Vampyr Preview - E3 2016
We explore a dark alternate history vision of London
In somewhat of a change of pace, the latest effort from Paris-based studio Dontnod Entertainment, creators of Life is Strange and Remember Me, is Vampyr. In Vampyr, you head back in time to early 20th century Britain and step into the surgical mask of a physician that, upon returning from the war, has been transformed into a vampire against his own will. You reach British soil to discover the city of London (and the whole of England) is battling the lethal Spanish Flu, and an epidemic of a very different nature...
While Vampyr is quite the step away from Dontnod’s other titles, it still aims to keep an engaging and mercurial narrative at its core, which remains in the hands (or fangs) of the player. The fate of dear London molds itself to your will. And Vampyr, in its premise, sets you up with a choice: the more blood you drink, people you kill, the faster you level up. So, how will that factor in to the way you decide to approach the game? Do you want to recapture your human nature or relent to the will of the vampire?
In the preview, we began with our protagonist, Jonathan, observing the funeral of a girl while the wind and rain bellowed. The environment is as gothic as you can imagine, ripped from the pages of a Poe tale—London is cramped, perpetually overcast, there’s detritus everywhere—so, nothing much has changed, really. Hidden from sight, Jonathan watches a priest deliver the girl’s last rights (ashes to ashes, and all that), and listens as her mother bawls her eyes out.
Then our protagonist gets some company, in the form of Lady Ashbury. From the conversational nature, it seems there is there history between the two, and the fact that this Lady is a vampire. This is also a chance to display the dialogue wheel, where you have a selection of options in the usual flavor—harsh, empathetic, neutral, etc. The two get philosophical for a moment on what it means to be a vampire, and we can clearly see that Jonathan is still very much coming to terms with the consequences and burden of being undead. Dialogue-wise, it’s what you’d expect for the era—Downtown Abby, but with more gothic overtones. As with other Dontnod games, we’re promised compelling characters and a deep and twisting narrative. The areas in the game, such as Whitechapel, function like hubs, with a number of side quests and things to do in each.
So, with the funeral finished, Jonathan takes off, only to run into a rabble of vampire hunters. No points for guessing what their modus operandi is. This group has reformed in the wake of recent attacks and the surge of new vampires that have been roaming London’s streets. While the group locates a recently drained body, stoking their ire, our protagonist decides to take the path of least resistance and show off some of his vampiric skill set.
One of the skills in Jonathan’s repertoire is the ability to shift/warp in a smoky haze to different locations. One such location is the open window of a nearby house. Inside the rundown and clutter-ridden shack, we see a male corpse sprawled on a couch, eyes rolled back in his head, having died of the Spanish Flu. After exploring the house, we pick up a small lockbox and head to the outside, where we find ourselves on a balcony of sorts. Below, in a small square, are a couple of the lesser vampires, which marks an excellent chance to show off some combat.
Jonathan leaps down into the square and lets loose with his blade and gun. The creatures fall after a few slashes or gunshots to the face. Combat seems fluid enough, with your usual attack, block, and guard moves. Special moves compliment combat and can switch up tactics, but there’s something that’s been bugging Jonathan first, namely, the nature of vampirism. There seems to be some connection between the arrival of the Spanish Flu and vampirism. Could these events be linked? It’s these monstrous connections that will drive the majority of the Vampyr’s main narrative.
After slipping through another rickety London house, we arrive in a more open area, where a number of the vampire hunters have been busy sharpening their stakes. In battle, if you have enough blood (which functions like mana) you can pull off special moves. One such move is harnessing your demonic powers to summon inky tendrils from the depths to grab and rip apart your opponents. Another skill in battle is the “embrace” mechanic to drink the blood of your opponent. A risky tactic; don’t be surprised if someone rolls up and whacks you over the head. In your journey, you’ll encounter myriad types of both human and inhuman enemies to test your skills out on.
When we’d taken a break from slaughter, we had a little look into the lives of Londoners in Whitechapel. Each character has their own routine, whether that be jobs, illegal activities, secrets, taking a nap—they all have a role in society. We put our focus on two such upstanding members: Joe the racketeer and Barrett the merchant. Jonathan previously learned about these two chaps through conversation with other citizens, though info can be garnished from anywhere and anyone. This information builds a sort of human encyclopedia, which, along with notes on the character, also has their blood rating, on a scale from good to bad. Good blood nourishes your more; bad blood, not so much. If you want to level faster, then you need to go for the good stuff. This is where you can employ your Hippocratic oath: you can craft medicines and generally help the populace, or do nothing.
At the moment, Jonathan only has eyes for Joe. We strike up a conversation with the man and return the lockbox to him. In doing so, we learn that Joe has a son, Harry (fresh meat), who is ill. Licking our lips, we’d like to see Harry, but, as per lore, the only way a vampire can enter a person’s house is if they are invited. Jonathan throws caution to the wind and says that he’d very much like to see Harry for a…physical examination. But Joe doesn’t take too kindly to that and threatens to redecorate our face. Well, if we can’t get to Harry, then Joe will do just fine. Jonathan uses the “mesmerize” skill, which works like mind control, and we can then lead Joe to the shadows for the kill. What happens next had me thinking of the Assassin’s Creed games, where upon their deathbed, the character decides to spin off a quick eulogy regretting their life.
With Joe dead, it frees up Barrett the merchant. Barrett can then sell us cooler items. Ah, the circle of life. Cause and effect. With Harry missing a father, he would then try to flee the city—but you can stop him. Basically, do what you want to NPCs and see what happens. The only choice is the morally ambiguous one.
What mesmerized me most about Vampyr was not so much the combat system, but the narrative and overall city design. London, in a style which brings to mind Nightmare Creatures or Bloodborne, exudes a gothic creepiness. The multiple twisting and turning narrative pathways, all contained within the petri dish of London, seems like it could potentially create a lot of interesting mutations. Vampyr is expected to debut on PC, Xbox One and PS4 in 2017.