Vampyr review – anaemically scripted undead prowl

Vampyr concerns itself with the line that separates humanity from monstrosity – but finds that line difficult to trace. Playing as Doctor Jonathan Reid – a blood specialist turned into a vampire (oh, the irony!) – you prowl London during the 1918 outbreak of Spanish influenza in search of the creature that sired you. Through this setup, Vampyr aims to explore the conflict between Reid’s desire to save lives and his newly acquired bloodlust – a little like the TV show Dexter, only with sharper teeth and bowler hats.

Split into four districts, the smoggy sprawl of London is home to a multitude of characters, each trying to survive amid the pandemic. But even more sinister forces threaten the city (if you guessed “vampires”, then a big toothy kiss for you) and the best chance Reid has of defeating them is to fully realise his vampiric potential by feasting upon those he has sworn an oath to aid.

Vampyr is at its most interesting when you’re debating whom to sacrifice, thanks to the well-rounded nature of each character’s personal story. Do you feed upon the thug shaking down local street vendors to provide a living for his sickly son, or drink deep of the gifted nurse who underhandedly charges patients for a bed? It’s even possible to construct your own moral code – feasting upon victims who are already injured or sick, for example, or focusing only on people who will provide a fulfilling meal.

Sadly, while each character’s personal tale is cleverly constructed, much of the emotional heft is lost in the delivery. At its best, Vampyr’s writing is ponderously bleak, and at its worst akin to a rejected Hammer horror script. The opening hour makes a particularly poor impression. In a cutscene that calls back to Reid’s initial demise, our hero literally raises a hand to the sky and yells, “I have so much yet to accomplish!”

Sitting alongside these narrative quandaries is a broader dilemma: each life taken will lower the public order of that district, making life easier for you, Doctor Vampire. Each life spared, meanwhile, means a harder road ahead, as you will have to battle powerful vampire-hunter enemies with fewer tools at your disposal.


Smoggy sprawl … Vampyr. Photograph: Dontnod Entertainment

Again, though, these systems are not especially well utilised. Instead of following your lead, London’s fate largely hinges upon a handful of core plot choices that are more interested in hoisting you upon your own petard than following the game’s own logic, undermining the central concept of juggling your desire to protect people with your needs as a vampire.

Some reprieve is found in Vampyr’s combat, which blends pugilistic street-fighting with ferocious supernatural powers. It’s a slick and enjoyable system that nonetheless feels at odds with the game’s loftier aspirations. Spending hours pondering the fate of one individual before stepping into the night to casually slaughter dozens of vampire hunters results in an uncomfortable dissonance between the game’s themes and the player’s actions.

After the touching emotional drama of Dontnod’s previous game – the coming-of-age adventure Life Is Strange – Vampyr’s ambitious but awkward chin-stroking is disappointingly inert, while its failure to reconcile its ethical hand-wringing with its gratuitous combat leaves it as conflicted as its undead protagonist. Chewing over Vampyr’s ethical conundrums provides some entertainment, but not enough to make it worth sticking your neck out for.

  • Vampyr is out now for £40.99.


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