Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: June 21, 2018
Vampyr is a third-person action adventure with RPG elements available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Vampyr is Dontnod Entertainment’s follow-up game since their award-winning five episode debut season of Life is Strange. Life is Strange was critically acclaimed from the outset; winning such awards as New Game IP on consoles or PC and Use of Narrative at Develop Industry Excellence Awards; Best Adventure and Best Original Game at Global Game Awards; and Games for Impact at The Game Awards 2015. Vampyr sees a massive change for Dontnod Entertainment as a male character takes centre stage in the lead role; despite being known for creating games with powerful and dependant female characters in leading roles that grow and become stronger through the duration of the game as showcased in Remember Me in 2013 and Life is Strange. Can Vampyr achieve the quality of Life is Strange’s storytelling combined with Remember Me’s combat gameplay to create another modern classic worthy of Life is Strange’s development talent at Dontnod Entertainment?
The story begins with a foreboding sequence that sets the tone of the lead character’s journey ahead. Jonathan Reid awakes to find that post-World War I era London and surrounding areas are devastated by a plague known as the Spanish flu that is rapidly reducing the local population, although something else just as sinister is simultaneously occurring as murders are being committed.
The story is spread throughout numerous chapters within acts containing mission objectives including finding supplies to help patients at Pembroke Hospital, preventing blackmail and much more besides, alongside secondary objectives such as finding a merchant’s lost wallet, defeating vampires to stop them from killing an innocent citizen and more besides. Meanwhile, there are collectibles such as diaries, notes and letters that tell an interesting backstory and provide some lore as to how to defeat vampires within that period of time and how people who knew and loved each other for years could suddenly have one being in fear of the other due to their sudden violence when becoming a vampire.
As was the case with Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange; every action the player makes in the world of Vampyr can potentially have consequences. For instance, you can lead an injured citizen to the hospital where you can provide medical assistance or alternatively you can mesmerise the citizen into following Jonathan Reid into an area that is out of sight from other citizens in order to feed on their blood, although your mesmerise level must be equal or higher than the citizen’s resistance.
Character design is quite varied with some characters even having contrasting sides; for instance the lead character Jonathan Reid has to feed from time to time in order to remain alive, but he did not ask to be a vampire and actually attempts to save as many lives as possible during the plague as he is a doctor, while feeling remorseful for having to eat a rat let alone sucking a human’s blood. Jonathan meets some rather helpful characters including a fellow doctor who gives him a job and a place to stay, despite knowing that he is battling his vampiric side, while every character who is not hunting for vampires will happily engage in conversation with Jonathan which is essential to his investigation into how he became a vampire.
Enemy design is varied as the enemy vampire hunters that hunt Jonathan have four resistance types including melee, ranged, blood and shadow in which there are also medium and high resistance levels. However, there are also vampires ranging from enemies that Jonathan Reid encounters on the streets to enemy vampire bosses that have much larger health bars with all vampires and vampiric creatures attempting to feed on you.
Character customisation takes place in the form of vampiric skills that can be improved by spending experience points (XP) in order to level up vampiric skills of your choice after finding a hideout bed which allows for evolution and rest. Each vampiric skill has a certain level that the player must have levelled up to overall before being able to improve a vampiric skill. The first vampiric skill that can be improved upon is named autophagy that allows for Jonathan Reid’s own blood to heal normal and aggravated damage instantaneously, although it costs 600 XP. However, that is only the beginning of levelling up Jonathan Reid’s vampiric skills as there are 9 sets of character levelling up to progress through with anywhere from 5 to 10 levels of gradual improvements for each of the 9 vampiric skills costing anywhere from 300 to 6,000 XP in incremental steps per skill improvement. The 9 sets of vampiric skills comprises of defensive, aggressive, body, blood, autophagy, tactical, ultimate, bite and science with the vast majority containing two or three separate categories worth of skill levelling that also simultaneously improves Jonathan’s overall level. Some of the skill levelling up can progress in one of two ways such as autophagy splitting into two branches when reaching level 3 of the skill as the player can decide to trade the instant health gain for a greater regeneration ranging from 300 healing for level 3 through to 400 and 500 healing with a cost of 25% reserved blood and a recovery time of only 1.5 seconds for levels 4 and 5 in comparison to 2 seconds for level 3 and 3 seconds for levels 1 and 2. Meanwhile, the alternative is to trade more blood to heal Jonathan instantly and gain a further boost on health regeneration, although the healing remains at 200 healing between levels 3 to 5, albeit with a lower blood reserve of 15 and a higher recovery time of 3 seconds from levels 3 through 5.
Combat against vampire hunters and vampires requires strategy as Jonathan Reid has a stamina bar that reduces in stamina when performing every attack, dodge or sprint; therefore the player needs to master exactly the correct time to attack an enemy and the appropriate timing of dodging or sprinting, especially when fighting an enemy that is much more powerful in their attack, defence and stamina due to having a greater level in comparison to Jonathan Reid’s level.
An abundance of weaponry includes a sawn-off shotgun, revolver and more besides that each have a fire rate, reload time, magazine size and a particular range in addition to such capabilities as stunning an enemy, while there are also numerous one-handed, two-handed and off-handed melee weapons including a machete, scythe, truncheon, stake and more besides that each have an attack speed, stamina usage and a quantity of damage or stun inflicted to enemies.
Items can be crafted at workbenches including medical treatments to heal sick citizens, serums to boost your stamina and weapon upgrades to customise weapon performance via utilising items looted from bins, chests, cupboards, tables and more besides. Alternatively, Jonathan can purchase individual items or weapons from a merchant located in such areas as directly outside Pembroke Hospital with the in-game currency of shillings being looted from almost any building or street which can be used to purchase items ranging from a revolver bullet for a shilling to a shotgun for 350 shillings. For instance, combining a common lupara sawn-off shotgun at level 2 of the weapon’s potential with some common trigger parts and springs upgrades the weapon to a good lupara sawn-off shotgun at level 3 quality providing an increase in damage from 200 to 264, while continuing to add good trigger parts and springs eventually increases the damage from 264 to 352 at remarkable level 4 quality and a further increase from 352 to 480 damage inflicted on enemies at a perfect level 5 quality lupara sawn-off shotgun. Elsewhere at workbenches; combining a used machete, a common handle part and a lead plate increases the damage inflicted to enemies during combat and combining a used stake, a tiny common handle part and a lead stick increases the efficiency of stunning an enemy. Meanwhile, finding recipes for treatments to help in healing citizens and serums for Jonathan to heal himself if he does not have a reserve of blood or to regain stamina or a reserve of blood such as combining glass vial, watery sturdy blood sample, ferrous tartrate and sodium hypochlorite solution to create a light regeneration serum that regenerates 300 health points instantly followed by a further 150 health points over 15 seconds.
Environment design is quite varied as Jonathan Reid walks through and explores London streets, Pembroke Hospital, sewers and more besides situated in Whitechapel, Docks, North Docks, Western Docks, West-End and Southwark. Vampyr essentially offers players a huge open-world to explore that gradually opens up to a new area that was previously unavailable by progressing through each act and chapter which in turn keeps the exploration of the environments feeling fresh as it teases areas that are beyond locked gates or a boat ride away.
It would have been incredibly ambitious to port Vampyr onto Vita, although remote play is a consolation. Vampyr’s remote play performance is excellent as the graphics, audio and general performance retain the same level of quality as the PS4 version. Remote play controls have been efficiently optimised resulting in performing a combat vampiric skill is re-mapped to the top right and left of the touch screen respectively, while a medical check-up being re-mapped to R and performing a mesmerise vampiric skill being mapped to L, alongside engaging vampiric senses is re-mapped to the bottom left of the touch screen and locking onto targets is mapped to the bottom right of the touch screen. Therefore the remote play control optimisations create a very playable remote play experience that holds onto the atmospheric exploration and combat gameplay.
The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of pressing square to perform a melee main-hand attack; pressing triangle to perform a melee off-hand attack; pressing O to dodge or holding O to sprint; pressing X to perform interactions with objects such as collecting items, answering or asking a question during a conversation or springing to another platform or holding X to embrace; pressing R2 to perform a medical check-up vampiric skill; pressing L2 to perform a mesmerise vampiric skill; pressing up or down on the d-pad to use an item; pressing right on the d-pad to switch off-hand weapon; pressing down on the d-pad to switch main-hand weapon; pressing L3 to engage vampiric senses; pressing R3 to lock onto a target; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to walk or jog; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to pan the camera; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Tapping the touch pad displays a map, current objectives and investigations, collectibles, inventory, character level and more besides, while a small amount of vibration occurs when vampire hunters and vampires hit Jonathan Reid during combat. There is no light bar support which could have provided an alternative HUD through colours that would represent Jonathan Reid’s health.
Graphically, Vampyr has some incredible touches such as lighting, shadows and mist creating an atmospheric horror-esque tone, while character models, vampiric creatures and vampire hunters all look as amazing as the surrounding environments and their weather conditions, alongside particle effects that emphasise Jonathan Reid’s dark vampiric senses and dust within natural light. The only improvement that could be introduced for the graphics is the draw distance in the far distance as buildings can disappear when moving back far enough and movements of characters that are equally as far off become disjointed.
The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the title menu, main menu, options menus and gameplay menus including collectibles menus, inventory menus, character menus, citizen menus and more besides with support for navigation via the left analogue stick and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick, directional pad and touch pad. Menu backgrounds focus on a cemetery and the streets of London.
An amazing ensemble cast bring life to their characters including Anthony Howell voicing lead character Jonathan Reid having previously voiced Barachiel in Space Hulk: Deathwing – Enhanced Edition, Eldar in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III and Bahavas, Dervahl and Lucent Bahavas in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Elsewhere, Harry Hadden-Paton voices Clarence, Ichabod, Lord Finney and Swansea having previously voiced the male Inquisitor in Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Red Prince in Divinity: Original Sin II, while Katherine Kingsley voices Ashbury, Camellia, Giselle and Hunter Katherine having previously voiced Rose in Get Even and Victoria Byng in We Happy Few, alongside a large cast of very talented performers.
Olivier Deriviere best known for his compositions in Alone in the Dark, Remember Me, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom Cry and Get Even has composed and produced an original soundtrack album performed with Eric Maria Couturier on cello, Emmanuelle Ophele on bass flute and the Vox Futura choir comprising of 23 songs lasting almost an hour of a fusion between cello and electronic which as well as being contained within the game is also available for purchase from iTunes.
Sound effects include Jonathan Reid walking, jogging or sprinting through the streets and buildings of London, looting items from bins, tables and cupboards, weather conditions such as rain, performing melee attacks and firing weapons at vampire hunters and vampires and vice versa. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation which could have produced voice-overs, sound effects or music.
The trophy list includes 29 trophies with 6 bronze trophies, 17 silver trophies, 5 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the From Here to Eternity bronze trophy for going to the shelter and resting; the Pest Control bronze trophy for eating 10 rats; the That’s Better bronze trophy for upgrading a weapon with a module; and the Work in Progress bronze trophy for upgrading a weapon. Harder trophies include the Lore Keeper silver trophy for gathering all collectibles and the Not Even Once gold trophy for finishing the game without killing any citizens. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 20 to 30 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are no difficulty levels, although there is quite an interesting difficulty curve as every enemy has their own level that they have levelled up to and four resistance types, while killing more enemies and citizens results in easier gameplay due to Jonathan Reid’s capability of feeding on enemies and citizens in order to sustain a high quantity of health and levelling up faster for greater abilities. However, there are times in which the player will have to leave a mission objective to deliberately find and defeat enemy vampire hunters and vampires in order to gain XP to be able to level up Jonathan’s vampiric skills as enemies will be encountered during some objectives that must be defeated, but cannot be until the player has levelled up Jonathan’s skills far enough to defeat the next group of stronger enemies.
There is no local or online competitive or co-operative multiplayer which does not detract from the story or single player focused gameplay. However, online competitive multiplayer would be an intriguing prospect such as one player controlling the vampire attempting to survive, despite being outnumbered and outgunned with up to five players forming a team of human vampire hunters, while the player controlling the vampire has to efficiently utilise the vampire’s abilities to out-manoeuvre the team looking to kill the vampiric Jonathan Reid. Further modes could have included Jonathan Reid needing to feed a certain quantity of occasions within the duration of the match resulting in the vampire hunters or citizens having to survive; a team focused deathmatch in which a group of vampires would battle against a team of vampire hunters; a free-for-all deathmatch as vampires and vampire hunters would battle for themselves; and the capability to play each mode in consecutive rounds. Split-screen competitive multiplayer could have been adapted from potential online multiplayer modes by including A.I. controlled characters when applicable. Meanwhile, online leaderboards could have featured each player’s fastest times for completing individual chapters and the entire story in addition to feeding on the smallest amount of citizens, enemy vampire hunters and vampires throughout the entirety of the story.
Vampyr’s replayability stems from its exploration as players will find collectibles telling the backstory and secondary mission objectives from finding smaller areas such as a building in which vampires need to be fought to protect a civilian, engaging in combat and completing primary and secondary mission objectives to gain XP in order to upgrade Jonathan’s numerous vampiric skills and looting items to craft weapon upgrades or form serums to heal Jonathan and citizens that will collectively keep players returning for quite some time.
- Title: Vampyr
- Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- System: PS4
- Format: Retail/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: No
- Players: 1
- Hard Drive Space Required: 21.58GB (Version 1.03)