It's been a little while since we've had a good vampire game. In fact, it's been an even longer while since we've had a vampire game, period.
Vampyr might change that, but it's been shrouded in the shadows for a while now. We sat down with Gregory Szucs, the game's art director, to learn more about the upcoming 2017 game.
There are games such as The Elder Scrolls where you can contract vampirism, and then role-play out your days as a sun-shy sneak, and getting hefty nocturnal bonuses, but playing as a vampire and only a vampire? Not for a darn good while, if you want to count the Castlevania Lord of Shadows games. Vampires are often the enemies in games, not so often are they the protagonists. Vampirism in this form in games is usually just a tacked-on experience, something to supplement or play around with until you get bored, but it isn't the main mechanic of the game.
It's time to reclaim vampires back from the twinkly world of Twilight and drag them screaming and hissing back into the darkness where they belong.
Vampyr is a single player experience, which sees the player taking the role of Jonathan Reid, a doctor in London during 1918. Here's how Szucs explained the character:
As Jonathan Reid, you're a field surgeon in the First World War, and you come back after the war and it was a difficult experience but you learned a lot. You're an expert in your field, you are a pioneer in blood transfusions and as you start the game you wake up in a mass grave!
Unfortunately, some gentle pressing couldn't get him to spill the beans about how or why we start off in a mass grave or become a vampire. We can only make assumptions and guesses at this point. London in 1918 places us at the height of the real life Spanish Influenza Pandemic, which killed tens of millions of people across Europe, and still remains one of the most deadly pandemics in history. Maybe Jonathan died from contact with an infected person, but we'll have to wait until next year to find out for sure.
But being a doctor and a vampire plays heavily in Vampyr. Will you keep faith with the Hippocratic Oath, harming none and only seeking to heal, or will you stalk the streets with nothing but murder on your mind? The spin and sway of your moral compass as you battle between keeping your doctorly vows or succumbing to your deepest and basest hunger – are people patients or cattle?
Szucs tells us that you could be quite evil if you chose to be, nursing people back to health again, just to feed off their 'clean' blood. Our parents always told us not to play with our food.
Predominantly, it's all about who you're going to prey on next. The game will keep tabs on who you decide to kill or spare, giving you your own ending. There are multiple ways to finish the game, and there is 'definitely more than one' ending, as Gregory tells it. There is even more than one way to play the game. Should you so choose, it's entirely possible to complete the game without killing anyone, describing it as "like adding another, more difficult mode."
Since drinking blood is the way Jonathan gets stronger and levels up, not killing people and drinking their blood would mean missing out on "blood manipulation, things like throwing blood spears, making their blood boil, trapping them, impaling them." Perhaps I'll save the passive style for my second playthrough, especially when you consider the massive attack bonuses that can be unleashed during combat once you've filled the 'blood gauge'. Jonathan isn't limited to just powers, he can also use melee attacks.
As you're free to roam, it is possible to avoid combat situations, but you won't be able to avoid all of them. But the way Vampyr is set up, is that you get heavily rewarded when you kill someone and drink their blood. You become stronger really really fast and you gain a tremendous advantage. So if you try and not kill anyone you have some sticky situations and then also the combat will be more difficult.
With the trailer showing us combat with presumably vampire hunters, and having seen combat demoed at E3, we were interested in whether combat with any other mythological creatures may be on the cards. Szucs told us, "...concerning the vampire mythos there is quite a large mystery, I can't be really specific, but you won't only fight humans." It's vague as all heck, but it's good to know we won't just be facing down with human vampire hunters. Who knows if we will see anything to do with lycanthropy; werewolves and vampires often go hand-in-hand in this genre.
Gregory was keen to point out that the combat mechanics aren't going to require meticulous planning and positioning as in games like Bloodborne, nor would it be as arcade-feeling as Devil May Cry. He puts Vampyr at being somewhere firmly in the middle; while positioning and movement play a factor, your reaction times will also be tested. The main goal they're trying to achieve here is to get the player to prioritize their vampiric powers. There will be multiple enemies on screen and it will be up to you how you dispatch those, whether you try one of the Blood Spears or another equally gruesome attack.
Blood will also boost your natural abilities, you can have blood rage, grow blood claws. You can play with people, create decoys... there is a lot of stuff you can do.
The clue of "free to roam" gives us an idea of just how large of a game we're looking at here. Though the details around Vampyr are still fuzzy, it's looking to be a big step from previous Dontnod Entertainment venture Life is Strange. References are made to the real City of London, so we get the impression there is a fair amount of city to stalk around in while we sip on blood mimosas over the Thames.
The City of London in Vampyr is ravaged. Set just after World War One, the capital has seen heavy losses of life from the fighting and the flu. Industry has died off because the work force is in it's death-throes, people are diseased and miserable. In the E3 demo, it was shown that if too many people in one area died, that area became worse. We asked Gregory to elaborate on this mechanic a little: he told us that as in real life, you have your communities of poverty and prosperity. They're still trying to get by despite the fact that their families are dropping like flies. If it sounds a little bit like Dishonored, Gregory would only agree with you in that it's similar but in no way a direct influence on this mechanic, joking, "Well you could find a similarity, but we didn't say "Oh, we're going to do it like that, too".
We've missed this kind of Gothic horror from the rosters of insipid and vacuous tripe they throw at us and label as "vampire" these days.
There is a lot here to be excited about sinking your teeth into (yes, pun). Short of Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC, you would be hard pushed to find a vampire game that not only sees you as the vampire protagonist but also having to maintain everything that entails. Drinking blood, keeping safe from enemies, leveling up and learning new powers. Rather than the drinking of the blood being an implied action, perhaps we will be graced with neck-crunching bites, a glorious close up of fanged teeth sinking into flesh.
We've missed this kind of Gothic horror from the rosters of insipid and vacuous tripe they throw at us and label as "vampire" these days. Gregory has teased us enough with talk of other creatures to fight, he's whetting our appetite with talk of combat and it's various forms of damage dealing, mysteries. Why do we start in a mass grave? How will we heal people? We want to know more! We're looking forward to seeing what comes over the coming months. Thank you, Gregory Szucs!
Move over Edward Cullen, there's a new vamp on the scene and he's not spending his nights peeping into a teenage girls bedroom and trying to pretend he's a vegetarian.