the districts in order, as a doctor you have to make the rounds. Concoct vials of medicinal tonic for headaches, colds, fatigue, pneumonia, neuralgia just for starters. These ailments lower the health status of the area, should it drop below critical (by this time near half of the residents would be gravely ill or dead) then chaos would run in the streets. Your actions as the good doctor change the overall stability of a district and the health of its citizens by extension. Keeping the public health in check is an ongoing job it would seem (an there’s me thinking that being a physician was easy work). That said, maybe chaos is what you want to create, play the bad guy and seek power over all else.
Much of the investigative work involves talking to people, catching them out in a lie or being sympathetic to their views. Each district has 16 unique characters to chat with and each a story to work out. I did not get bored with this, as I mentioned earlier the voice work is fantastic. I did not want to skip any of the dialogue out of impatience.
With that in mind, there are moral dilemmas abound that present themselves during conversation. Wanting to kill a few of the nastier and vile characters roaming the streets but refusing to let the curse have its own way or, you could just turn darkside and become the physical manifestation death. Each possible opportunity for a neck munch grants experience, the amount depends on how important that person is to the community. Becoming a powerful force to be reckoned with, unlocking all ranks of all the skills was not my ambition.
What sets Death Nibble …I mean Vampyr apart from other games is not just the setting in which it’s set. It does so by getting the little things right, such as slang words, turns of phrase, 2nd floor being one floor up from ground level – these are all very British things that cement the immersion in place.
From the grim sewers to the misty alleyways of Whitechapel, the downtrodden cemetery to poverty stricken docklands and the better off Westend …you prowl the street as a supernatural force. On crusade to uncover your progenitor, your maker. Vengeance or closure for having taken your own sisters life upon awakening. The plot carries intrigue, twists and turns as you discover there is far more to your creation that at first meets the eye and delivers a rewarding conclusion. It’s everything I expected and more from the creators of Remember Me and Life Is Strange.
OVERALL: 8.5/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Michael Jones.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Vampyr on Xbox One, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)