Robert Steinman
E3 2017: Vampyr Preview
What we do on the show floor.
06.14.17 - 5:09 PM

Last year, I had the chance to see the first gameplay footage for Vampyr, the upcoming RPG from the developers of Life is Strange. I was intrigued, to say the least, but there were still many questions about the scope and game systems at play. Strangely enough, I'm feeling very similar about the game following the latest 45 minute demo at E3 2017.

Unfortunately, the gameplay demo was still hands-off, meaning I couldn't get my hands on a controller to take doctor-turned-creature-of-the-night Jonathan Reid for a test drive. You'd think this would make me a little apprehensive considering Vampyr is scheduled to release this November, but developer DONTNOD is going for something truly distinct with their latest title that may not demo well on the busy show floor in LA. I'd describe the game as somewhere between an immersive sim like Deus Ex or Prey and a third-person action game. The most concerning thing for me right now is that Vampyr doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on either concept, and I'd need a great deal of time to see if the jack-of-all-trades approach ends up working out. The combat looks quite rough, with a stamina bar à la Dark Souls and tons of unique vampire abilities that all seem to fling and fly without serious impact or sense of satisfying connection. Granted, Vampyr isn't billing itself as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but what I'm seeing is much more in line with DONTNOD's more forgettable Remember Me (gee, that's ironic) in terms of action. It doesn't help matters that things look quite rough in this current build. Character faces in particular lack any real detail, and some of the animations were distracting in places.

The city and NPC interaction, however, should be advertised and seen as Vampyr's true selling point. London itself is the main character, featuring districts that will deteriorate should you choose to make the citizens your preferred food source to power up your abilities for tougher encounters. Every character is named and has a set of relationships that you can use to exploit and manipulate. It's a bit strange that you can increase the experience bonus by learning more about your potential prey, but it gives you an incentive to investigate and interact with the world. In our demo, Dr. Reid spends a lot of time learning about a sweet old lady before finally doing her in so he can gain new powers in a pretty expansive skill tree. You'll have to be careful, however, as bleeding a district dry could eventually cut it off completely from the rest of London and lead to the rise of ghoulish vampire-like creatures called Skals that make life quite difficult for Jonathan.

There was one slightly distracting thing about the demo that kept coming up over and over in my head. Typically, vampire fiction focuses on the predator being hidden from the greater part of society (the zaniness of HBO's True Blood notwithstanding), but this version of London seems to react to the knowledge of actual undead creatures with nothing more than a slight shoulder shrug. Vampires just seem to exist and people are quite okay with it, and that kind of destroys the illusion of a historical London pretty quickly. It's also odd just how much blood, death, corpse piles and Skals are roaming around such a tight space, further distancing me from feeling like this is a living world outside of the relationship branches between characters.

All that said, I'm still holding out hope for Vampyr. It's clearly a very difficult game to properly demo given that it's often a very quiet experience based around conversations and dialogue trees, and I'm excited to see how far each relationship can change over the course of a playthrough. We'll have to wait and see what lurks in the shadows come November.


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