Released on June 5th, 2018, Vampyr represented an interesting diversion for developer Dontnod. The minds behind the cult classic Life Is Strange series and its spinoffs, they weren’t particularly well-known for action-oriented titles. In fact, 2013’s Remember Me, their first-ever outing, was panned due in no small part to its lackluster combat mechanics. That said, this Victorian-era drama plays to the devs story-crafting strengths while introducing engaging combat encounters and gripping moral quandaries. It’s a shame, then, that the Switch port comes packaged with so many flaws and performance issues that it’s almost not even worth bothering with at all.
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Set in London just after the end of the First World War, players step into the role of Doctor Jonothan Reid, an ex-battlefield medic returning to England to discover his hometown ravaged by an outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Though initially attempting to keep a low profile, Reid soon finds himself at the center of both the epidemic and a larger conflict brewing between the city’s underground societies after he is, for reasons unbeknownst to him, transformed into a vampire.
A tale full of misdirection, political intrigue, and bloodshed, Vampyr’s narrative is certainly its strongest suit. Pervading that entire aspect of the game is a mechanic that allows for any named NPC to be harvested to sate Reid’s vampiric blood cravings and dole out a huge amount of bonus XP, which can, in turn, be used to enhance Reid’s supernatural powers. Reaping the citizens of London will, however, affect a district’s overall health — something which the protagonist, as an esteemed medical professional, is obliged to upkeep.
The result is a unique balance between saving lives and satisfying Reid’s own desire for blood, as well as the player’s own desire for enhanced perks and upgrades. The game constantly asks players to choose between feasting on friends to sharpen Reid’s abilities and holding off in the name of the greater good. It’s a particularly compelling scenario because even the most unimportant characters have complicated histories, attachments to other characters, and dialogue options which may be vital to certain sidequests, forcing players to be careful about who they’ll have for their next meal.
Vampire-ing Is A Breeze
Vampyr may have the ability to make a long series of dialogue tree selections consistently intriguing, but what it makes up for in narrative and characterization it subsequently lacks in combat mechanics. Though serviceable, Vampyr’s combat system never really evolves beyond a watered-down take on Souls combat. Reid may have a host of undeniably fun vampiric abilities like a defensive blood barrier, Nosferatu claws, or throwable shards of congealed blood — all of which consume blood, which can be harvested from stunned enemies — but it all feels just a bit underwhelming.
This is likely because, even on the most difficult setting, Vampyr is too easy. Enemies aren’t difficult to dodge or outright avoid, and smart players likely won’t feel encumbered in the slightest until near the end of the game, if at all. This jeopardizes the aforementioned NPC-harvesting mechanic, as most likely won’t feel the need to sacrifice the health of a district in the name of an unnecessary XP boost. Plus, enemies respawn quite often, meaning that, given enough grinding, the whole thing could theoretically be negated entirely.
Don’t Switch It Up
Albeit hampered by a few faults, Vampyr is an overall thrilling and inventive RPG experience… or it would be, were it not for one major, borderline game-breaking issue: the performance.
This was clearly not a game developed with the Switch in mind, and this port feels like it’s struggling not to crash at all times. Framerates are downright abysmal, threatening to plunge into single digits at points, and open-world exploration is sometimes segmented by out-of-nowhere loading screens that bring down the already drab presentation.
Textures are dull, muddy, indecipherable, and character models look doughy and disgruntledly artificial. For a game that places such a huge emphasis on atmosphere and character interaction, it’s a total letdown to see these things botched so completely.
Vampyr remains an amazing experience, but one that isn’t worth playing on the Switch. The PC and non-Switch console ports run beautifully by comparison, and this should not be anyone’s first experience with the game. Even those who enjoyed the game when it first came out and want to play through it again on the Switch should steer clear. Dontnod and Focus Home Interactive have been doing amazing things of late, but this port definitely isn’t one of them.
A digital Switch copy of Vampyr was provided to TheGamer for this review. Vampyr is now available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
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