"...I'm excited to see how far each relationship can change over the course of a playthrough."
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.
"...a game with a serious vision and a lot of really interesting ideas..."
I've been mildly curious about DONTNOD's Vampyr since last year's reveal, so I made it a priority to visit the demo theater to get a taste (get it?) of what it's going to be like to play an unholy creature of the night. What I got was a pretty heavy-handed bit of story, interesting-ish combat, and an amazing amount of potential related to the interactivity of the moral choices of our damned protagonist.
I feel like Victorian London is now a thing in games. Remember when you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a post-apocalyptic setting or theme? Well, between Bloodborne, Dishonored, The Order and now Vampyr, you'd think I'd be a little tired of the setting, but it still provides a uniquely bleak and oppressive backdrop that's close enough to our modern world to appear familiar and alien at the same time.
Johnathan Reid, our nosferatu main character, is a doctor by trade, so of course he uses a serrated bonesaw when faced with vampire hunters looking for a job to complete. Combat seemed like an odd mix of Batman timed button presses, Bloodborne quick stepping, and devastating dark magic attacks like a shadow that impales people like the most metal pincushion this side of a Hot Topic. The angst and atmosphere of London is strong with this game, as everything feels like Tim Burton's interpretation of Sweeney Todd (though with a lot more rain and general grime). Admittedly, the few story bits were driven home with the subtlety of a stake through the heart (ha!). One female companion made damn sure Johnathan understood his actions would have consequences, and they might as well have given Reid a tear tattoo to go with his Chris Gaines demeanor. Hopefully things will be a little more nuanced and the tone can move beyond an Evanescence concert.
Thankfully, things get really exciting when Johnathan interacts with the various NPCs of Whitechapel. Reid's vampire/detective vision allows him to gauge the various XP bonuses from murdering and drinking the precious blood of random passersby. A character suffering from the Spanish Flu won't provide much of a boost, but a healthy victim will allow Johnathan to level up faster. You'll have to be careful, however, as too much death and carnage will eventually bring a locale to a ruined state that seems to hint at more otherworldly enemies in the future. Each NPC is also a named character with the potential for quests and story development, so players will have to choose between leveling, helping citizens, and trying to cure the epidemic plaguing London. The most memorable part of the demo was when our driver decided to kill a guy who we could have engaged in a quest to find his lost jewelry box. With such a great amount of player agency combined with a hub-world design, Vampyr could end up being a Deus Ex game with supernatural powers instead of bionic augmentations.
Vampyr is all about potential. My hands-off demo showed a game with a serious vision and a lot of really interesting ideas playing into a morality system that directly affects the power of the player character. Whether or not these various components will actually form into a cohesive whole remains to be seen, but color me intrigued with DONTNOD's latest effort.