- Spoiler: show
23/06 - Vampyr
A very enjoyable time, that ended up being more or less what I hoped/expected to be. There may have been some issues with overall polish, and some mechanics that weren't perfectly executed, but it had some really interesting ideas in terms of narrative presentation and gameplay systems that turned out really well. The aesthetic of it is pretty nice too. I like the dark gloomy atmosphere to it, and it has a very cool unique soundtrack as well.
The big draw here is the NPCs and your interactions with them. Every single one of them is at least reasonably fleshed out, and playing detective to uncover all the little details about their personality was really fun, and lead to a lot of unexpected little tidbits too. Most of them have several character traits going on that tie in to each other, and other characters they have a relationship with. It helps make everyone feel like they are real people with a life outside of what you see in the game.
The way it ties in to the mechanics is really well done and compelling too. As a vampire and a doctor, the character you play as is torn between wanting to help and heal people, but also always looking for your next meal to gain more power for yourself. The game has a system where you get a large boost of XP from killing these named NPCs, but in order to get the most possible, you need to learn hints about them through talking to them, observing them, or doing sidequests. So it forces you to interact with them and get emotionally involved to make the most out of them. Not only that, but feeding on NPCs affects the condition of the district they live in, making it more dangerous and harder to manage, until eventually other residents start going missing. It creates that same feeling in the player of being torn between empathy and hunger for power through the mechanics. It's a really great idea and it works well.
The combat though is merely so-so. At the beginning of the game it's pretty poor. It's clunky and kind of sloppy. It has pretensions of being a more thoughtful system that makes you manage stamina, but in practice it just slows things down too much, and the animation quality is nowhere near good enough to make that kind of high-risk combat system feel fair. But as you get towards the end of the game, after you've gained enough stamina, found decent weapons, and upgraded enough of your vampire powers, there is actually something to it. It can be fun to dash around like that, juggling all your different skills for whatever enemy you happen to come across. By the end of it I found a pretty nice play style where I had a fast sword that did good damage and was pretty good on stamina too. I also has a quick knife in the off-hand slow that directly drained blood from enemies (instead of having to stun them and bite them), and a powerful vampiric claw slash, ranged attack, and a teleport to close distance. Also a couple of shotguns to deal huge damage that were each specialised towards each type of enemy. So I reached a point where I could be using all of these skills fluidly in a single fight. I still wouldn't go so far as to say this is a particularly well executed system, but it is at the very least not the black mark on the game I was expecting it might be.
On the topic of combat though, I was thinking about what I've heard others say in regards to it. I haven't looked in-depth in to it, to avoid spoilers as I was playing, but I saw at least one piece mention how the combat was the weakest part of this game, and therefore shouldn't have even been a part of it. Even before I came around to the combat, I can't agree at all with that assessment. I think it's one of those things that people feel like they should want to say, as there is a push away from violence being the all-encompassing and dominant form of interaction in games. And because of this there are games out there that use it when they would be better off without. I agree with that in principle, but I don't think it works here at all. Violence definitely has a place in this game. The setting itself is inherently violent. It doesn't feel like it's been forced in any way. You are in a version of London that is torn apart by an epidemic, with vicious monsters roaming the streets, and various factions vying for power and trying to use the chaos as a way to leverage their goals. And of course as a vampire, it makes sense that there will be people out there who don't like you and want you dead. It also provides a very good incentive towards the really exceptional parts of the game. After all, if there's no reason to defend yourself against a hostile world, then why gain vampiric powers to do so? It's also a decent way to portray or justify a district falling in to disarray. Where are people going missing if they're not being turned in to beasts or killed by overzealous vampire hunters? It makes sense. But in a general sense, I think the idea that just because some aspect of a game is lacking in quality, and is also not the focus of the experience, that does not necessarily mean it should be axed. It could merely mean it needs improving, such as is the case with this game.
The main central plot is rather middling though. It has some good aspects. There's engaging, well fleshed out characters here too. There are some pretty interesting twists to uncover as you weave your way through the various different echelons of London's society, and there are some compelling choices to make that tie in to the overall district condition and NPC mechanics as well. Voice acting across the game is great too. Just the right level of melodramatic, with very well done British accents. The voice of the main character, Jonathan Reid, in particular is delicious. Deep and silky and full of drama. The only minor issues I could point to that betray it as not being written by a native British English speaker is the occasional incorrect word choice. A few "jerks" or "that smarts" that are a little jarring in an overall great script. On a similar note, the post boxes are about a foot too short as well. But back to the plot! Despite its good characters and various twists, it feels somewhat aimless and jumbled. It doesn't have a well paced arc, and feels a bit like a simple procession of events. I think the game has multiple endings, but I'm not sure. I got the sense that the finale played out in ways that could have been different depending on my actions. Not that it was unsatisfying, but I get the feeling things could have turned out better for the characters if I had played things differently. It was an appropriate bittersweet ending though.
I suppose I should mention some of the technical shortcomings too. As is pretty obvious just on first glace, the level of fidelity isn't the best. It looks like a previous generation game. It doesn't look bad, just behind the times somewhat. It's made up for with its art style, providing an appropriately dark and melancholic London shrouded in fog and night. But the textures are a bit muddy, there doesn't appear to by any fancy lighting or rendering effects, and the foliage looks a bit pants too. Playing on PC, I found it to be pretty buggy. While the performance is generally fine, I got a couple of crashes at one point. But usually it's much smaller things. Sound bugs were fairly common for me. Music not stopping when it's supposed to for example. And I think the music bugged out during the final boss, since I heard none. Also a few occurrences of sound effects of some fight going on far away playing as if it was right up close, or several missing SFXs during some fights. And a couple of animation glitches too. A few t-poses, enemies teleporting, or just standing stiff when killed instead of ragdoll-ing. So it does have a pretty prevalent jank throughout, but it's small enough that I was able to overlook it for the most part.
Overall it was a great time. Pretty much exactly what I was hoping for as a follow-up to Remember Me. It may not be the most polished or shiny game out there, but it had some really unique and interesting ideas going for it that made it a good experience that stands out. I think it surpasses Remember Me quite handily too. Even though I have a fondness for that game, I don't think I could ever call it "good". I liked it more for its potential than its reality. it had some neat ideas, but basically failed at all of them. The only thing I think it did right was the aesthetic. But I admired what it was trying to do. But Vampyr mostly succeeds at what it's trying, and nothing about it was downright awful. I really look forward to seeing what DONTNOD do in this sort of vein next, since Life is Strange never really appealed to me. Twin Mirror might fit the bill. We have no idea what that is right now, but the vibe I'm getting from it is that it's somewhere in between their more traditional games and their all-narrative choice-driven stuff.