The studio’s latest is a far cry from Life is Strange.
Those who know the name DONTNOD know it for one or two things. Most likely, they know it for Life is Strange, a 2015 episodic game with a heavy focus on story and character choice. We called the game one of the best within its genre at its best points. Some may also know the studio as behind 2013’s Remember Me, a cyberpunk action game which…well, we didn’t like quite as much. In, now, they come again. This time, their offering is Vampyr, a gothic action RPG set in London while the city lies crippled in the grasp of the Spanish flu. Dark, surprising, and clever, Vampyr is far-flung from the games that came before it. And if the 40-minute demonstration we saw at E3 is any indication, it’s a deviation for the better.
Do no harm…when realistically possible.
Vampyr‘s premise might even interest you if you, like me, typically lump vampires into the same “overused” camp as zombies. The setup is that Dr. Jonathan Reid, a medical doctor, has recently become a vampire. His supervisor at the hospital, Dr. Swansea, is aware of his vampyric condition, and is pretty much fine with it. Fine, that is, so long as Reid helps out if something horrible should happen. Something like, for example, a brutal murder right there in the hospital. It’s a good thing- oh, oh wait. It happened. Aw jeez, there’s all the blood. Oh gosh, oh golly.
Dr. Reid is tasked with solving a grizzly murder in his hospital. At the hands of a member of DONTNOD staff playing as we watched, the good doctor sets off to find Sean Hampton. Hampton is another local vampire, and seemingly a lot less stable than Reid may or may not be. Reid also encounters a member of the Guards of Priwen, a vampire hunter group who sees the blood-suckers as only a menace, and seemingly stable ones like Reid as time bombs waiting to go off.
It’s funny. We were told combat is only part of the game, a statement which was certainly true from what we saw. But as much as we were told it was only one of the systems at work, it was certainly one of the coolest and flashiest. It looks like a bit of Arkham lifeblood injected into mechanics pulled out of Dishonored. Reid teleports around, bursting into coils of smoke and materializing behind enemies as he takes them down. There’s a full upgrade tree for combat, itself one of several in Vampyr‘s impressive arsenal. The most impressive thing the game has going for it isn’t combat, though. It’s the way those upgrades work.
The Gentlemen Bloodsucker
As an action RPG, Vampyr has a level system. Ried was at level 13 when we got started, and encountered a point in his journey towards Hampton where the enemies around him were too strong to take down in his current state. This was the point where we were told how experience is laid out. In Vampyr, the main source of experience points and growth isn’t combat, but straight-up seduction and blood-sucking. Every single NPC in DONTNOD’s rendition of London has a name, a backstory, and most importantly, a lot of blood. All of London’s citizens are potential victims. It’s up to the player, then, to figure out whose life to take.
We watch as Reid meets a random man on the street. We learn that the man’s name is Seymour, and that he is taking care of his ailing mother. He mentions having lost a necklace he had bought for her. Using a Detective Mode-esque scan mode to follow a trail of blood, Reid discovers the missing article. The twist is that the dang thing is under a pile of fresh corpses. It comes out that Seymour is a murderer, a crime he readily admits to.
The setup is readily there to take a bad man’s life and blood, even more so when we get a glimpse of how he treats his mother. His mother, meanwhile, is aware of her son’s crimes, but feels helpless. She’s the more innocent of the two, but has the higher blood quality. Killing Seymour would rid the world of someone evil, but wouldn’t grant Reid as much EXP.
In our demo, the player decided to take the mother’s life. Following some classical vampire rules, Reid has to undergo a persuasion game to get the mother to invite him across the threshold and into the house. The feast of blood is much more elegant than a simple devouring. He hypnotizes her with a snap of the fingers, and leads her to a scenic fireplace to do the deed; all very much in homage of classic depictions of vampirism.
Choice systems like this are often hard to pitch. The Mass Effect games in retrospect get some flak for their Paragon and Renegade systems, where you have the option to either Not Be A Dick or Yes Be A Dick. What we saw here has much more potential. In taking the life he did, Reid affected the local economy, meaning changes in shop prices. He changed the way disease spread among certain other groups. Other choices can affect Reid’s own reputation, either in his medical community or his vampyric one. We were told that there are actually a couple strings of victim choices that can cause entire districts of the city to be vacated. There’s a lot more at stake than personal morals.
Vampyr is coming to Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC on November 7. And frankly, we can’t wait. The game’s RPG systems have a ton of depth to them. Grim as it is, DONTNOD’s vision of London is one I’ll love to explore. Vampyr defies the easy modern stereotypes of the post-Twilight vampire, and takes a more classic Dracula approach.