What is Life but Death Pending?
Dontnod first showed off Vampyr at E3 2017 and it looked to be darker and bloodier than a goth girl’s first period, but upon release, it resembled more of a slightly too moist fart.
You play as the freshly turned vampire, Dr Jonathan Reid, whose task is to figure out just who had the balls to turn him and dump him in a mass grave and also what exactly is the cause of the weird Spanish Flu turned vampire super aids type disease that has swept London’s streets. It’s an interesting story… For all of 5 minutes before it becomes apparent that the developers didn’t have the faintest idea how to take their elevator pitch from a cool “what if” to a final product and so they just kind of set up camp inside the elevator and hoped for the best. In retrospect, somebody should have realised this game was going to be painfully mediocre at every turn and climbed up onto the roof of this metaphorical elevator—that I’ve probably talked about way to much in the last 2 sentences—and snipped the god damned cables letting the project crash and burn because maybe then I wouldn’t have had to ask myself “why the hell am I playing this bloody game?” so many times.
I desperately want to say something nice about this game, but every time I try, I realise that all the noteworthy things this game tries to do ends in a miserable failure. It’s sad because I really enjoyed Dontnod’s previous game—Life is Strange—and had hoped Vampyr was going to be more of the same.
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary
Okay, let’s take a bite out of this s*** sandwich and explain what’s going on and why it’s so bad.
Right from the start, we are greeted with a cool black and white sweeping shot over some old bones and some less old corpses while Jonathan recites a gloomy, gothic poem about death pending and grass being crushed sand or something. It’s a gothic story so we’re bound to hear the odd sentence that makes us groan and roll our eyes hard enough to separate them from the optic nerve—that weird gooey thing that attaches to our brains, you know what I’m talking about. Offbeat dialogue aside, the game is quick to show it’s true colours—quite literally as you claim your first victim the black and white washes away and colour is restored—as you’re forced to run from attackers who I guess saw you bite your own sister, Mary? Soon you’re cornered and have to fight and this is where my biggest issue with the game begins.
Do you like Dark Souls or Bloodborne? Because the people at Dontnod certainly did and they tried to emulate it, but it comes off as the poorest attempt at a “hardcore RPG” combat system I’ve ever experienced. An enemy approaches and you press to lock on, they swipe at you with their weapon and you press to dodge, using way too much stamina in the process, now you attack with . There are abilities you can purchase, mapped to , , and a special ultra move that is mapped to +, and they all use your stored blood, which you can get more of by pressing to bite stunned enemies. This is pretty much the core of the combat system because although you have skills, their countdown timers are laughably too long to be used twice in most fights.
There are 44 weapons in this game, but due to the terrible combat, you’ll likely only favour 1 or 2 through the whole bloody game. I found the best weapons were the 2-handed Mace because it does decent damage and stuns enemies at the same time which lets you bite people for more blood or just a small respite from combat as your stamina replenishes. Alternatively, you can use the Hacksaw because it has some serious bleed damage which means you’ll probably be always stocked. There are ranged weapons in this game, but they’re utterly useless.
Enemies seemed to be aggressively locked on to Jonathan so even if you expertly dodge an attack there’s a huge chance that they’ll just snap to your new position for the last few frames of their attack animation. When they not sticking to you as your shower curtain sticks to your leg when climbing out of the shower, they’re instead just glitching through your attacks. So often I’ve tried to deal the final blow to an enemy, but Jonathan seems to swing through the character model dealing no damage at all but opens you up for all manner of attacks.
Later on in the game you will encounter enemies that will set you on fire or crop dust you with huge green fart clouds and these will do insane amounts of damage over time and the only thing you can do to combat it is press to consume some of your blood in exchange for health, but this will not always save you.
The Boss Fights
They have too much HP and do too much damage.
There are a few hub systems in this game and in these areas there’s no combat so it’s kind of like a safe space. However, since you’re a vampire, you can prey upon the poor sods living in these hub areas.
Pembroke Hospital will be your first and primary base of operation and probably has the most interesting NPCs, I mean I wouldn’t really know because every person in this game is so god damned forgettable, I honestly couldn’t remember their names, what they look like or even what their secrets are. But the game so desperately wants you to invest time in them so every now and then you’ll be able to observe an NPC as they do something seedy, they’ll give you a quest or they’ll get sick and you’ll have to cure them to either keep the district healthy and safe or just to make sure you get the most XP from them when you inevitably bite them.
Dontnod said players will have a choice on how they play, which ties into these hubs because contrary to how every other RPG works, you won’t be able to level up from combat since each enemy gives you 5XP. So what you’ll have to do then, is stalk these innocent people and “embrace” them for MASSIVE XP, or you could do some side quests for not so much XP. So the choice then is to play as a benevolent, kind vampire and never have enough XP to level up to meet the challenge head-on or eat everyone and breeze through the game.
Forgive me, but that doesn’t seem like much of a choice.
A good story is a powerful thing. It can transport us to fantastic worlds and introduce us to wonderful characters who we will inevitably get attached to. There’s none of that here.
Jonathan Reid is a scientist who specialises in blood transfusions, which is later revealed to not be a coincidence, and so he seems to be perfect for figuring out the cause of the disease and to cure it, but you spend most of the game doing lateral moves. You’ll meet a woman called Lady Ashbury and she’ll ask you to find out who’s blackmailing her and Jonathan, who must be experiencing his first-ever erection, just foolishly accepts and runs off to solve the case. Later you’ll meet a secret vampire society, but they’ll ask you to go turn a wealthy and powerful businessman because he’s scared of death… There’s a disease! It’s killing people at alarming rates! There are god damned quarantine zones all over London! Let me find a cure for God’s sake! Or at the very least let me figure out what’s causing it— Oh, so the game is just going to have this boss character, who I’ve only just met, reveal what caused the vampire super aids. Fantastic.
Jonathan, who the game tells us is the only person who can figure this out, is a clever man. He should be able to figure it out, but because he spent the whole game running god damned errands for everyone, he never got a chance to flex his sexy scientist brain.
The last section of the game after this is actually pretty streamlined now that we can develop a cure and have one last boss fight, however… Right at the end, you’ll get to experience such a flimsy romance shoehorned in. It honestly comes out of nowhere. Jonathan and Lady Ashbury have like 3 or 4 exchanges throughout the whole game, but they fall in love. Sure. Whatever.
The Journey to The Platinum
In order to get the platinum for this game, you need to be a masochist and to play the game without “embracing” any NPCs—you can bite people in combat though—which is going to make combat so much worse.
When you get to chapter 6, save and start the most boring collectable grind of your trophy hunting career.
Once you’ve collected everything, go and “embrace” everyone until all districts are hostile.
Reload your save and go kill the last boss.
That’s really it. But the challenge is trying to not to force your thumbs into your eyes every 30 seconds as you travel between sections and the game decides it needs to stop and load the next area for a minute or two.
Tips to Survive!
- Don’t play this game
- But if you insist
I mean, there’s always a chance I’m just being an unfair loser and the game is actually good… Naaahh.