Vampyr is a game by Dontnod Entertainment, creator of the popular Life is Strange episodic adventure. A Gothic Horror action-adventure game is about as far from that story as possible, so I was intrigued as well as wary when the game first came out in June 2018. While I ultimately enjoyed the game, it is the update of the game and my thoughts on replaying it in 2020 that inclined me to write this review. A game about politics, disease, poverty, mass uprisings, and the undead walking the line between them reads a bit differently in light of recent events.
The premise of the game is that it is 1918 during the Spanish Flu. Doctor Jonathan Reid is an upper class Englishman and veteran of World War One that has returned to his city during its worst years with the possible exception of the Black Death, Great London Fire, and the upcoming Second World War. Bodies are piling up in the streets and being carried off to mass graves. The city is torn between classicism, social unrest, and the slow death of the British Empire. What could possibly make this situation worse? Why vampires of course.
As bad as the Spanish Flu is, something unnatural has begun spreading vampirism among the city’s residents. These creatures are not the suave and debonair creatures of myth but mostly a bunch of hungry, feral, and hideous creatures that are only unnoticed due to the sheer amount of death that is already occurring due to the influenza outbreak. Combating these creatures are roving bands of vampire hunting vigilantes called the Priwen Guard.
Doctor Reid runs afoul of the guard and these feral vampires when he awakens on top of a mass grave as one of the few still-intelligent members of his race. He, unfortunately, kills an innocent woman within minutes of awakening and she turns out to be someone very important to him. This also puts him in the sights of the Priwen Guard. In the end, only a chance encounter with an occultist running a free hospital allows him to survive his second night of vampirism. Can Doctor Reid help bring an end to this disaster and does he really want to?
The atmosphere of the game is tremendous with the dark and crumbling London feeling like something out of Interview with a Vampire. I don’t think it’s particularly historical but the feel of it nicely updates Dracula to the early 20th century. It also remembers that the British Empire extended to all corners of the globe so not everyone is lily white agnostics. We get reminders of the racism, sexism, homophobia, political extremism, and PTSD that was rampant during this set point in time without it ever feeling like the game is trying to make a point. Just presenting it is enough to get the game’s message.
While Doctor Reid has a Dark Souls-lite series of adventures where he must fight vampire hunters and monsters in the street in order to get to the various social hubs, the most innovative mechanic of the game is best described as, “Who do I murder?” There’s sixty-four or so NPCs scattered throughout the game that can be interacted. All of them have backstories, personalities, and subplots related to each other. Some of them are innocents and others are complete assholes. In order to increase his strength, Doctor Reid can choose to kill some of these mortals. Normally, this will traumatize and weaken districts but that’s easily fixed by attending to the survivors. A few of them are people who make the lives of their neighbors worse too.
Doctor Reid is, unfortunately, the weakest link of an otherwise solid story. He’s a somewhat snooty upper-crust healer who seems devoid of traits that another man of his background would have during the time period. Progressives certainly existed in 1918 but they forgot to give him any flaws to balance out his better qualities. Giving him a few weaknesses like overwhelming arrogance, addiction, bloodthirst (of a less literal kind), regular lust, or other vices might have made him more engaging. As such, he’s a saintly human who becomes a saintly vampire.
Vampyr has recently been updated with a story mode that allows players to avoid some of the sometimes punishingly-difficult combat of the game. It has also been provided with a much harder difficulty for those who enjoy a challenge. Personally, I think Vampyr is worth picking up and full of excellent writing as well as characters. Its main character could have been better done but I don’t hate him either. He’s just a bit too much of a proper gentleman in a setting that cries out for a ruthless antihero.
Buy Vampyr from Dotnod Entertainment