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Review: Vampyr (PlayStation 4)By Renan At 04.06.2018 22:00

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At its core, Vampyr is a narrative driven experience that hinges entirely on how much one immerses into the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid. A recently bitten vampire, Jonathan's arc has him dealing with the fallout of being a doctor now craving blood. Whether he fights off the hunger or gives into his cravings relies entirely on the actions of the player. It's a solid jumping off point as far as decision-based stories go, but it's not without its fair share of faults.

Although thematically sound regardless of Jonathan's actions, the story doesn't exactly take into account whether or not Jonathan has done the predetermined "correct" actions prior to triggering a new event. As dialogue is handled at the will of the player and not the story, it's entirely possible to skip speaking to certain characters, instead heading towards the character that will progress the story immediately. While it's common sense in any RPG to speak to just about everyone, a game as complicated as Vampyr should take into consideration who Jonathan has and hasn't spoken to. Should Jonathan sequence break, for lack of better phrase as it's not truly sequence breaking, he will act as though he has information he clearly hasn't been given. This is a fundamental flaw in one of the title's core systems and one that ruins immersion should someone manage to guess the correct sequence of events.

Thankfully, this isn't an issue that occurs often, but it's one that highlights the most prominent flaw with the whole package: inconsistency. Interrogating townspeople is one of the core mechanics, but it doesn't always take into consideration what Jonathan should and shouldn't know; combat plays a big role and occurs with a relative frequency, but allows Jonathan to feed on enemies without consequence, undermining the main theme; and the script, which prides itself on offering a complex take on the traditional vampire tale, plays it far too safe in too many areas. Even in the face of all these flaws, though, the title never collapses under its own weight.

For all its inconsistencies, Vampyr is still incredibly engaging. There's a legitimate complexity to interacting with townspeople that makes Jonathan feel like a real vampire. His individual interactions, independent from the greater story, can lead to some genuinely memorable gameplay experiences as certain townsfolk offer side-quests to complete or can simply be slowly manipulated into becoming a source of blood for Jonathan's cravings. While not every citizen feels three-dimensional, every citizen does contribute to the overall atmosphere and can potentially guide the gameplay in a way not even the main story can.

At times, Jonathan will even have the choice between curing citizens outright or sparing himself the effort and eating them. Whenever Jonathan infects a citizen, the district they are a part of suffers. It's entirely possible to systematically dismantle the stability of each district and doing so has its consequences. Of course, even taking those consequences into consideration, there are multiple benefits to spreading the vampiric plague.

Throughout the course of the game, Jonathan will gain experience that he can in turn spend to upgrade his vampiric abilities. The skill trees are what’s to be expected in an RPG, offering new abilities and simply buffing stats, but it’s the way the experience system is handled that keeps it interesting. While it’s possible to just play normally and level up every now and then, Jonathan will eventually hit a speed bump where leveling up will take a considerably long time. The only way to circumvent the grind is to put further put London at risk and feed on its inhabitants.

By adding a direct gameplay benefit to the mechanic, Vampyr is able to give greater weight to both the narrative and core gameplay. Should Jonathan choose to stay vigilant in succumbing to the hunger, he’ll remain a weak doctor with only a few abilities. Should Jonathan give into his hunger, he’ll be bestowed great power at the risk of utterly tearing London apart. Conceptually, it’s a sound system that ties into every aspect of the game. Unfortunately, there is one major issue: this isn’t a particularly hard game.

Although not without a few moments of difficulty, combat is generally quite easy, bordering on mindless. There’s a stamina system in place, but it recovers fast enough and Jonathan hits hard enough where it hardly ever feels punishing. Regular enemies can be taken out with considerable ease, especially since the weapons Jonathan has access to tend to be incredibly useful, and bosses, while fun in their own right, are easy to dodge with predictable patterns. Despite how easy battles can be, it is legitimately fun to play around with Jonathan’s skills, and feeling overpowered, regardless of the route chosen, does make for a cathartic experience at times.

It's honestly amazing just how well everything works, despite the inconsistencies. There's a fun enough base where it's easy to overlook the flaws and just accept what does work at face value. Unfortunately, while the core mechanics have enough upsides to save the actual gameplay, the presentation is severely lacking on every front. Vampyr already looks dated and suffers from far too much stuttering for its own good.

Animations are stiff and downright ugly. Even for a last gen title, they would be on the lower end. Aesthetically, 20th century London is a perfect setting for a vampire story, and there are moments where the visuals, backgrounds in particular, shine, but the character models are hard to take seriously. Jonathan's bite animations, especially, look out of place. A pity considering how much impact a good bite could have given for the game's presentation. Gameplay isn't exactly unstable, but it's not perfect, either. Walking through London is fine enough, but movement is nowhere near as fluid or smooth as it should be.

This isn't a case of Vampyr just being graphically inferior, either. Had it simply had smoother animations, the visuals would be perfectly fine. The issue is that every action comes off awkward and slightly uncomfortable. It's a shame because, for all the flaws present, there was enough good to bring it back up, only for it to be dragged down once again by a lack of polish. Vampyr isn't bad, far from it, but it's nowhere near as good as it should be.

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Final Score
Although flawed and at times painfully inconsistent, [i]Vampyr[/i] manages to offer relatively engaging gameplay in spite of a lack of overall polish. Combat is stiff and quite mindless, but Jonathan's progression deeper into Vampiredom is handled well and the abilities at his disposal go a long way towards masking some of the more mundane aspects of the battle system. It's more whether or not Jonathan decides to prey on the people of London, and its consequences, that keep the experience fresh. There's a trade off between [i]making[/i] Jonathan stronger and keeping districts stable, each one offering their own benefits. There are technical issues, and the performance is lacking on every front, but [i]Vampyr[/i] has enough going for it conceptually that it's worth sinking some time into, if only to be a vampire in 20th century London.

6

/10

User Comments
#1 Del_Duio (guest) - on 06.06.2018 at 18:14

"On one hand, Jonathan is a saviour by nature. On the other, his newfound lust for blood compels him to feed "

So it's a video game version of Dexter?


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