Review: Vampyr looks for humanity in the darkness

Vampyr is a gothic horror in which players are a monster who’s made to feel guilty for killing.

Vampyr is something of a rare beast in gaming. It comes on like an RPG horror hybrid filled will creepy atmosphere, feral beasts and amoral characters, but at its heart it’s a rather interesting tale about a man’s struggle to hold onto his humanity in the face of bloody temptation.

Vampyr takes place in Victorian London at the end of the First World War and follows the misfortunes of one Dr. Jonathan Reid, who returns home from the frontline only to be attacked by a caped figure who leaves him for dead. Reid wakes up moments later and is consumed by bloodlust.

He grabs the nearest person and drains them, discovering too late that, in horror, he’s killed his sister. Scrambling into the night, he vows vengeance against his shadowy tormentor.

Snobbish players may well turn up their noses at Vampyr, and it’s easy to understand why. The game’s visuals don’t exactly push the hardware on consoles or PCs – in some instances they look like they were ported over from last gen machines.

The combat is patchy at best. While players can unlock some rather nasty vampiric powers, the core fighting mechanics involve hitting enemies quickly and dodging attacks, and neither are very well executed. Furthermore, the voice acting and dialogue in places are overwrought with angst and clunkingly bad.

In spite of all of that, though, there are many reasons to persevere with Vampyr, not the least that it tells a story that’s both very layered and thought provoking. As Reid – and by extension, the player – explores London, he meets a large cast of characters in a variety of districts, all of whom have their own backstories and challenges.

A lot of them are trying to battle the Spanish Plague sweeping across London, while others are far shadier. Some offer quests or information, and depending on whether or not the player decides to help, the landscape in the game changes drastically.

Reid has the option to drain many of these people of all their blood, and is rewarded for doing so in the form of power unlocks and strength boosts. However, killing these characters makes life a lot easier for the player, because they can unlock Reid’s powerful talent tree. So, if you choose to take the more human route and fight Reid’s bloodlust it makes the experience less morally moribund – and dovetails better with Reid’s kind personality – but you’ll basically be playing the game on the hardest difficulty

This situation also throws up several more questions for the player, once they start to dig into the lives of the NPCs they meet. Some are more immoral than others thanks to the city’s epidemic bringing out the worst in some of its inhabitants. Players may find themselves questioning whether to kill or refrain from draining certain characters based on what they find out about them.

After all, how many of us spare a a nurse who is underhandedly charging her patients for help? Which of us would kill a thief, once we’ve discovered his crimes are committed only so he can support his dying son? It’s possible to choose a middle road that benefits Reid but that can have an impact on the game’s overall plot and the state each district finds itself in.

What Vampyr absolutely nails is its world’s creepy atmosphere. While some NPCs may look like unblinking androids, the city in which the game’s story takes place is gothic wonder; cobbled streets snake into the distance, oil lamps glow in the gloom and spires on building point accusingly at the sky. The mood is further enhanced by the game’s superb orchestral score, which conjures up tension and foreboding in equal measure

So Vampyr then, isn’t perfect, but it comes highly recommended nonetheless. The game is a maze of choices  and all of them are shaded grey, lending a morally ambiguous mood to the whole affair. This is a story in which an undead killer is used to explore humanity in a time of bleak hardship and for that alone, it’s well worth exploring.

★★★★☆

 

 

 

 

 

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