Robert Steinman
E3 2016: Vampyr Preview
The real question is, can I tell a sign to stop?
06.16.16 - 1:18 PM

I've been mildly curious about DONTNOD's Vampyr since last year's reveal, so I made it a priority to visit the demo theater to get a taste (get it?) of what it's going to be like to play an unholy creature of the night. What I got was a pretty heavy-handed bit of story, interesting-ish combat, and an amazing amount of potential related to the interactivity of the moral choices of our damned protagonist.

I feel like Victorian London is now a thing in games. Remember when you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a post-apocalyptic setting or theme? Well, between Bloodborne, Dishonored, The Order and now Vampyr, you'd think I'd be a little tired of the setting, but it still provides a uniquely bleak and oppressive backdrop that's close enough to our modern world to appear familiar and alien at the same time.

Johnathan Reid, our nosferatu main character, is a doctor by trade, so of course he uses a serrated bonesaw when faced with vampire hunters looking for a job to complete. Combat seemed like an odd mix of Batman timed button presses, Bloodborne quick stepping, and devastating dark magic attacks like a shadow that impales people like the most metal pincushion this side of a Hot Topic. The angst and atmosphere of London is strong with this game, as everything feels like Tim Burton's interpretation of Sweeney Todd (though with a lot more rain and general grime). Admittedly, the few story bits were driven home with the subtlety of a stake through the heart (ha!). One female companion made damn sure Johnathan understood his actions would have consequences, and they might as well have given Reid a tear tattoo to go with his Chris Gaines demeanor. Hopefully things will be a little more nuanced and the tone can move beyond an Evanescence concert.

Thankfully, things get really exciting when Johnathan interacts with the various NPCs of Whitechapel. Reid's vampire/detective vision allows him to gauge the various XP bonuses from murdering and drinking the precious blood of random passersby. A character suffering from the Spanish Flu won't provide much of a boost, but a healthy victim will allow Johnathan to level up faster. You'll have to be careful, however, as too much death and carnage will eventually bring a locale to a ruined state that seems to hint at more otherworldly enemies in the future. Each NPC is also a named character with the potential for quests and story development, so players will have to choose between leveling, helping citizens, and trying to cure the epidemic plaguing London. The most memorable part of the demo was when our driver decided to kill a guy who we could have engaged in a quest to find his lost jewelry box. With such a great amount of player agency combined with a hub-world design, Vampyr could end up being a Deus Ex game with supernatural powers instead of bionic augmentations.

Vampyr is all about potential. My hands-off demo showed a game with a serious vision and a lot of really interesting ideas playing into a morality system that directly affects the power of the player character. Whether or not these various components will actually form into a cohesive whole remains to be seen, but color me intrigued with DONTNOD's latest effort.