When you play a horror game you expect a certain amount of tropes to turn up and a vampire focused game is no different. Even if it’s the Masquerade, the Legacy of Kain or even the Buffy video games there’s always the central theme of blood and then the rest of the game is wrapped up in it. Suffice to say I was ready for a new Masquerade game, a ‘dark’ moody RPG with plenty of dialogue to sink my teeth into. Just a shame I didn’t check to see if it had a pulse first.
Having a game set in 1918 London during a fictional plague caused by a sudden outbreak of vampirism is an interesting setup but sadly it’s the only unique selling point to the setup. It swiftly devolves into an incredibly generic London setting with an incredibly messy introduction to the characters, their previous lives and why you should even care. A constant feeling that they leaned a little too hard into TV series ideals of having dark moments for darkness sake. It isn’t until you start to have freedom to act as you chose that the game starts to open up a little but unfortunately even this is held back by its own limitations.
The start of Vampyr is just so disappointing and sets the game off on the wrong foot for the earlier parts of the experience. Think of the start of the very first Assassins Creed where you could see a good game buried under its own self and you start to get a feel for this. The menu interface have a pseudo PC mouse interface that doesn’t lend itself to a controller (in the same way No Mans Sky/Destiny work). The reason Assassins Creed comes to mind with Vampyr is due to the combat feeling very similar to the first game, fairly clunky and at times unfair until you shift to a weapon that uses a parry.
This is pretty important as well as Vampyr is chock full of combat. Essentially taking a page from the Arkham City playbook of having a small open world area with things to do within that locks down into a linear experience when in a story. The experience will always be; kill some dudes/monsters, run through the area, kill some more and then make it to a boss. Typically overpowered and occasionally really cheap with few tells and lots of health destroying attacks. If a random mob of warped vampire like monsters see me on the street I’d understand them attacking me on sight. The vampire hunting mobs do as well so I can only assume half of London’s problems are caused by them murdering a lot of innocent people out to get from place to place.
Vampyr is an RPG in the same sense that most action games now have stats to pile in on. Infamous style abilities you unlock by pouring XP points into. There’s a running theme throughout the game that no choice doesn’t go without consequences but it’s no Masquerade. Your ability to kill NPCs is strictly limited to a Mesmer skill level that increases with the story (unlike the combat abilities that are levelled up from killing). This essentially forces you to endure being a low-level vamp until you progress through, I can understand this is to reign in the player and stop them killing off an early quest line but for a game focused on choice it’s incredibly limiting.
The dialogue options are numerous and to the games credit the Mass Effect style system of choices to speak are impressively varied. It’s even a great way of forcing the player to stick to their guns as some dialogue locks in (no option to change your mind and take back that insult) and you can only unlock new dialogue options by either speaking to others or finding out hints in the world that lead back to them. This would all be fantastic if the script just wasn’t so florid. It feels like someone should have gone back through this a few times and tinkering the dialogue a bit. A large task granted but given the acting is at times Midsomer Murders it can lean a little too hard on the cringe.
There’s of course a crafting mechanic because what action game in 2018 can’t? The unique aspect here being that you can craft medicine to cure patients and will either open up dialogue options or simply make them a tastier bite down the line. It’s a really nice idea but sadly poorly implemented and boils down to raiding every cupboard and drawer for trash to simply make medicine for a victim. It feels a little bit shoehorned and is supposed to be the “good” option for our main character, the problem is he’s so generic and unbelievable that your unlikely to ever consider it unless your after more XP from a healthier victim.
Visually Vampyr is stunning. You really can’t complain about the craftsmanship in here. Someone really wanted to make a video game set in London of yonder and they put their heart and soul on show for everyone to see. The loading screen proudly boasts the Unreal Engine logo but it’s the little touches they use it to here that make it come alive. The art direction for leading a victim to their embrace, the rooms filled with various trinkets and furniture that fits the surrounds. It’s an incredibly good-looking game which is just constantly let down elsewhere.
The animation is incredibly jilted. Every NPC looks like they have the trots, a sort of Jim Henderson sort of “I’m on strings” feel to them where they can’t stand still lest ruin the immersion but move to fast and constant thus looking like puppets. It’s not without little niggly issues to, if it’s set in England why is the second floor the first floor (in England we have ground floor then first)? If he can’t be bothered to climb up a small step and ‘shadow forms’ up there then why can’t I move down past a metal fence? If the mindset of the people is their resistance to my charms how is the drunk able to manage any resistance? If I’m becoming so obviously a vampire that my eyes are messed up and my face cracking why the hell don’t people simply run or treat me any differently?
The music isn’t great, largely forgettable rather than unique and feels incredibly generic and stilted. When I think of vampire based media you can tell that every piece has its own musical distinctiveness. If you think of Blade you probably thought of either HipHop or Blood is Pumping (2002s Voodoo & Serano will be forever tied to that now), if you think of Hellsing you recall the experimental, jazz fusion and hard rock notes that set it apart. Video game music doesn’t need to be that memorable but Vampyr was so generic and disappointing with no real stand out piece other than the music when you lead a victim off to be ’embraced’. The dull base of classical that never really feels like it should make a note lest it not put forward it’s “dark undertones”.
For me the game started to open up around the time I had unlocked Mesmerise at level 2. At last I could get back at the game for forcing choices and their outcomes on me that I never asked for (I doubt the game is so meta it was the original throw back to the main characters story) by murdering some NPCs and killing off potential side quests in return for XP to level up and make killing my enemies a little easier. This Sherlock feeling side-quest system would be interesting if it had legs, you can see how it was originally a spiderweb of ideas and causalities where a murder would cause ripples but then it had to be reigned in for fear of a player breaking a future moment.
Vampyr’s biggest problem is that despite its massive scope, its huge wealth of content and choices it’s still so incredibly limited. Everything about VAMPYR’s title font is irritating. The spelling, the slight offset with the colours being different directions and the Y changing in the middle. It sums up my opinion on the game nicely as everything about Vampyr on paper sounds amazing it just never comes together as it should. Nothing shows this more than the two biggest ‘choices’ in the first 30mins of the game where you are forced to make two actions that drastically change Reid’s life, you have to press the button but the game acts as if you did this willingly. There is fun to be had in a super powered dudebro vampire running around murdering and fighting back against the games heavy hand but it’s let down by so many faults the blood runs dry far too quickly.
5/10 – Try not to look too hard into my eyes, you might see the cracks.