Vampyr review for PC, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PC
Also On: PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

When it was first announced, Vampyr checked all of the right boxes for me. It had stealth, it was set in an overly Gothic representation of London in the early 1900s, it had third person action combat and it had freaking vampires. All of those things were a great start for a game that we otherwise knew little about. With each subsequent showing however, it became clear that was ALL that Vampyr had to offer in terms of enticement. The trailers were so heavily focused on cinematics and showed such little gameplay that I got a bit nervous. The gameplay they did show looked very pre-alpha, specifically character movement and enemy health bars. None of it looked finished, but again I chalked that up to being pre-release trailer footage and assumed changes would be made for final release. Unfortunately after playing the full release, none of that changed, and we are left with a startlingly mediocre title with an incredible amount of wasted potential.

With all of that said, it is important to make a distinction here. Vampyr is by no means a BAD game, quite the opposite. It is pretty good. I enjoyed it when I played, complaints aside, it just simply never rises above that generally good level. The story does very little to go deeper than the surface, which felt like a lack of sharp direction for the writing team. Instead of a game built on the foundation of its story with gameplay and mechanics added to enhance it, it feels like the combat and the mechanics were decided on, then a team of writers were hired to build a story around that. Everything just feels shallow, and with so many great things to draw from, it really shouldn?t be. With that though, it would be possible to give them a pass if the gameplay was outstanding and nearly perfect, unfortunately that isn?t the case either. The best way I can describe the gameplay in Vampyr is that it feels like an upscaled game from the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. Movements are choppy, the health bars are blocky and poorly designed, interaction animations (of which there are plenty since the game is built around your character feeding on others) are poorly rendered and laughably fake.

On top of that, the world itself manages to seriously outlive its appeal. One of the things I was so excited about was exploring a Gothic London setting, but the entire game takes place at night (since you know, you?re a vampire), and the world is TOO dark. Environments all start to feel the same, if you have fought some bad guys in one dark alley in Vampyr you have fought in all of them. A lot of games do the dark and dreary thing well, see my favorite of all time, Bloodborne, but Vampyr does not pull it off well enough. Even other games like Dishonored manage to make the plague ridden dark city thing work much better than this, and with a better result. Speaking of Dishonored, I was anticipating stealth gameplay more along the lines of those games, with the option to either be a one man army and run into every encounter or be a shadow of death, rarely seen but always effective. Vampyr does not operate that way, and there is really no ?stealth? option. You have to fight these enemies head on, it is just a matter of whether or not you have chosen to feed on the innocents for great powers or not, and you are left using what you have.

That brings me to the part of the game that I do think stood out and worked very well. Vampyr centers on your choice to either be as good as possible within the limits of your affliction, or play straight up evil. The choice to feed on innocent civilians is a difficult one. On one hand, the more you feed the stronger you become. Abilities are unlocked with the blood you consume and to get enough blood, you have to eat a few folks. On the other hand, if you abstain, civilians begin to hail you as a hero and you get aid along your journey from the people of London. This makes combat more difficult though, as some of the high tier abilities are locked away from you. This is particularly frustrating in boss fights, which go on for far too long as it is. Each fight is a back and forth of feeding and attacking, trying to stay healed enough to continue while also doing enough damage to finish the fight. This takes way too long and the fight mechanics do not change enough to make each boss interesting.

The choice to feed would be a much harder one if the people around you were people you could come to care about, but that simply doesn?t happen in Vampyr. You can see that effort went into making the NPC?s have substance and character, but sub-par writing and even more disappointing voice acting, coupled with poor lip-sync and facial expressions make these NPC?s little more than free upgrade points. Each one has their own dialogue options that you feel obligated to click through in the hopes of some deeper character development or meaning but it never really gets there.

Combat is another aspect that feels like the start of something good, but ultimately ends up being unrealized potential. It tackles the two handed approach, with firearms and melee weapons both available to you, with limited success. At no point did it really feel satisfying, the combat is very floaty, not the visceral combat you would expect from a game like this. In addition to that, it is simply repetitive. Shoot, stab, use ?X? ability, drink their blood, stab some more, rinse and repeat. This carries combat from the opening scenes all the way through to the end, with no real game changers coming along in terms of weapons. I get that the point is that he is a vampire with claws and teeth, but if one of the core mechanics (especially if you choose not to feed on civilians) has you using these weapons, I expected a more well thought out combat system.

At the end of the day, Vampyr is simply a mediocre experience that had the potential to be something much more. Outdated mechanics and graphics coupled with a weak story and disappointing voice acting do little build on what could have been a great game. If this was an early access title on Steam, or a game that released for $40 maybe, but at $60 on PS4 and Xbox One, and $50 on Steam, it just doesn?t feel worth the money. On a sale maybe, or if you are absolutely set on playing a new vampire game, sure, but aside from that Vampyr does little to justify its purchase.

Note: Focus Home Interactive provided us with a Vampyr PC code for review purposes.

Grade: C+