Moving away for now from Life is Strange (there’s going to be a prequel out before the eventual sequel, but that won’t be developed by them) DONTNOD is set to add their own flavor to the Mass Effect formula with Vampyr, an action-RPG set in early 20th century London, crippled by the Spanish Flu epidemic that ripped through Europe at the time.
Originally announced in February last year, Vampyr has come a long way since then. The demo presented during my appointment with Focus Home Interactive showed an interesting take on the tired tropes of vampirism in games. Vampyr’s protagonist, doctor-turned-bloodsucker Jonathan Reid, sees himself at a constant crossroad as he faces the choice of living with the fact that he now has to feed on humans in order to guarantee his survival. Vampyr is played from a third-person perspective, and like Mass Effect, it has sections with dialogue and light puzzle-solving in between combat encounters, as you explore London taking side-quests and unveiling the story.
The demo was straight to the point, a run through the basic concepts of Vampyr. It showed us a bit more of the backstory to the game, with Jonathan’s colleague Dr. Swansen, who vowed to help him find a cure to his vampirism in exchange for his help. All the while, a not so secret society has it out for anyone discovered committing anything resembling sucking blood. Luckily for Reid, the hospital is for some reason sacred grounds and neutral territory in that particular war, a fact that the demo used in order to inject a lot of tension in the short exchange between him and one of the hunters.
Upon leaving the hospital grounds, we were shown more of how combat works in Vampyr. It was quick paced and against multiple foes who went down after a few attacks (all tied to the controller’s face buttons and customizable depending on what skills happened to have been unlocked). Since the demo was hands-off, it was hard to tell how nimble Reid really is; considering that DONTNOD’s previous game Remember Me was pretty tight and responsive when it came to fighting, it wouldn’t surprise me that Vampyr is as well.
As for side-quests, the devs on deck focused on one that dealt with an elderly mother and her adult son. It also just happened to play with a few of Vampyr’s core gameplay systems. After a short sleuthing section that involved a few of Jonathan’s vampiric abilities, mostly his scent — displayed on screen in similar fashion as to how Geralt tracks his targets in The Witcher 3, in the form of red stains — it was discovered that the good son’s hands weren’t at all clean. In fact, he was responsible for murder, which put him on the top of the list of potential victims that could satiate Reid’s thirst, at the added bonus of not being much of a loss to society.
But things weren’t that easy when it came down to deciding whether or not to off the bad guy. His blood just happened to not be all that strong. It wouldn’t help our vampire friend level up a whole lot. Vampyr’s level up system is directly tied to the quality of the blood from Jonathan’s prey. Lo and behold, the bad guy’s mother just happened to have grade A juice running in her veins. Since the developers wanted to show off how strong of a vampire we could eventually be in the limited time we had, after taking care of the elderly, Jonathan scurried away to a secluded spot to take a nap in order to level up.
The final version of the game is bound to have a much more involved reasoning for choosing who gets gawned on, and DONTNOD was emphatic in mentioning that there will be a number of possible outcomes for every quest, each with notable differences in how the city reacts to you. It was even suggested that Reid can even consume the blood of every single quest giver and NPC in the game, but honestly, what would be the fun in that?
The big intended takeaway for Vampyr is how much of Jonathan’s humanity players are willing to sacrifice. Surely enough, it’s a variation of a moral quandary that’s been present in games for years, but then again, a cliche is a cliche because it works. It all rests on how well DONTNOD can make our choices be relevant overall and not be simple binary affairs.
Vampyr’s still has some time in its coffin before it swoops down PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC at end of the year.