I have to admit, it’s been a while since a review has given me this much trouble. Normally I find it pretty straight forward, game good here’s why, or game bad insert self-important wankey rant here. But in Vampyr’s case it’s hard to give a simple yay or nay, so why don’t I just put it all down on digital paper and by the end, hopefully, we’ll have our answer.
Set in London in the year 1918 in the midst of a Spanish Flu epidemic, you play as renowned blood specialist and former combat medic Dr Johnathan Reid. Who is having the worst hangover of his life, but rather than suffering from a headache and dry mouth he has come down with a case of vampirism, which I don’t think paracetamol will shift. After clawing your way out of a mass grave and chowing down on the first person you see you must make your escape as London is now swarming with vigilante vampire hunters. But it would seem our luck is turning as you stumble upon Edgar Swansea the world’s most easy going doctor. Who is not only fine with the murdering of innocents but thinks it would be “jolly fun” if you came to work at his hospital. His plan being to work together to find a cure, while uncovering the mystery of who turned you. Vampyr is a very story driven game so I won’t reveal any more of the plot as I don’t want to risk spoilers.(“No Spoilers!”)
I have to say narratively speaking Vampyr is an amazing concept and it has one of the most well implemented moral choice systems in any game I’ve played. Will you take the easy path and drink human blood to become an all-powerful immortal being? Or will you stay true to your oath as a doctor, abstaining from killing but risk being the weaker for it.
Most moral choice based games tend to be rather on the nose with the whole good/evil motif i.e. save the orphans or use the orphans as a cheap source of labour. Vampyr however is much more subtle, it had me contemplating killing citizens on more than one occasion because an enemy was giving me trouble. Not only that, it had me justifying my evil actions to myself, “I just need to kill one; it’s for the greater good”. It was a wonderful example of ludonarrative synchronicity because much like my character I was weighing up the moral decision of killing one to save thousands.
And unlike in games like Mass Effect, Kotor or Fable you can’t really avoid this because if you do choose the path of the saint you will receive less experience and there for less opportunity to level up. And while you do receive some exp from side questing and maintaining settlements, it pales in comparison to what you would receive from killing. In theory this is a great way to simulate the moral quandary you would find yourself in if this was real, in practice however it is rather unbalanced. To put it into perspective, killing even the lowliest peasant nets you around 800 exp, while killing a group of enemies gets you maybe 30 exp.(“I Could save his life…or I could eat his heart and get that new invisible power I’ve been saving for.”)
One of Vampyr’s biggest strengths is its characters, particularly the NPC’s. Each of them were unique, they all had their own personality and backstory, some were open and friendly, others evasive or reserved, but all of them intriguing. I found myself searching for cures to their illnesses, checking on them regularly and assisting them with their problems. This reinforced the poignancy of the morality system, because they were no longer walking exp, but people I knew and wished to protect.
I loved the look and feel of the games bleak Victorian setting; each district felt unique, possessed of wonderful gloomy charm and at the same time bustling with life. Graphically speaking Vampyr isn’t anything to write home about, it is by no means bad and given that the emphasis is on story this isn’t really an issue. But unfortunately, my good will dries up the second performance become compromised by gameplay issues and glitches and Vampyr is riddled with both.
Vampyr has them all, texture pop in, commands failing to register, the classic stuck in scenery and the ever popular crash to menu. Then there’s my personal favourite, the creepy way NPCs would stare at me, not my character, me, like they were fucking Jim from the Office or something, this happened way too often for my comfort.(Seriously this is just creepy!)
My biggest issue however was the combat, it just wasn’t fun and for a game that is 40% combat that is a major issue. In all honesty it seems to have been designed by someone whose only exposure to fighting was from a Punch & Judy show. At its best it simply lacks polish, at its worst however it’s clunky, janky and at times utterly broken. On more than one occasion I would be behind an enemy and he would shoot in front of him and I’d still take damage. I would also like to express a hearty “Fuck You!” to whoever came up with those fucking priests that wipe out your stamina, blood and deal ridiculous amounts of damage. You Sir/Madam can get fucked!(“We’re here to fuck up your day!”)
But then again all of these could be….well, not forgiven but tolerated, if the load times weren’t so unbearably, unforgivably long. Open a door? Load! Walk across the street? Load! Died? Load! And let me tell you there are few things worse than dying to the same group of fuck knuckle enemies for the fourth time only to stare at a passive aggressive loading screen that tells me “You can gain experience from killing citizens and you’d probably die less you fucking loser”.
I can forgive a lot in a video game, if the story is engaging and if there are enough interesting gameplay elements to keep me invested then I can put up with shit combat and graphical imperfections. So the question is do the positives outweigh the negatives in this case? I really want to say yes, because it’s a great story with an amazing morality system and the makings of a truly great game. It’s just bogged down with so many game-play issues and performance problems that by the end I was just praying for it to end. This is a game that is 100% worth your time; it’s just not worth 100% of the price. My Advice to you is wait until it is on sale and pick it up.