London, 1918. You are newly-turned Vampyr Dr. Jonathan Reid. As a doctor, you must find a cure to save the city’s flu-ravaged citizens.
Back in 2017, a game came up on my radar. Vampyr is a game where you play as, you guessed it, a vampire, and hang on...it's set in 1918? During both World War I and the Spanish Influenza epidemic?
Okay, maybe not sold right away. The game still had to woo me with some decent trailers and gameplay, but the setting? Folks, I am a huge sucker for the settings and backdrops in games. If your game, book, comic, movie, etc. has a setting that says, "You'd probably enjoy just exploring this world with no story attached," it's already met a large criteria to get me on board with your game.
Trailers like this one at E3 2017 further hyped me up for Vampyr. I'm fully aware that the trailer doesn't show, anything in terms of gameplay, but as I said, this game had me convinced with its backdrop of war and disease.
Being a history buff, I've always had a soft spot for games that are set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It's a part of history that is vastly forgotten about and very few people these days are aware of anything about the Spanish Flu and what it did from 1918 to 1920. In fact, Spanish Influenza killed off about three percent of the world's population, while the Great War barely killed a third.
Vampires have also always been an interesting subject for me and they seem to rollercoaster in and out of popular culture without ever really leaving it. From the enjoyable Bram Stoker's Dracula (the 1992 version) to the internationally loathed Twilight series, and my personal favorite, Interview with the Vampire, vampires have been portrayed as everything from mindless murder machines to sophisticated posh types. Enough about what vampires are or are not, let's talk about the game.
As previously mentioned, Vampyr takes place in 1918. You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid who has returned from serving on the Western Front to a London that is ravaged by both influenza and the war. Jonathan wakes up in a mass grave for the dead and suffering from a case of newfound vampirism. Clawing his way out of the grave, his vampiric senses pick up a person near the grave and he stumbles towards them, biting their neck and drinking of their blood...only to realize he just killed his sister, Mary.
Thus, the narrative of Vampyr begins as Jonathan tries to discover who sired him into this world while he also tries to keep up being a doctor in a world ridden and suffering from various maladies during this time of crisis. While going back these tasks, you'll bump into various people and assist (or not) them in their various sidequests they can give you.
Vampyr interestingly enough is a dialogue-heavy game which actually surprised me when I played it. Most people, myself included, would have figured that Vampyr would have been a game where you play as a vampire, go mess some stuff up with your vampiric powers and that's it, but the game makes it a point to get Jonathan involved in the lives of the citizens of London and try and get you to care about their predicaments.
Jonathan does indeed have vampiric powers. They range from the ability to heal instantly, unleash area of effect attacks, the ability to throw spears made of blood, and more. Unlike other games where you simply gain these abilities as a consequence of playing through the main storyline, Vampyr instead makes you make a difficult decision: whether or not to sacrifice the lives of the innocent to attain power much more quickly.
What I mean by that is the game has a mechanic where every NPC you talk to has a mesmerize level that Jonathan has to be at before he can mentally dominate and control them. When you mesmerize an NPC, it allows you to walk them to a quiet area and drain their blood. Doing so nets you huge amounts of XP that you can use to upgrade Jonathan's abilities much more quickly and make the combat much easier to manage.
There is another way the game throws a wrench into making this difficult decision. Depending on the actions you take, they can affect the quality of the potential victim's blood. Doing things like uncovering secrets and the histories of the NPCs makes their blood better which nets you more XP if you kill them.
But the rub is that killing NPCs can potentially lower the health of that district of London, which can lead to other NPCs getting sick and dying whenever you rest, which is the only way to level your character's abilities up during the game. if a district's health drops too low you could face even more enemies that will make your un-life difficult. It's a fun little mechanic where Vampyr offers you the ability to make yourself into a badass vampire but doing so can also cost you.
As for the graphics of Vampyr the environments are done very well. World War I era London is run down and the epidemic has made people hide in their homes for fear of getting sick. Buildings are boarded up and this oppressive feeling of "man, this place is messed up," hangs over the city.
Where the game feels a bit flat is character faces. While I’ve certainly seen worse, I think that the character’s expressions are a bit lacking in my opinion.
Another area that the game falls short is with its combat. Vampyr operates with a third-person camera which is fine but there are times where enemies will jump past you, and I’ve run into issues where I’ve been in a corner and the camera seemed to have a stroke during combat which led to my untimely death. Also, the combat requires a lot of mashing a weapon against enemies, especially if you haven’t had the resources to level up your weapons. It gets tedious at times and it’s a shame because I don’t think the combat is bad, per se, but it certainly could have been polished up a bit more.
Traveling around the city can also get tedious after a while and it gets annoying as hell when you’re trying to track down an NPC to finish a quest and the game only gives you a rough area in which to find them.
I would like to highlight the music of Vampyr, which does a good job of establishing the mood of the game. I particularly enjoy the main theme that you can listen to here.
Vampyr isn’t anywhere close to being a great game but one thing I will always give games like it is that it tried something new in the video game market. Any game that is a new IP I tend to cherish a wee bit more than established franchises that are pumping out their 6th or 7th game.
Vampyr is a game that I would recommend to people but not everyone is going to like it. 3.5 out of 5.