STAFF REVIEW of Vampyr (Xbox One)


Friday, June 15, 2018.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Vampyr Box art Things that go bump in the night are normally encountered as enemies and experience fodder within RPGs, but that isn’t entirely the case with DONTNOD’s latest interactive creation. No, this time around we get to play as one such creature – a doctor and blood specialist turned vampire named Jonathan Reid. He’s the titular and troubled main character in a game about bloodsuckers that is, very fittingly, called Vampyr.

Marking a massive change of direction, tone and style from DONTNOD’s last game, the ever charming and wonderfully creative narrative adventure title, Life is Strange, Vampyr is a game about choices and conflict. Within its text heavy action adventure confines, a man who once stood for good and did his best to help people now finds himself desiring the very blood that keeps his fellow Londoners alive. Throw in a dash of family drama, a pinch of vampire hunters and a generous helping of bloodsuckers and you have this morality-fueled plot.

This 20 to 30 hour long story begins on a damp old dock, where Doctor Reid awakens to find that he’s not quite as dead as he should be. He quickly notices something else, as well, that being a strange feeling and an even stranger thirst that propels him forward. What results isn’t pretty and helps set the stage for pivotal parts of Vampyr’s narrative.

Simply put, our conflicted and morally ambiguous protagonist has come back from the dead as a newly turned vampire. One who doesn’t have any idea as to who it was that turned him, but can hear the creature’s voice inside of his head. Later on, this manifests into red tinted visions, but that’s all I’ll say about that.

As things progress, Jonathan finds himself thrust back into a physician’s role, after meeting a man who runs a financially strapped hospital in a bad part of this version of 1918 London. The man – who is also a doctor – is doing everything he can, with the help of a few other doctors and some hardworking nurses, to help cure people of varying illnesses as the Spanish Flu steamrolls its way through the city. Many are sick as a result of this disease, and dead bodies can be seen on the sides of roads, in alleyways and around makeshift graves. They’re so common, in fact, that you’ll get used to them and will stop noticing each one you pass by.


What propels Vampyr is a social system that takes into consideration more than just relationships. As players make their way through each of London’s different districts, they’ll meet many different (and impressively authentic) characters, all of whom have their own stories to tell. Many of these folks will be sick and in need of medicine, and some will offer information that will help your cause. Quite a few are also tied to side quests (or investigations, as the game likes to call them), which act as a great way to earn much needed experience points.

Where this differs from your typical RPG is in the way that each region’s health is handled. Since it’s a given that Dr. Reid needs to feed, DONTNOD has designed this experience around the idea that you can choose to either help, avoid or feast upon any of the game’s human NPCs. Keeping people alive means you’re a nice guy, but it also means that you won’t get as many experience points or level up as quickly as someone who feasts on the occasional meat suit. This is because sucking someone’s blood is the fastest and most helpful way of earning points that can then be used to evolve your doctor-turned-vampire. Be careful, though, because killing a lot of innocents will lower the health of the region you’re in, and that results in negative consequences.

The menu system offers not only a map, but a family tree or spiderweb style look at each region within London. There, you can see every person you’ve met, check on how their sicknesses have progressed (because, if left untreated, people can also die) and see which side quests they may tie into.

Simply put, your choices matter in Vampyr and there’s a consequence for each one. Even side quests have different options, such as putting up flyers for an advertising vampire hunter, or burning them in a fire pit. The consequences may not always be terribly negative, or anywhere close to dire, but sometimes they are and that can hurt.

Now, this isn’t a perfect system, but it’s commendable nonetheless. DONTNOD has obviously put a lot of effort and thought into how this works, and it stands out as you play through the game. Sometimes the consequences aren’t as severe as they could be, and it could also be said that it’s too easy to lose people without intending to, but these are kinks that one would expect from a first attempt. Maybe a sequel will improve upon these complaints.

A good example of unintentional loss occurred when I got lost and ended up in a cemetery early on in the campaign. While trying to find a way out, I heard a woman yelling for help and found her locked inside a mausoleum that she was using as a hiding spot. In front of said crypt were several skals (enemies who are presented as lower form vampires), all of whom came after me as soon as I walked by. Since I wasn’t powerful enough, and didn’t have enough supplies to take them down, I ran. That lady then died overnight, and I lost out on a side quest because of it. All because I got lost, ventured too far and couldn’t help her.


As you make your way back and forth across London, you’ll come across a good amount of safe houses, all of which offer a crafting (or blood testing) table and a bed. Jonathan has one at the hospital he works at, but there are quite a few scattered around the game’s decent sized map. They’re pivotal, too, because they not only heal you and progress time, but also allow you to upgrade in your sleep.

Sleeping too much can hurt you, though, because of the game’s aforementioned district health system. People who are left untreated will continue to get sicker as each day passes, and when you awake at night you could be down one, two or even more NPCs. It’s a juggling act to say the least.

The crafting tables are quite helpful, because they allow you to do a few different things. First off, they’re where you can test blood samples you find and develop different types of medicine (for the people who suffer from things like anemia, sepsis, pneumonia and fatigue), as well as formulas that can boost Dr. Reid’s health, stamina or blood. Secondly, these tables are where you go to upgrade your weapons (knives, saws, swords, guns and the like) and add perks to them. And lastly, the crafting tables also allow you to recycle discovered items (like watches, glass vials, rings and other things) into parts that can then be used for crafting.

Speaking of blood and stamina, it’s important to note that Jonathan has three different bars, and not just one health bar. The first is his health, which regenerates slowly (but can do so faster if certain upgrades are purchased), the second is his stamina (which is required for each attack, or to run) and the blood he’s collected from enemies, people or rats. This blood can also be used for healing, through a process where the character infuses it into himself to increase his health bar moderate amounts. This involves pressing a shoulder button or trigger and can sometimes be a tad cumbersome.

Vampyr is not an easy game, either, and it isn’t difficult to die within it. Each night, vampire hunters of varying types (melee, ranged and heavy) stalk the streets in search of what they call leeches. Skals also inhabit some areas, and more powerful vampires appear later on. Hell, there’s even the odd werewolf. These enemies are important because they provide the action in what is an action RPG, but sometimes they can become a bit much. It’s not uncommon for several to be after you at once, and early on this can make things quite difficult.

The combat becomes easier when you level up and feast upon a few of the living, but it takes a while for that to happen, and it also takes time to get used to how things work. Dr. Reid can carry four weapons, two of which can be mapped to each hand. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s because while you can only use one at a time, it’s possible to press the d-pad to switch to the other. The X button controls your standard weapons for regular attacks, while the Y button will likely be mapped to things like stakes (which stun enemies and allow you to feast on them for blood and some damage) and guns, which can both stun and damage. Those, or weapons that take blood with each strike.

No part of Vampyr's combat is incredibly polished, noteworthy or unique. The basic combat is quite simple, and can get repetitive quickly. Also, even though Jonathan can equip vampiric powers (all of which need to cool down after being used), they still don’t do enough to keep the combat fresh. Sure, making someone’s blood explode is neat, as is coagulating it so that they can’t move, but this combat system will never make you say, “Wow!.” It’s basic to a fault, slow paced and somewhat cumbersome.


Of course, the powers that you have equipped – be they defensive, evasive or aggressive – will vary on what you choose to prioritize in the upgrade menu. Choosing to focus on increasing Jonathan’s blood, stamina or health meters, how much he heals, or the amount of blood he takes in, can also keep you from really pimping out your powers to their fullest extent. This just means that every player will have a different experience; something which is also made true by the social system and its moral choices.

The frame rate also takes a dive whenever there are lots of enemies on screen at one time. It can get pretty bad, but thankfully it rarely gets to that point. Vampyr does have frequent hitches and stutters, though, and it likes to load for a decent amount of time, even prior to certain conversations with NPCs. You’ll think you’re about to enter a cutscene, but it’ll just be a regular conversation with a myriad of different (and somewhat interesting) dialogue options to choose from.

All of the characters in this game are incredibly wordy, so expect to have to read and/or listen to a lot of dialogue. A lot of it is pretty interesting and helps flesh out each character, but that isn’t always the case, and you may well experience dialogue fatigue. It is possible to skip from one line to the next if you think that you’d prefer to quickly read things instead of waiting for the voice actors to say them, but be warned that you may miss things because the subtitles don’t always show every line at once.

Due almost everything mentioned above, Vampyr is a slow burn of an RPG that will not be for everyone. This is something that will appeal most to a certain audience. One with patience, and one that is able to overlook faults in what is a slow, repetitive and flawed game a lot of the time. Vampyr’s social system stands out, though, and its choices really do matter most of the time. Its game world also feels very authentic to what 1918 London would’ve been like, but the layout can be confusing and it can be very easy to get lost. The map isn’t great, and it doesn’t tell you which doors are locked. There's also nothing in the way of fast travel, which is quite disappointing.

As hinted at above, this is a somewhat dated-looking experience that isn’t without its technical problems. From the odd glitch (like being stuck inside an NPC) to frame rate issues, there are things that mar the campaign. Also, when I went into the sewers to meet someone and then fight a boss, it was hard to even see the creature because almost every time I’d walk through the water a very bright bloom effect would take up almost the entire screen. To beat him, I had to make good use of the lock on feature and pay close attention to where he was, while constantly shooting and then dodging away until all of my bullets were gone.

Vampyr’s sound and voice acting, on the other hand, is pretty good. It’s not Life is Strange quality, but it does the job and offers some pretty good performances. As per usual, some of the voice actors did better than others, but the average is pretty consistent. They lend an authentic air to a game that has music and sound effects that befit its setting and the creatures that haunt it.

In conclusion, Vampyr is a flawed but somewhat impressive experience that plays differently than a lot of other games. It isn’t something that will appeal to a wide audience, but it’s worth checking out if you’re okay with a slow burn and don’t mind lots of reading. Just don’t go in expecting another homerun like Life is Strange. This is a very different game, and one that does tend to be overlong.

**This review is based on the Xbox One (X) version of the game, which we were provided with.**





Overall: 6.4 / 10
Gameplay: 6.1 / 10
Visuals: 6.2 / 10
Sound: 7.3 / 10

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