Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Vampyr (2018) review


    VAMPYR is the third game from DONTNOD entertainment, which had the somewhat missable (arguably forgettable) Remember Me and the video game classic LIFE IS STRANGE. It is a pseudo-Victorian (technically Edwardian) story about a vampire created during the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 where 50 million people died. That's roughly ten times as many people died during the Black Death, by the way.

    The protagonist, Jonathan Reid, is a brilliant blood specialist who is transformed into a vampire and left to rot on top of a mass grave of Spanish Flu victims. Awakening, Jonathan Reid kills his sister in a blood-crazed frenzy then botches a suicide attempt in an attempt to atone. From there, Jonathan struggles to find himself a new life as he investigates vampire society, the vampire race's relationship to the Spanish Flu, and why there's a huge number of blood crazed psychopaths wandering the streets.

Dialogue is the best part of the game.
    One thing I will appreciate about this video game is that it is a heavily storyteller-driven game and there's not a smack of multiplayer about it. The gameplay isn't great, feeling like a dumbed down Dishonored crossed with Arkham Asylum, but it is fueled by a deep devotion to the characters as well as a desire to tell a classic vampire story. In short, I have very mixed feelings about this game but I suffered through the worst parts to finish it, which means I mostly liked it. Mostly.

    Unfortunately, the game suffers from the fact Jonathan Reid is not the most interesting of protagonists. He's a somewhat snooty upper class intellectual who is disdainful of religion even when crosses repel him and he's walking around as an explicitly supernatural being. It's a bit like playing Sherlock Holmes when Watson remains the emotional heart. As such, a lot of times I couldn't help but be more interested in the countless well-written NPCs around the game.

    The biggest star of the game is undoubtedly London itself. I'm not sure how accurate the depiction of the city is but it is a dark and fascinating place ravaged by both the Great War as well as the Spanish Plague. There's a bit of an immersion breaker in the fact the streets are full of vampire hunters, murderous ghouls, werewolves and worse.

The graphics are okay but not great.
    The fact none of the public seem to comment on the horrible monsters routinely being killed around them is also troubling. Despite it being 1918 and cars spread around, you can't fast travel across the monster-filled streets either. Instead, to get anywhere in the setting, you have to wander around on foot slaughtering people like you're crossing Skyrim.

    The travel issues of the game are also troubling because they have each district full of people who fall sick with a variety of ailments like fatigue, cold, or headaches that need to be treated in order to prevent the districts from falling into "Chaos." This means you're running up and down the map all the time, fighting the same re-spawning enemies over and over again.

    There is a clever gameplay element that I do appreciate, which is the fact that murdering NPCs results in Jonathan Reid getting a massive boost to his experience. The actions cause the district to become less healthier, more suspicious, and dangerous. If they fall to chaos, the NPCs disappear and they become full of vampires and monsters with all quests failed.

The combat is clunky but serviceable.
     The problem of this is the morality of these actions takes a hit with the fact Jonathan Reid can avoid "murdering" people but kills dozens, if not hundreds, of vampire hunters as well as his fellow undead. While there's a distinction between murder and killing in self-defense, it's kind of weird to have Jonathan Reid's pacifism lauded as well as no effect from killing hunters versus slaying the NPCs that include gangsters as well as the occasional serial killer.

    Gameplay-wise, you mostly wander around the city streets and fight a small variety of enemies that get progressively tougher the more you progress in the story. You can use firearms, melee weapons, and your vampiric powers. Though, in practice, the only thing which really worked for me consistently were melee weapons that stunned characters so I could drink their blood. There's some minor bugs, especially when coming from the map section, that often causes Jonathan to moonwalk backwards or be unable to move forward for a few seconds.

    I do like how cosmopolitan London is depicted as being with black, Indian, homosexual, Jewish, communist, and Christian characters. Jonathan Reid is a bit too tolerant for his time period to be believable but I'm not going to complain about that. I'm also quite fond of Jonathan's love interest Lady Ashbury, though they're both so reserved I didn't realize they were in love until the end of the game. Really, the standout character of the game is a mid-game boss that I can't talk about for risk of spoiling.

My favorite character in the game.
    Combat is clunky and pretty unforgiving unless you are overpowered due to murdering everyone on the map and absorbing their power. The leveling system in the game is also broken with your character usually half-a-dozen levels underneath whatever you're fighting. I think if they'd removed the leveling system and kept everyone without hit points like Dishonored or Batman: Arkham Asykum, it would have worked better. Its serviceable at best and not as enjoyable as either of its inspirations.

    The vampire lore in the game is a bit like the game's treatment of England. Overdone but not bad. If I'm going to be honest, this game feels a LOT like The Order: 1886 crossed with a laymen's version of Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. There's the upper crust vampires (Ekons), the deformed sewer-dwelling vampires (Skals), the brutish thug vampires (Vulkod), werewolves (Great Beasts), and the Inquisition (the Priwen Guard) which hunts them. They're also all tied to King Arthur because, of course they are.

    In simple terms, Vampyr is okay. It's not a great game and this is coming from an undead fanatic. I actually think this game probably would have benefited from being re-imagined as a 5 episode Life is Strange-esque storytelling adventure. Not to pigeonhole DONTNOD Entertainment but I think they do those better than action games.

7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment