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Vampyr Review: Suck The Fun Into Everything

What type of vampire would you be? This is what DontNod Entertainment, the team behind the critically acclaimed and fan-adored Life Is Strange games, gives you a chance to answer in Vampyr. In this new experience, players take on the role of newly born vampire Jonathan Reid. He can't recall exactly what series of events led to him being transformed, but his experience as an esteemed doctor puts him in the crosshairs of a man that gives him work on a hospital's nightshift despite his new affliction.

The team's ability to invoke an emotional response is as present in Vampyr as it is in Life Is Strange, but lies more in the player’s ability to shatter the world of the innocent people encountered throughout the game. Despite some bugs that can bring the game to a halt, Vampyr is an exciting playground for one of fiction’s legendary creatures.

Coming To Grips With Your New...Job Title

Vampyr's rhythm is one of an action-RPG but has bits of a city-manager sim sprinkled on top. I got into plenty of violent hijinks as I unraveled our doctor/vampire protagonists predicament, but I also had to make decisions that influenced how each of the four districts would change throughout my playthrough.

As a doctor, I could create remedies with limited supplies and cure NPCs before they died or I could succumb to my vampire sensibilities and lead them into dark corners to become my meal. There’s a delicate balancing act that keeps this mechanic in a perpetual grey area, though. The healthier an NPC is, the better the blood for your consumption, but the NPC’s death could also send the district spiraling into chaos. There are serums that serve as typical boosts for my character as well, refilling my health or blood stores for special abilities. With all of these things in the mix, there are some important decisions that will have to be made when you stop at the crafting table in the various hideouts.

The opening to Vampyr isn’t the most graceful. The introduction to mechanics is fine, but the lead character’s amnesia doesn’t mask how strange events are as they unravel throughout the tutorial phase. The most significant immersion-breaking element involves the first hideout you happen to head toward and how it just happens to tie into previous events. The many hideouts in the game’s full map are strange in general, kind of being introduced as places other vampires have used in the past. Once you’re out of the learning stage, the pacing and story continuity is a great deal better.

Because you're taking on the role of a largely traditional vampire, the game takes place at night. There’s no regular time progression, but the RPG elements are tied to having Jon rest to use any accrued experience to improve stats. Thus, the game continues in a perpetual night until I felt I needed to upgrade my character or a specific quest states that it will continue on the “next day.” This means Vampyr is a very dark game, so you’ll want to make sure your play area isn’t exceptionally bright. The glare can make the game unplayable.

Sharpening Your Claws

Combat is fast-paced, so much so that I had to switch over to a controller to play comfortably. There’s quite a bit of dodging and target-switching going on, but I felt like a badass vampire once I got a grip on things. Even with me not taking the lives of NPCs to boost my power, I still remained a threat to tougher targets. If another player felt that the difficulty was a bit too much, all it takes is a trip to the NPC blood bank to get you back into the fight and even the playing field a bit.

Keeping in line with Vampyr’s overall vibe is the environment and the music. The game space has a subtle haze or fog to it that just screams that there’s evil afoot and the music serves as the exclamation point for that idea.

Feeling Like A Legit Vamp

The developers did a lot of work to keep the immersion intact, like not allowing me to use abilities while in areas with NPCs for instance. This makes the map feel unnaturally bare when moving between districts and also makes one particular series of option quests feel off. Occasionally, I came across helpless humans that I had to save from enemy creatures. When I did so, the NPCs didn’t seem to have noticed that I totally vamp’d out and ripped their assailants apart.

Top to bottom, Vampyr has some wonderful voice-acting. The NPCs are as much a focus of the experience as combat, so it stands to reason that the developers would invest into their vocal performances. These are characters whose lives are hanging by a very loose thread as you decide their fate and I found myself torn when choosing to take out even the most seemingly heinous characters. Their threads are interesting and the voice performances are the final stamp on their impact. The protagonist, Jonathan Reid, is the best of the bunch. As a player, I’m able to compel NPCs to tell me information based on clues I’ve found in the world or discerned in other conversations. There’s an effect used to emphasize Jon’s commands and it’s a lovely effect that sent chills down my spine.

I’ve not played the games most would consider vamp classics, but Vampyr opened my mind to a vampire experience I’d like to see evolve into an even larger game. Tapping into specific feats in vampire lore as inspiration for gameplay mechanics has led to a nice blend of investigation, combat, and city-management that I could play for hours on end.

There are some bugs that can just be glanced over during a playthrough, but there are a few that certainly need the development team’s attention post-launch. It’s far from spotless out of the gate, but DontNod has created an interesting concept in a world that I want to learn a lot more about. It’s a world that is a lot of fun to explore and manipulate at its best.


This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by Focus Home Interactive. Vampyr is available now on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 on May 8, for $49.99. The game is rated Mature. You can watch the first hour of Vampyr is our recent Please Take A Look episode.

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Vampyr

7
good
  • Fantastic voice-acting
  • Exciting combat
  • Intriguing side-quests/investigations
  • Very fitting music score
  • Bugs that forced a restart multiple times
  • Some immersion breaking quests