Set during the events of World War 1, Vampyr tells the story of Dr. Jonathan Reid as he returns back to London after serving as a military doctor in the war only to find himself turned into a vampire. And right off the bat we’re introduced to the strongest aspect of the entire game, it’s setting.
The city of London is absolutely gorgeous, and the streets and pathways themselves are very strong tools of storytelling. The worn cobblestone streets, narrow hidden alleyways and infested sewers tell of a city under siege from the Spanish flu, and one that has heavily paid the human cost of war. Each of the different city districts and their numerous inhabitants, most of whom have their own detailed personalities, also paint a broader picture of a society divided by class and fear.
Also consistently entertaining is the game’s story, which dives deep into the supernatural. It starts off really dark as our protagonist awakens to find himself dumped among rotting corpses within a mass grave, having turned into a member of the undead. It explores his struggle to stay true to his profession and beliefs as a doctor, while showing us the dark and deadly world of life as a vampire.
I had hoped that the narrative would have it’s own unique twist on the already established vampire mythology, but it tends to play most of the troupes by the book with very minor deviations. It isn’t a deal breaker though, and the various twists and turns the plot takes as Jonathan Reid attempts to save the residents of the city in the wake of the Spanish flu while still struggling as a vampire will keep you thoroughly hooked.
As discussed above, there’s a certain duality to the nature of our protagonist Jonathan Reid in Vampyr. One one hand, he’s a doctor that has sworn to save the lives of the people in his city, while on the other, he’s a being that needs to feed on those very same people to sustain himself. It’s a very interesting source of conflict that’s meant to give weight to your actions in the game and make players thoroughly question the decisions they make.
Because the game has this mechanic where it allows you to feed on nearly any NPC within the game world in order to gain a very large amount of experience, but doing so will permanently block off any of the quests and other useful information that they might otherwise provide you with. It even incentivizes you to interact with them beforehand and learn more about them and their personalities, which in turn humanizes them further, in an effort to improve the quality of their blood and yield even more experience.
This is supposed to act as the game’s version of a difficulty setting, because the less NPCs you feed on, the weaker you are moving forward and the more you feed on, the stronger you are. Feeding on too many people will even negatively impact entire districts within the city, and lead to disastrous consequences. The problem with this however is that at no point during the game did I ever actually feel that this was a pressing issue that I had to take note of.
Not wanting to suffer too many negative consequences, I fed on just three NPCs during my entire playthrough of Vampyr, and during no point in the game did I ever feel that I was under leveled. In fact, I have a very strong feeling that had I not even fed on those three characters, I would have still made it through the game effortlessly.
Basic combat in the game is not particularly challenging, and revolves around using a selection of very similarly functioning melee weapons by just spamming a combination of the attack, dodge and stun buttons over and over again until your enemies drop dead. It’s similar to the combat system seen in the Souls series of games, but massively toned down in both depth and variety.
You do also have access to a few different Vampiric abilities that allow you to both deal damage with abilities like the Claws and a spear made of blood, and heal yourself using Autophagy. These require you to stun and then feed on enemies in combat to use, but even their novelty wears off after a few hours into the game. The combat is just really repetitive in general, and becomes a chore towards the last third of the campaign.
The game does also have a few issues that plague it though, chief among them being the frequent loading screens, followed by missing textures, that keep popping up whenever you travel across the city. It’s a consistent issue that really breaks the flow of the entire experience.
A lackluster AI during combat is also a big issue, and there are instances where it just becomes ridiculous. Constant examples include enemies initiating multiple attacks against the air, and firing shots from their guns sometimes seconds after you have already dodged away from their trajectory. There are also numerous framerate dips.
So in conclusion, Vampyr does a fantastic and thoroughly entertaining job with it’s storytelling and fantastic setting. It really falls short in it’s gameplay though, the repetitive nature of which, combined with the numerous technical issues, make it a real chore to play at times.
Vampyr is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Focus Home Interactive. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
Vampyr does an absolutely fantastic job with it’s world building and storytelling, but really drops the ball when it comes to the actual gameplay. Stick with it for it’s deep dives into vampire mythology, but don’t expect to be blown away.