Vampyr Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Undefined, Saber Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: October 29th on Switch
Price as of article: $49.99, £44.99, €49.99
Game code provided by: Focus Home Interactive
James from SwitchWatchTV released an amazing review for the Vampyr port on Nintendo Switch on their YouTube channel. If you have not watched it yet, I highly recommend checking out the video below. For all of you lovely readers out there, the transcript is below the video, so make your way down if that is what you fancy.
Set in the bleak landscape of post world war London, a time of despair and suffering amidst the Spanish flu outbreak that ravaged much of Europe. Dr Jonathon Reid, a war veteran and blood transfusion specialist, awakens a vampire and his desire to help people confronts his newly found blood lust. This is Vampyr. A delicious setting for a gothic horror title with action RPG and detective influences. Is it horrifying or love at first bite? I’m James Romero here at SwitchWatch. Let’s jump in and find out!
Straight out of the gates, the game throws you into an immersive, post war London that feels alive. Awakening as a vampire feels frantic, and the opening scene sets a dark tone that I do not want to spoil here. Your character, Dr Jonathan Reid, suffers from a dilemma that dictates the entire experience. As a doctor, you are driven to save the citizens from the grip of the flu epidemic. As a vampire, you are cursed to feed on those you have vowed to heal.
While you progress, you are thrust into the cities underbelly and a strange, supernatural world full of terrors. The story is rather linear and well fleshed out. The game’s main scenes are suitably morbid and gothic. It’s a credit to the writers and voice actors how thoroughly I enjoyed exploring this tale. But what really makes the story exceptional is how lived in and detailed the city is.
An Open World Vibe
While the main story is linear, the world is open and you can explore it at your own pace. You will meet many people from all walks of life. As you interact with them, you feel they have a backstory, and that they have not just been randomly placed there to fill in a gap. Remarkably, each character you come across is voiced. This provides a wealth of dialogue to discover by interacting with them, healing them, and watching their activities from the shadows. The story and gameplay are interlinked in such a way that we do not normally see from many developers. Only a handful like BioWare do this well.
At every turn, we can kill a character to gain experience and become stronger, or we can save a character to help improve the city. We might save a criminal only for them to then go on and do something horrible. Or we may stop a nurse from illegal practice only to prevent others from being healed by her services. These choices affect the game strongly, right up to the multiple endings depending on how you play the game.
At its core, your aim through this journey is to get to the bottom of how you got turned into a vampire and solve the mysterious voice you can hear from your maker. You set out to find answers and quickly get involved in the flu epidemic and its potential links to the vampiric outbreak. The game touches on the topics of racism, same sex relations, science and religion, and all manner of intriguing things seen through the lens of Edwardian England.
The game starts with you confused and chased off after your first feed by a group of zealous vampire hunters. The first hour or so sees you getting to grips with your condition, backstory, and the games plot. This introduces you to the controls, combat, and systems. It is well done, revealing a bit more at a time so you can get a feel for the game.
The camera is set at a 3rd person view giving it an action RPG feel. The controls are mostly quite good and follow a scheme that you will pick up and feel natural these days. The left stick is used to control Jonathan whilst the right controls the camera. Pressing the minus button opens up the game’s menu or reveals information at certain points. During combat, you can lock onto target by pressing the right analog stick. Pushing the right stick left and right switches between targets.
You carry a main weapon and an off hand weapon or alternatively can carry a two-handed weapon. You hit with your main using Y and the off hand using X. Generally you will use a sword, knife, axe, or other traditional weapon with your main. You have various options in your off hand, from a stake or surgical blood sapper to lots of gun types.
Skills and Leveling
As you would expect as a vampire you have a number of skills at your disposal. Typically you will slash away with your main weapon and use your secondary weapon to stun enemies. When stunned, you can jump in and bite your opponent to recharge your blood meter. These actions take stamina, as does moving making, it a key stat.
Your blood can be used to power vampiric skills that you obtain as you level and is used like mana in other games. These are more powerful and are surprisingly varied. You have the ability to create a blood shield, throw spears of blood, or blood bombs. You can also use a mist form where you appear next to an enemy and slash them with your vampire claws.
Later on you will unlock ultimate skills which are extremely powerful. Combat sounds brilliant but doesn’t quite feel as good as it sounds, generally it’s quite a simple affair, despite its intricate ingredients it’s not the most fluid, battles tend to boil down to alternating between your basic attacks using up your stamina to refilling your blood meter, using your vampiric skills and vice versa. Enemies have quite large health bars so battle can take some time and feel a little wooden – it’s satisfying using your skills but it’s not quite as sharp as it could be.
The game definitely has a fair amount of RPG features to combat. Enemies have resistances to certain types of attack such as shadow, ranged, or melee.
Gaining XP will let you level up and unlock all of these passive and active skills. You can equip four at a time and certain skills work well together.
Outside of battle you can gain XP through dialogue and doing tasks. But by far, the biggest XP to be gained is by feeding on citizens. Each person you interact with is a tantalizing meal waiting to be devoured. As you speak to them, you can check out the quality of their blood which translates directly to how much XP you gain by feasting on them.
Here you can see the games core systems overlap. As you get to meet the cities people and assist them they become healthier and stronger, improving the quality of their blood and making them even more tempting, the Crux of which leads you to decide on whether to become stronger yourself or to help the city heal.
Impact of Decisions
Each of the games four districts has an overall health meter that reminds me of the Shadow of Mordor system. Helping citizens through menial tasks or by healing them impacts the whole area. Killing them can send the area into turmoil which in turn leads to chaos and more enemies in that region.
It’s a real dilemma and a fascinating concept, but the issue with it in practice is that you don’t ever NEED to pick off citizens in order to progress. Yes, it makes it quicker, but the difficulty isn’t so hard that it’s essential. If this was balanced a bit more towards the hard side, it would have had more impact. As it was, I found myself being a helpful doctor and avoided feasting on those who I had begun to build solid relationships with and felt I didn’t suffer as a result. That said, the game does have a hard mode that makes things a bit more tricky.
Side Quests and Activities
When not fighting you are out finding out about the city. You get stuck into the people’s problems and solving arguments or mysteries. You will get to the bottom of missing money at the hospital or find out why people are vanishing from an area. This feels like you are playing LA Noire as you pick up clues and spy on people.
You have vampiric vision where everything turns black and white except for the stark bright red of blood spatter. The beating hearts give away the location of friends and foes. One nice touch is the ability to spot a citizen with an elevated heart rate and track them down. You can find out what secret activity they are up to which opens up more dialogue or gains you more clues.
The dialogue really is superb. Characters are not always obvious and can turn out to be good but hide a dark secret or vice versa. It’s fascinating, but oftentimes you can cruise through dialogue without many truly tough choices. There are a few, but mostly it’s a case of asking around and working your way through the text. It is enjoyable because of the quality of writing and the fact that everything is voice acted. However, like with combat this could have been a little bit tighter.
Resting and Looting
Each day you will sleep in a hideout where you can rest. While resting, you can trade in your experience points for skills and delve into the games crafting system. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is well implemented.
Throughout the game, you will find a vast amount of ingredients. If you like to look around and collect loot, you won’t be disappointed. Some items can be broken down to their core components. These components are used to make everything from serums that help you heal in battle to upgrading your weapons. You can also make medicine to help cure citizens of ailments like a migraine, fatigue, or bronchitis. Closing that loop of healing them and improving the health of an area or cynically. This makes them a tastier meal. I mean, who wants to snack on ill meat?
The city takes you from the dark and grimy back alleys of Whitechapel. The place where Jack the Ripper so famously carved up his victims to the glitzier west end. Between getting lost in supporting London’s inhabitants and improving each areas overall health to roaming the streets to rid it of vampires, vampire hunters, and general criminals, you can easily spend plenty of time away from the games core. But you will need to stick to the script in order to open up areas and progress.
Along your journey, you will take on a number of bosses which are gruesome to look at and fun to fight. As you progress you will be taken deeper into the story and face bigger, badder enemies. You will likely make a few mistakes along the way. The game features an auto save stopping you from quitting and doing something again. I think this is a nice touch, adding that sense of purpose to your every step.
One missed feature is fast travel. The lack of one makes for some long journeys that can become a bit annoying later in the game. The gameplay loop isn’t perfect, but it’s fun, rewarding and interesting to explore. It is full of grim and gritty scenes as any vampire game should be.
The star of the show is the voice acting. Every single character and every single line they say is acted, and generally acted very well! It’s impressive and there must be close to 80 hours of voice dialogue in game. The voices fit so well, too. Anthony Howell nails Dr Reid, and Harry Hadon-Patton nails your posh patron Dr Swansea. But even the lesser characters sound great! I would go so far as to say this is one of the best voiced games I can remember.
Olivier Deriviere produced the soundtrack and it’s sublime, full of haunting and immersive sounds. The cello and bass flute are used throughout to great effect. Along with the voice work, Vampyr provides an exceptional audio experience. One of the best you will have the pleasure to hear in any game.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE
I’m a sucker for a dark, gothic game. And as a citizen of London, I find this dark take on the city I live in fascinating! As a night walker, everything is naturally cast in shadows. Not too much detail was lost when moving to the Switch, which is good. The world itself is full of little details everywhere from graffiti to broken bottles.
Enemies and characters equally are very well produced. Though I did notice the level of detail drops off as you move away from the main cast. Jonathan looks great with a lot of detail as do the main characters. However, as you move down the pecking order, details become less polished.
In portable mode, the graphics are not bad. Not bad at all, but they have that slightly washed out looks that you get with porting a high graphical quality game onto the Switch. This is the trade off you make in doing so.
Coming in at £45 or $50 a digital for physical copy makes this an expensive title. Yes, it’s a solid port, but there is nothing new to explore. The main quest in the game will take you a little over 20 hours. In total, you could rack up close to 40 hours if exploring every nook and cranny.
You can pick this up on other platforms for under £20, making it a really tough sell for anyone with options. It’s decent on the go, but for me this is best enjoyed on a TV anyway. I think it is overpriced, no matter how much I enjoyed the game personally.
OVERALL - 7.5/10
Vampyr gets a lot right. Its setting, soundtrack, and excellent story supported by a strong cast are all fantastic. Combat and the decisions you make are somewhere in the middle, but the value is poor and there are a fair amount of performance issues. Nevertheless, overall, I did thoroughly enjoyed this game. It’s ambitious and stands out for its weeding of elements and really good experience, and I recommend it to anyone if it goes on sale.