Remember how cool vampires used to be? They were undead, yet intelligent. They had amazing abilities despite handicaps to sunlight, garlic, and other items and emblems. At some point in time, vampires regrettably began to do things like glitter in the sunlight, read poetry, sing songs that encourage cooperation in children’s cartoons… and even fall in love. Repulsive, right?!
Fortunately, Developer DONTNOD has introduced us to Dr. Johnathan Reid- an anti-hero set to swoop in like a bat and save the mythology associated with the carnal creatures of lore… and maybe London as well, if you choose not to feed on the city you once swore to save.
Visuals and Performance
Vampyr’s original release on PS4 and Xbox One might’ve flown under the radar if not for the impressive visuals. Brilliant facial mapping and lighting effects brought the plague-infested streets of London to life with a haunting perspective. Vampyr for Switch is a straight port, and it certainly takes the expected graphical hit in comparison to its current generation counterparts. The decrease in facial features are most noticeable for anyone that may have played the other versions. Wrinkles and blemishes give way to more simplistic models on the Switch.
This is unfortunate, considering games like Wolfenstein and The Witcher (another port handled by Sabre Interactive) didn’t seem to lose as much facial detail as Vampyr. This may seem insignificant, but this game focuses heavily on emotion. There are many occasions in which a line of dialogue or a decision will result in an unspoken emotional reaction. The devil is in the details within these situations, and they tend to lose a bit of gravity if the NPC involved is somewhat potato-faced. Outside of character detail, I still think Vampyr is a beautiful game. The darkened streets and poorly-lit rooms still look great by Switch standards in docked mode, though the decrease in resolution is very noticeable in handheld mode. If you choose to pick up Vampyr for Switch, I recommend playing in docked mode as much as possible.
There are some glaring issues to discuss in regards to Vampyr’s technical performance on the Switch outside of the expected graphical hiccups. The greatest hindrance are the massive loading times as you transition from one area to another. I never actually timed the loading phase myself, but 30 seconds or less of loading time started to become a relief after a few hours of playing the game. Even after long periods of loading, I still noticed that some objects in the environment would appear after another brief phase of in-game slowdown due to loading. How in the world did these objects not have enough time to load within that extended loading screen a few seconds ago? Vampyr has one of the most gripping stories I’ve ever played- it’s a shame that my anticipation and excitement had to be tempered by frustration from long periods of waiting.
The story is without a doubt where Vampyr builds its legacy. You play as the aforementioned Dr. Johnathan Reid, one of London’s most renowned physicians, who has been working countless hours to stave off what is thought to be a devastating Spanish Flu epidemic. Dr. Reid has returned home from World War 1 and has pioneered a new blood transfusion technique that seems to show some promise in combating the epidemic. One night, Dr Reid finds himself regaining consciousness in a mass unmarked grave. He remembers who he is and his determination to help London overcome the outbreak, but he has no recollection of how or why he has found himself waking up among an avalanche of bodies, nor does he understand why he suddenly has a carnal craving for the blood of the living.
Dr. Reid inevitably discovers his fears have become reality- he has become a vampire. Now he is faced with a new, gut wrenching conundrum: how can he save a city he is sworn to protect while balancing the need to feed on the very citizens he is fighting to save? The choice is left to the player, and the story unfolds depending on the path you choose. This isn’t a revolutionary standard of storytelling in gaming any longer, but Vampyr executes the gravity of choice more heavily than any previous franchise(including Mass Effect), in my opinion.
Killing is a necessity, and there is no way around it. This is the essence of what it is to be a vampire- even for a war hero who has dedicated himself to saving others. The scenario is beautifully grim, and DONTNOD deserves all the credit for creating a story that clearly defines the chaotic, primal and downright depressing reality that would come with this overly-fantasized condition. As Dr. Reid sets out for answers for himself and his city, he’ll discover that the two are more intertwined than he could’ve ever imagined. I can’t reveal any more without spoilers, but it’s important to convey just how well this dark tale is crafted. Vampyr is simply the best story telling experience I’ve played in 2019.
DONTNOD has carried the reputation of being excellent story tellers since the release of Life Is Strange, but the studio had yet to gain any notoriety for innovative game mechanics. The team brought all of its cards to the table in hopes of changing that perception with Vampyr. There are standard melee and shooting mechanics that incorporate a wide array of weaponry, including blades as well as guns. Controls are smooth and responsive during combat, the Pro Controller easily being the most comfortable choice.
Vampyr distinguishes itself from fellow action RPGs with the addition of “blood skills.” These skills include some of the coolest in-game animations you’ll see in an RPG. Provided you’ve leveled up enough, Dr. Reid can hurl spears of blood at his enemies or transform into an iridescent black mist capable of teleporting around the battle field. More and more skills become available as you advance through the story, and each skill can also be leveled up using blood points. This is where the main mechanic of Vampyr hooks its fangs into you- the more you choose to feed on the citizens of London… the more powerful Dr. Reid and his skills become, and boy, is that power addictive. The beauty of Vampyr is that it puts the player into the exact state of mind of an actual vampire, forced to balance the need for survival, and the thirst for power with what little is left of a conscience.
Combining RPG mechanics with the idea of choice and consequence takes delicate balance. In my first play through of Vampyr on Xbox One, I chose to play in normal mode. I wasn’t very pleased with some of the balance, however, as I felt a little too much pressure to kill in order to become powerful enough to advance the story. This becomes a problem, as every citizen of London is an integral part of the community, meaning feeding on one citizen does have ramifications. Perhaps that citizen won’t be around later to save another at the local hospital- there are a myriad of other similar situations that all depend on the choice of the player.
Dr. Reid eventually levels up to gain the skill to read just how pure (powerful) that the blood of a particular citizen can be. The purer the blood, the more EXP provided for leveling up. Sounds like a convenient ability, until you realize that the citizens with the purest blood have the most impact on the development of the story. I felt that I missed out on far too much of the story during my first play through, so I chose to play the added “Story Mode” on the Switch edition, and I came away very pleased. Difficulty is ratcheted down, but it’s not a walk in the park. It’s been well-worth being able to enjoy a larger portion of the story.
Vampyr is the type of title that previous Nintendo consoles needed to be more successful. It’s addition to the mature RPG library on the Switch is a welcome one, joining contemporaries like The Witcher, Skyrim, and Warframe in offering well-developed Western RPG experiences for a more mature crowd. However, it carries a $45 USD price tag at this point in time, which is a little steep considering it can be bought at around $15 USD on both Xbox One and PS4, presently. To make matters worse, Vampyr is currently on Xbox Game Pass. There are more cost efficient ways to play Vampyr right now, and the other editions offer a better version of the product, unfortunately.
Even as I emphasize these price issues, I can’t help but acknowledge the obvious benefits of buying the Switch version- mainly due to convenience and portability. I’d go as far as saying that Vampyr should be a must play for RPG fans, especially those who love to play on the go or use the Switch as their exclusive console. The story alone garners a look for Vampyr, but the game as a whole is a fun experience despite its performance issues. If you’re reading this and you’ve been on the fence about playing this game, let me reiterate what I mentioned earlier… Vampyr is the best story I’ve experienced on the Switch this year. For that alone, it might be worth a taste.