FOCUS Interactive. Powered by the incomperable UNREAL Engine
The Summer is upon as and the skies are clear and blue, no rain for weeks and the humidity is so low anyone going out in the late-morning to afternoon sunshine is likely to end up burnt to a crisp (well at least have a few blisters and a fair amount of sunburn). So with the weather as it is, how come the computer game publishers have decided that it is time to release games with a cold, frosty atmosphere, such as the recent 'Black Death' and 'Lust for Darkness' and now this dark, deathly, definitely (deathinitely ?) Aged 18+ game of Georgian London's notorious string of Vampyr murders. On this happy note, I shall delve back into the clammy depths of a poverty and disease ridden London Town where I, Jonathan Reid (I snobbishly usually like to add the'Dr' as a title, and the 'E' of my middle name betwixt the Jonathan and the Reid, but as I feel we are getting to know each other I don't mind being a little less formal), an ex-military medic, have risen from the depths of the rotting dead, Alive!
Well when I say "Alive" I thought I was alive and that somehow I had been spared going to hell or high, that is until I came across my sweet sister, Mary, and promptly tore her throat out with my teeth. Every action has consequences, and I suppose the first thing I saw, Stonebridge Cemetery, through my dirty, blood-spattered eyes, should have given me a clue about my new circumstances, but until I met Mary and was then chased and shot at by some well informed Dock-Workers (how the heck did they know I was a Vampire ?, in fact how did everyone, no matter how far away they were from me in the dismal dark, know I was a Vampire - hell! I had only just found out myself, and even then I wasn't 100% sure, at least not to begin with.
Note: I still haven't discovered how to get screenshots from my PS4 and so have had to revert to finding them online. However the ones I have published here are very good indications of what the game looks like. What they cannot convey is the offbeat atmosphere that the game convincingly conveys.
Just after killing Mary I became a wanted man, chased, shot at or attacked by everyone who saw me. The first couple of times, before I died, I tried to fight them off and look for a shadowy hiding place, and then I realised I had no chance fighting so many at the same time, especially bare-knuckled (I'm a Doctor not a fighter, at least I was) and so I started to ru; Forrest Gump had nothing on me as I ran and ran and ran (all the while in my head I was humming through the 1960's hit for the Spencer Davis Group, 'Keep On Running!').
Also while running I was trying to remember what the controls were: L1/L2 R1/R2 L3/R3 Triangle, Square, Circle, Cross (X) plus the Up/Down/Left/Right of the 4 point key pad plus every conceivable combination, well at least that's how it seemed. For my personal use the Left Stick was a little too sensitive and landing the cursor on the exact spot took me several tries, thus making my actions sluggish (but that's probably because I am old and have arthritic thumbs and fingers); I went through the options but failed to find how to alter the sensitivity. One thing I did find out is that there is a little (and I mean just a little), truth in the opening statements "the more lives you take the easier the game gets" and "the difficulty is definitely structured to your actions" in fact this is actually as close to having the choice of a 'difficulty level'. There are no "Easy" "Normal" "Hard" or "Blood-Letting" choices.
I believe that VAMPYR has an 18 Certificate because it is violent, extremely violent and not because of the language which is strong, but no stronger than just about every Vampire or Tough-Guy movie.
Once you have accepted that you have been bitten by a Vampyr/Vampire and that instead of dying you have been turned you have to take steps to ensure you stay 'alive'. Thankfully there are so many ill-tempered folk with pitchforks and guns ready to kill you on site (even though they have never seen you in action or viewed your fangs) that gnawing on one or two of them occasionally is as much a pleasure as it is disgusting for you. Unlike the moronic vampires of the movies, you still have a semblance of humanity and it is this that keeps you going; you are intent on finding the Vamp' who turned you and ... do what ? Get him to turn you back ? (is that possible ?) kill him ? (he is already dead), take over his Principality ? I have yet to find out, but it's great fun trying to. As a Doctor, humanitarian and researcher who has sudden urges to drink blood and kill people you are somewhat conflicted. As this isn't a role-playing game where you can imprint your own take on the character you have to defer to what you have been given to work with by the game's author/s. There isn't a lot you can actually manipulate but the writing and direction is good enough to allow you, the player, to feel the paradoxical pain of you the character.
As you progress you earn experience points that you can spend on upgrading your skills or adding more to your arsenal. There are numerous possibilities to make Jonathan more likely to succeed but to begin with you are better suited to follow the suggestions made to you - actually you have no choice except to spend your first points on Level One Autophagy which is the skill of sucking your own blood to heal your wounds and then follow this with an aggressive skill. Here you have more of a choice, there are three skills you can take: Claws (have smaller but almost as effective claws as Wolverine), Blood Spear (you can throw long bloody spears (a spear made of blood that you can throw right through your opponents, or Shaow Mist which causes a 2 metre diametre explosion that causes great damage to anyone in its blast range. I chose Claws to begin with as I thought that was more in manner with the scariness of the Vampire mythology.
Using claws, or an off-hand weapon (Triangle button) if you have one, on an opponent will stun them, allowing you to lead in with your gnashers and give him a good bite - trouble is, one or two bites is never enough to completely fend them off and they soon come back for me, so don't be surprised to find a character you thought KO'd coming back at you, once you have had your fill of their blood hack them. Of course you need weapons to be able to use them, you cannot fight at all with just your hands, but they are easily come across throughout, as is money and ammunition, by killing and searching the bodies. Occasionally little sparkles of glistening light will give you a hint that there is something to explore or examine, but quite often these are no more than old war posters or apparently useless junk (note that I said 'apparently').
The walking and running is a little clumsy, the lightness of the Left Stick making it difficult to go in a straight line, and there are actions, such as jumping (which I believe is called 'spring' but I may be wrong) that you cannot simply do by pressing the regular game key [space] for jumping, in fact the controls aren't as intuitive as one might expect, combat is handled by either/both the Square and the Triangle whereas Sprinting is by holding down the Circle. The X is your main interactive key, as well as for 'spring' and if you stun an opponent holding the X will put you into a deathly embrace with them (as mentioned earlier).
Unlike most adventure games featuring the UnDead or the foggy streets of Georgian London (or any other smog encrusted City) VAMPYR has Crafting, almost straight out of an MMO. As you go through you will discover various Treatments, the first I found were for Fatigue, Anemia and Sepsis. Each of these required a Glass Vial (of which I haven't managed to find a one yet) plus Quinine, Ferrous Tartrate and Sodium Hydroelorite Solution but different amounts of each for the different Treatments; you need to locate a work station to be able to craft, but it is likely you will find one in a safe-house. Safe-Houses are dotted across the map (once you find it) and are generally empty houses where the plague or some other nice epidemic has killed the original occupants - if you are lucky you might even find said occupants still in occupation, though quite worse for wear.
The first time I needed to jump across a broken gap, adventure players will be used to springing and double rolling in mid-air, I expected to use the aforementioned 'spring' skill. Instead I turned into a vaporous gaseous form and literally flew across the void. Funnily enough this was when I was still unsure of what I was or was becoming and yet I didn't seem surprised at all (the "I" in this case being me the character, although me the player was also surprised) when I suddenly turned to smoke on one edge and came back to 'human' form on the other - little error-things like this should have been ironed out during the beta phase, but I guess not too many folk notice it.
Having mentioned this mini faux-pas (in my opinion) I should also state clearly that this is a good edge of seat game that draws you in with its twists and turns, especially finding places to hide during the daylight hours, which eats real time like your character drinks blood, fast and painfully; I was gripping the controller so hard that my left hand cramped up and until I stopped playing I hadn't even noticed - boy was it painful after I put the controller down? But I was still alive-ish!
Being a near-vampire I (character not me) could detect fresh blood by smell and so it wasn't long before I was on the track of a real killer. I collected numerous small quests/tasks en route, things like question the locals, find a hideout etc and eventually it lead me to discover a pub (with a barman who didn't like to talk, one customer who didn't like to talk, and the only staff member who chatted freely) From there I discovered Dr Edgar Swansea, a vampire hunter of sorts who took pity on me (after dazzling me almost to death with the brightness of a crucifix) and from there I learned of the Brotherhood of Saint Paul which eventually led to my disastrous first meeting with a tough little vampire called William Bishop. This is when I began to believe, quite sincerely, that I had actually been lied to, and that the number of kills made didn't make the game any easier !
As I said the character's movement is a little lumpy but the scenes transfer virtually seamlessly and apart from the very rare misconnection the action is more than adequate; meaning I have seen neck-biting-blood-sucking vampire action a lot smoother on the PC but the storyline and the execution of its chapters make this far better as a sum of all of its parts than just the odd part of its sum.
Verdict: Overall there are a few more minor hiccups than I would have liked or expected but there is also enough gameplay to keep the interest high and the fun factor in proportion to the fear factor. Not a game to play alone at night in the dark, especially if you are wearing headphones (which of course gives the best sound effects) as you won't hear if anyone comes home and lightly brushes your shoulder - or even worse comes in with a cup of coffee for you - which of course causes you to jump and ... well you can guess the rest !