Spooky scary squishy vampires.
How does one define consequence? As a term, it refers to the result or effect of an action and we generally see it as unpleasant. I remember picking up inFamous one bank holiday and being particularly excited by it’s touting of consequence gameplay. Sadly the deep and rich possibilities I built up in my head made the actual black-and-white decisions seem rather boring in comparison, but it did present a way of inserting consequence. Over time we have designed other more robust methods such as making the decisions affect short bursts of gameplay such as many of the TellTale games, or having the consequences have no meaning to the world as they didn’t in Grand Theft Auto V.
Dontnod’s foray into this consequence gameplay is one of surprising strength. Vampyr seems to strangely resemble one of the many viruses of reference in its gameplay, with a third-person action RPG residing in the body of an open-ended, dialogue focused adventure. It seems as though it exists as a strange amalgamation of Dontnod’s previous games, Remember Me and Life is Strange. Taking the better of one and worst of another.
Meet Dr. Jonathan Reid, a doctor straight from the front lines of the Great War to visit his sick mother. He wakes up in a mass grave lusting for blood and entirely uncertain about just what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, the first person to come along is your sister whom you happily drain all her blood and thus must run away and seek to discover what happened to you. Through the thorough tutorial, you end up taking a night shift job at a hospital, using the cover given by the role to investigate your situation and tend to patients.
As a doctor, you are charged with protecting 60 fully fleshed out civilians all with their own backstory and secrets. You’ll be spending your time talking to them as part of the main story and seeking to discover more about them, whether out of sheer curiosity or a desire to drain them like a McDonald’s milkshake. There is no cardboard cut-outs or corners taken when designing these characters and the fact that it was chosen to give them all unique identities as opposed to being a faceless mob adds a level of depth to the small-ish world Vampyr inhabits.
As a vampire you will be heading round seeking to discover what caused this curse upon you and if you so desire to drink the blood of anyone you possibly can. This is the first part of the systems of consequence we see in Vampyr. You can go through the game without draining a single important character, though the vampire hunters and other vampires you meet are free game. Doing this will keep your districts healthy and people generally happy with the consequence being that you will level up far slower as each of the characters holds a serious amount of experience in their veins.
This sort of interconnectivity of systems is how consequence is doled out. The overarching goal is rather vague past completing the story missions of the game. If you just want to be a buff boy, drain citizens and ignore people, you can complete goals easier but the city falls into disarray leaving neighbourhoods in ruin. There is a level of legwork involved in this, however, as you have to slowly discover more about each person, break down their mental barriers before finally taking them somewhere quiet and chowing down.
If you keep the city alive and safe you can still keep going through it, the process will just be slower. You keep the city safe by making sure people stay healthy and providing medicine when they become ill on top of the obvious not devouring them at any opportunity. It’s not too difficult to keep on top of people if you pay attention, but you can let time run without thinking and you risk the system catching up with you.
Occasionally you will have to kill things, either vampire hunters or other vampires, by bumbling through the fighting mechanics. The fighting does manage to be passable when squaring off against a single foe, but errors become apparent when fighting multiple enemies.
You have a plethora of skills at your disposal to dispose of your foes. You have several one and two-handed weapons, guns, and stakes; and if those do not tickle you enough you have several vampire powers manipulating blood or your body shape. It is entirely serviceable and manages to keep being entertaining by being minimal in the overall gameplay and having plenty of progression in strength in the limited attack pool. But Reid moves too slowly in comparison to his foes, who all possess a way to strike you hard during wind-up phases. Quite a few times two enemies manage to tear me to pieces simply because they were faster and attacked in succession while I was recovering.
The more I played of Vampyr, the more I saw these various shortfalls drawing away from the high polish of the story and character interaction. Graphically the game is stunning, and I powered it all the way up and got a consistent 60 frames (GTX 1070) with no issues. However, this highlighted the shortcuts in the animations. You run around rather strangely despite the fact most of Reid’s other animations feel quite natural. The facial animations are not captured though, and whoever mapped in the mouth movements could do with giving it a once over as they seem to be rather rushed and do not fit with what characters are generally saying. Over time you get used to these, and in general, animation is alright but sometimes you get the stark reminder that Vampyr has a few too many unpolished corners to hide in the night.
The game is about as conflicted as the protagonist, two different levels of quality pervade this: Passable and brilliant. Most of the game is brilliant and only some of it is passable, which if it has to be is probably the best possible arrangement. But the passable bits stick out against the stunning quality. It won’t take much to fix though, just a little more work and time, maybe a few patches in as there aren’t any bugs I found during my play despite being given a list of several known ones.
By a blessing these problems never really draw away from the overall desire of Vampyr: To build a game around your actions having consequences. The system is technical and building it took a little time away from other systems which could have taken some polish, but it is not a regrettable choice. Vampyr comes out of the coffin kicking and screaming and does a damn good job.