Two and a half years have passed since the announcement of this new IP produced by Focus Interactive and developed by the storytelling geniuses of Dontnod: after a delay of seven months from the previous declared release date, Vampyr is finally on physical and digital shelves all over the planet; Has the game, pad in hand, really convinced our editorial team? Will it be worth embarking on this grim adventure? Well in a few lines we will guide you through the alleys of a gloomy early twentieth century London, among hospitals, factories and obviously cemeteries.
From the War to the Tomb
In war people die: it is a fact. However, this was not the case for our hero, Dr. Jonathan Reid, who survived the First World War. We find our doctor in a mass grave in a suburb of London, seized by spasms and an inexplicable thirst. As he staggers out of this pit of corpses, a voice speaks in Jonathan's head, encouraging him to return to life, to feed himself: a young woman approaches him but her voice is muffled, clouded by the deafening sound of blood beating in her veins and which for our doctor now resounds loudly like a drum in the ears.
The woman hugs the young man, unaware of the kiss of death that our protagonist's lips are about to give her. Refreshed, conscious again, Jonathan awakens from numbness to sink into the darkest of nightmares: the woman who just bit was none other than her sister. While the man realizes what he has done, others see him and begin to hunt him by calling him a monster, shooting him and chasing him in a daring escape. Who had made him such a vile being? Why had his fate placed him in this unlife? With a mind full of questions, Jonathan saves a priest from the attack of his fellow man and the latter, thanking him, takes him to a friend of his, the managing doctor of the London hospital. Now, with a roof over his head, Jonathan can finally start hunting down his "killer". The plot behind Vampyr it is obviously very complex, a dark plot that we leave you the pleasure of discovering for yourself, as every choice counts and every game will be different from the others.
From Prey to Predator: Becoming a Vampire
In Vampyr, the gameplay unfolds in two distinct moments: the exploration made up of dialogues and investigations, and the actual combat, the focus of the action in the title. Let's consider the first of the two aspects of the game: being an adventure about vampires, the dialogues will be fundamental and full of information; slowly as we proceed in the world of Vampyr, more and more dialogue options are opened, given by the information we will find from this or the other character, even from the letters, diaries and pages of medical reports that we will find in the hospital, real base of operations for our doctor. Reading, informing us about the life of our fellow citizens, we will open different dialog boxes with the various characters who will thus be able to give us information that is always useful for our cause, whether it is the completion of a mission or the finding of a lost relative. You will also find that every life is precious: to level up in Vampyr, you will have to choose who to Hug (in vampiric jargon it means to kill, or the embrace of death) but remember that each dead character will change the story you go to live because this could be a relative of another character or the lover or the bastard son; one thing is certain, the higher your victim will be in the social hierarchy (each district of London has its own hierarchy) and the healthier he will be, the more experience points this will give you. Obviously, choosing who to kill will not be easy but it will be a must for your hero's progression.
Once you have made your choices at the plot level, the game offers an enormous amount of options that we are going to dissect: starting from our Jonathan, we can tell you that the doctor has three macro skill trees to fill in at your choice. The first branch of skill concerns the plus aspect animalistic of our vampire, in particular the claws, unlocking a series of attacks that inflict heavy damage at short range.The second macro area has to do with with shadows, from which to throw powerful fragments of bones, nails and even real deadly spears.Third but not least the magic of blood which will allow us to create long-range explosive pools of blood, inflicting very heavy damage to the area. Continuing in this intricate tree of skills, we will also be able to increase the health values of our vampire, the level of stamina that we will need to attack melee and to dodge enemy attacks, and finally increase our blood supply (the equivalent value of "mana" if you prefer). There are also skills outside of these three macro trees, defined as secondary skills: these are based on defense, allowing us to create blood barriers around our hero, on the power of our bite and on the amount of blood we will regenerate with each "kiss". The secondary skills related to the shadow aspect, on the other hand, will allow us to make leaps from one area to another, becoming invisible for a short time or inflicting damage upon our arrival. If all this is not enough for you, think that they exist three "supreme" versions of the three main trees: the supreme version of the claws for example will send Jonathan in bloody fury, making him immune to damage for a few seconds and causing him to land repeated blows, the shadow ultimate will create shadow copies of our vampire who will confuse and attack the opponents, while the supreme of the blood will do boil the enemy, causing it to explode and restoring health to the doctor if he is near the explosion. Also, think that you can choose to completely reset the abilities of your '900 alter ego and start over with every "rest" you take: there is no limit to the customization of your character.
They could not miss the weapons of course: there are countless sidearms, which unfold between spiked clubs, scythes, hacksaws, scalpels, stakes and swords; as there is no shortage of firearms, but remember that we are at the beginning of the last century and the options are limited (you will not carry an AK47 to understand us). Each single weapon can be improved in four different categories: common, good, excellent and perfect, to which two other sub-categories must be added, being sidearms for example you can upgrade the damage or amount of stamina which they will consume with each attack or add altered status such as poison, bleeding or stunning, essential for performing a bite in combat. You can equip two weapons in each hand or two one-handed weapons and one two-handed weapon; each weapon has a simple and a special attack different for each of them, to you the choice. To upgrade your weapons you will need a workbench, present in every hiding place that we find in every district of London, these hubs will allow you to create the Sieri that will support you in combat, healing your wounds and altered statuses or regenerating blood points. Don't be discouraged, it doesn't end there! In each hub you can create real cures for diseases to give to your patients: treating a headache or flu is vital for the health of the neighborhood because the higher the health quality of a place and its inhabitants, the greater the experience points that each individual citizen will give you with each hug. There is therefore another silent protagonist: London. It will be your adventure companion, with its neighborhoods and secrets to be discovered: it will be your care to keep the health level of each neighborhood high and to decide sparingly who to embrace.
Speaking of combat, we cannot fail to open a parenthesis about the enemies we will meet in Vampyr: the first will be the Skals, lesser vampires who have no real conscience but who just feed on unsuspecting victims; these live mainly in the sewers or in the suburbs of the city. Vulkod is going to be a really scary name: these vampires are halfway between giant bats and werewolves, they do not speak and will be real ferocious beasts to face hand to hand, better to keep at a distance. We will then find the Nemrod, or sentient vampires who hunt their fellow men to prevent the human race from discovering the secret of their existence; finally the Ekon, aristocratic vampires will not necessarily be enemiesindeed, everything will depend on your choices and your actions towards them and interests. The streets of London are then populated by Priwen's Guardians, an ancient caste of vampire hunters who will give you a hard time with their henchmen more or less trained in hand-to-hand. Each enemy has specific abilities and resistances and it will be up to you to decide how to deal with them or ignore them. The experience you will get from each fight will not be very much (this is because the game tends to make you choose which of the sixty characters to embrace rather than make you experience in combat) although you can face enemies several times in the same area by going to sleep or changing neighborhood .
Of Claws and Teeth
Vampyr lays bare our fears, strips us of our certainties and takes us back a hundred years, throwing us into the darkest London you can imagine, in search of a light that may never come. Jonathan's adventure is crazy, full of twists and turns and so deep that it can easily rival the plot of The Witcher for complexity and choices at our disposal. Are we talking about a perfect game? No, unfortunately: the flaws are found from a technical point of view, strong of unstable frame rates even on PlayStation 4 Pro and continuous freeze for uploads. Graphically the game is very fluid in combat, but it lacks really dull texture and careless in the dialogues and backgrounds that are sometimes empty, giving a sense of unfinished. Smudges, which unfortunately go to affect a painstaking work at the narrative level, a choice of gameplay that could teach the most famous titles also recently released. Dontnod has done a commendable job with the few means available, we look forward to a corrective patch and greater awareness by Focus in the future: Vampyr is a title to be taken immediately, without second thoughts.