1918 saw the First World War brought to an end, closing the book on one of mankind’s bloodiest and most regrettable chapters. Yet, as soldiers returned home, the world was struck by a death that did not stem from nationalistic pride. Spanish flu infected around 500 million people across the globe, killing between 10 and 20% of those infected.
Jonathan Reid, however, is immune. Having served as a military surgeon during the war, he’s understandably eager to look for a cure or at least some way to ease the suffering of the city he has returned to, but this scientific outlook on life is pushed to the extreme when he is turned into a vampire.
Though there are 30 years separating their settings, there’s some of the same feel and overall vibe from the dark and foggy streets of Whitechapel in Vampyr and that of The Order: 1886. They’re brought even closer together, in my opinion, by the anachronistically advanced technology in The Order, not to mention the way that both games feature mythical creatures at their core.
But those are fairly superficial similarities compared to the manner in which the game is played and how the story unfolds. The Order was an entirely linear experience, with the morality of its central characters informing your actions, whereas the world is made of a number of semi-open locations in Vampyr, and it’s your own decisions as you play which will shape the story. You and Jonathan are constantly torn between his Hippocratic Oath, his duty to preserving human life, and his own personal needs and desires as a newly converted vampire.
Feeding on the humans you find out on the streets at night will help you grow stronger as a vampire and gain more and stronger abilities. However, each person you kill will have ripples through the city, as their bodies are found and newspapers bring knowledge of their deaths to their friends and family. They all have names, jobs, families and relationships, though you wouldn’t expect to encounter the cream of society out and about at nighttime, even if it weren’t for the risks of contracting the Spanish flu.
Walking through Whitechapel, he hears and sees two men arguing over medication and, as one tries to get away, the other pulls a gun and takes a few pot shots at him. Finding and talking to them both, you can learn the context and the reason for their actions, but also use the evidence from one to compel the other down a certain line of conversation.
Perhaps you can assuage your guilt over committing murder by taking the Dexter Morgan route and only killing criminals? Perhaps you’ll struggle on without killing anyone, or will kill everyone that you meet? It will rely on Dontnod’s ability to weave compelling characters and situations on whether or not this can go beyond what is otherwise a very binary choice between good and evil.
Those conversations can be influenced by some of the traditional vampiric powers that Jonathan now has. While he won’t be able to turn into a cloud of bats – though Dontnod will naturally draw upon and reference many parts of vampire myths – he can hold sway over and manipulate weak willed minds. It could be to shift a conversation in a certain direction, but it could also see you be able to quietly control and lead a victim to a secluded spot, that you might feast without being disturbed. However, there are three distinct skill trees for you to funnel experience into, enhancing stealth abilities, combat techniques, and so on.
The need to be able to go toe to toe with enemies on the streets will also be a compelling reason to feed your strength and abilities. You are not the only supernatural being on the prowl, but will encounter other vampires in various forms, as well as vampire hunters and boss character. With such a focus on story, it was initially quite odd and even jarring to see the demo quickly shifting gears and have Jonathan engaging in combat.
Just as parallels can be drawn to The Order: 1886 for the setting, there are clear ties to the Dark Souls series in the combat. It’s a cautious and standoffish affair, from the little that I saw, with Jonathan relying on makeshift melee weaponry and the short sharp crack of a gun in his pocket. However, his vampiric powers will play a role as well, with the ability to “spring” and teleport short distances, or levitate enemies and hold them up in front of you.
There’s a crafting system for the weaponry, allowing you to change and combine different parts together. As Jonathan will become all too aware, wood will be more effective against the degenerate vampires that he faces than some other elements, so scrounging for certain ingredients and combining them into the parts needed to alter and upgrade weapons will help you combat certain foes.
The combat is just one part of Vampyr that still remains shrouded in the fog of London, yet there are plenty of beacons of light to see. One year after it was announced, Vampyr still feels very early and release isn’t planned until 2017, but it clearly adheres to Dontnod’s determination to tell compelling and morally challenging stories. It just so happens that this time you’ll be a blood sucking vampire, as opposed to a time twisting teenager.
- Developer:DONTNOD Entertainment
- Publisher:Focus Interactive
- Platforms:PS4, XBO, PC
- Release Date:2017