What’s the obvious follow-up to Dontnod’s fantastic, modern-day coming of age tale, Life Is Strange? An action role-playing game in which you play as a morally conflicted vampire in post WWI London of course. Yeah, that seems about right.
Ok, so it’s a strange choice, but despite it being a major thematic change for the developer, at its heart, like Life is Strange and the underrated, Remember Me before it, the ambitious but uneven, Vampyr is all about storytelling. Sure, the combat and setting is more than a little Bloodborne, but unlike FromSoftware’s action heavy, dialogue-lite masterpiece, Dontnod’s, Vampyr puts characterisation, narrative and decision-making front and centre.
This is largely good news as, despite the surprisingly challenging combat being perfectly decent, the game is undoubtedly at its best when dealing in tough moral choices and (mostly) well written characters. There are still some dodgy and really rather clunky moments of dialogue, but for the most part, this is well written, well performed stuff – the premise is fantastic, the lead compelling and the setting memorable. It’s a shame then that it can’t maintain the quality of its early hours for the duration of the whole game, but at its best, Vampyr comes close delivering something very special indeed. It never quite reaches its full potential, but for those looking for something a bit different, Vampyr proves an ambitious and somewhat unique experience that, while falling slightly short on both the action and the storytelling side, does enough to make it one of 2018’s most successful curios.
Playing as the fundamentally good but undoubtedly vampiric, Jonathan Reid, a doctor and veteran of The Great War, you are tasked with balancing your need for human blood with your potential want to do the right thing and, y’know, not kill every innocent bystander you come across. The brilliant thing about this is that, beyond the personal moral repercussions of giving into your vampiric needs, the game also asks you to balance your need to essentially level up (made all the more easy by feeding on human blood) and the narrative options, many of which are only available if you haven’t killed everyone in town. There are subtle balances on top of these throughout the game that combine to make the choice between good and evil much more complex than the traditional ‘do I want to be a dick?’ option usually afforded by narratively driven video games. Essentially, most players will likely end up playing the game in shades of grey which, let’s be honest, is much more interesting than the binary bastard/angel options.
Not everything works perfectly in this regard, but for the most part, your actions feel genuinely linked to the world around you with both your narrative choices and more physical interactions having a clear effect on how the story subsequently plays out. Whether it be following up on investigations, working on a cure (for either vampirism or the Spanish flu ravaging the city) or dealing with patients at the hospital, all aspects of the gameplay and narrative feel like they fit together into a cohesive whole.
Of course, it’s not all about sucking blood and making tricky moral choices – whether it be human vampire hunters or other beasts of the night, there is a fair bit of fighting to do too, and whether you’ve managed to level up or not, combat is a consistently taxing and unforgiving experience. It’s bit clunky at times and certainly can’t match FromSoftware’s best work, but judged on its own merits, Vampyr’s action is enjoyable and largely solid. It could do with some refinement, but it’s certainly not bad and actually complements the more narrative heavy aspects of gameplay surprisingly well.
The balance isn’t quite right, some of the dialogue is more than a little ropey and there are a number of minor technical issues that ultimately drag the whole experience down, but despite these issues, Dontnod’s, Vampyr proves a largely enjoyable and somewhat unique gaming experience. The setting, premise and narrative are all top drawer with the much underused vampire proving a perfect supernatural character to place at the heart of such a morally complex storyline. The setting really does make great use of the game’s complex branching decisions and dialogue options, and while the whole experience can feel a tad oppressive, your ability to change the world around you based on your actions ensure that it remains a consistently compelling experience throughout.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.