Life is Very Strange as a Vampire

I was going to write a brief short piece on the developers other games, like Life is Strange, and Rememeber Me. Then I decided that I really wanted to shine the spotlight on this game, taken outside of their body of work, and presented as the game is without comparing it to anything else by them, or other developers.

Vampyr is an interesting title that doesn't quite hit the mark, but for those of you who like a slower paced, more methodical approach to a game and story, then it might just be the kind of RPG that you sink your teeth into.

London, 1918

The Great War has ended, and London is caught now in the grip of the Spanish Flu epidemic that devastated the city. This is the backdrop for Vampyr, and thus begins the tale of newly embraced Doctor Jonathan Reid, a brilliant physician and a man who is very much blessed and cursed by his new found powers.

All around Doctor Reid, the shadows move, there are vampires who pull at the strings of Britain's government, and vampire hunters that seek to shove a steak through the good doctor's newly dead heart.

It's a great backdrop for a story, and provides a slower paced, interesting narrative for anyone who engages their brain rather than their 'bash things in the face' button on the gamepad. If you're going to rush through Vampyr, know that you're going to miss a lot of subtle narrative and expanded story hidden within the expansive dialogue trees of every single character in the game.

What is Vampyr?

Vampyr is a third person narrative-driven adventure RPG that pushes story over action, and consequences of your actions in the game play a big part in how things play out within the overall structure of the game. Doctor Reid is a doctor first and foremost and a scientist, thrust very recently into the shadowy and dangerous world of the vampires. He doesn't understand vampire society, and he certainly doesn't know about his powers and what he can do with them at the beginning of the game.

So he falls back on science and trying to understand who he is through the lens of his humanity.

Physican Heal Thyself, Or Others!

Vampyr is set in various boroughs in London, each of them has their own set of Non Player Characters, challenges, side stories and elements that you can explore. During this infectious period of London's history, places like Pembroke Hospital and Whitechapel are not doing too well; people are tired, ill, suffering from the likes of Fatigue and Anemia.

Not good hunting grounds for a vampire at all, their blood quality is thin and poor, and provides very little in the way of sustenance: or in the case of Vampyr, experience.

You see Vampyr is a hard game, a really hard game in parts, unless you level Doctor Reid appropriately. To do this you require blood, and blood contains the memories and life experience of your victim. Each NPC in Vampyr is a person, they're not a throw-away character who wanders around and delivers a one-shot bit of dialogue. They all have their own connections, stories, backstories and many have links to each other in the wider world.

To make Vampyr easier you must feed on people, and that kills them, taking their blood wholly and giving you their experience. Drink them dry too early and you miss out on a bigger chunk of experience. Befriend them, heal them, solve their problems and learn about them via hints and you'll unlock their full succulent potential.

Then you can feed and go about your merry way...

Or can you?

Vampyr attempts to test your morality and willingness to either: ignore the beast within you and evolve Doctor Reid as best you can with meagre xp from story elements and combat xp, which is in drips and drabs, or embrace the monster and draw huge pools out of your so-called friends and contacts.

If you embrace someone, be prepared for the district to suffer the result of your actions. If they were an important pillar of the community then expect dire consequences. The district health meter will drop and head downwards toward the Conflict bar indicator. If that happens, the streets will be unsafe and you will lose important NPCs and contacts/quests/story elements will dry up.

Shops may close and there might also be darker story consequences down the line.

It boils down to how much you really want all the badass vampire powers.

How easy do you want to make the game?

Fighting Vampire Style

Vampyr is a game about story, but there's also conflict, conflict with monstrous creatures called Skals and with human vampire hunters. Don't expect a dialogue with these elements unless the story calls for it, they are there to provide a levelled challenge to your good doctor and a slow trickle of xp from each foe vanquished. So you must engage in tactical combat to beat them, making the use of your blood-driven powers to end the foe and ensure Jonathan's continued survival.

Unless you can sneak around them or find an alternate route, which in many cases is impossible since these foes are guarding important places or locations you either need for story or loot reasons.

Combat in Vampyr should never be considered a strong point of the game, but it should also not be thought of as weak by any means. It's tactical, it requires an understanding of the basic systems and no matter what you do, you cannot bash buttons to win. Jonathan has access to mapped vampire powers, melee attacks, offhand attacks (a stunning stake, or a pistol) and his darker powers.

Your enemies have various tactics, ranged combat skills, up close and personal strikes, and more. They won't be shy about using them, so you need to read the situation and learn to dodge and employ powers/attacks at the right time. There's a rhythm about Vampyr combat, especially since each attack you do drains your stamina bar akin to Dark Souls. Vampire powers use blood and that can be gained by stunning and biting enemies, as well as using a secondary weapon - once you work this out, you'll have an easier time getting into the flow.

Some enemies have weaknesses and resistances, you'll be able to tell them from the icon above their heads when you activate your Vampire Senses. This provides a shadow-view of the world around you, allowing the good doctor to sense heart-beats and also see blood quality and any issues that the person might have which need to be fixed before they provide the best meal.

Death is Never the End

If you die you'll go back to a checkpoint with your experience preserved, but you'll have to do a chunk of that section over again. Fortunately the game saves very often and you can trigger a save yourself from a hideout, which we'll discuss now.

A Place to Rest

Scattered throughout London's various districts are hideouts, places where Doctor Reid can work on crafting his weapons and upgrading them, crafting phials to help him regenerate his health, even beyond aggravated (fire and other sources) damage.

Here you can also rest and evolve, putting experience points into the various powers and tiers that unlock as you level up.

They also act as save points, since you can sit on the bed and the game auto-saves.

If you rest you'll advance time and here is where your actions could affect the districts in question. Either saving them, or plunging the whole of London into dark and gothic chaos.

Aesthetics of a Vampire

Vampyr does a really good job of capturing the concept of a flu-ridden London struggling under that epidemic, plus the vampire influence. The graphics are moody and the various districts reflect that time-period as well as the ravages of the Spanish Flu nicely. The animations for the game are solid and combat works well in terms of those elements. Facial animations can appear a bit stiff for some NPCs but overall they're decent enough.

The game really excels at the use of sound design, and the music is haunting, jarring and just what you might expect from a London vampire game. The voice work is fairly solid with a few odd voice designs here and there, nothing that detracts from the game though.

The frame-rate on the Xbox One X remains solid and the game runs smoothly with no visible hitches or problems.

Interlude with a Vampire

No, not a new Anne Rice novel, but the final last few words at the end of the review that are a more long-form version of our final thoughts. I really like Vampyr, I like the story, I like the world that it creates and I like the various systems at play. I like the slower pace, and the way that every single NPC in the game is a person. I like how it challenges you to take responsibility for every action that you make in the game, and I really like how there are threads that bind every single NPC to the world as well as each other.

This is a House of Cards that can go very badly wrong if you pull the pillar out from under it.

The game never stops, but the outcome and challenges within that world alter.

I don't think it's ever going to be a classic, but like the source material, a cult-classic is a fair assessment. I would recommend it to people who like a slower pace, slightly janky combat, and a more methodical storytelling.

If you're after the Badass Adventures of Mister Vampire in London, you're out of luck.