Dontnod Entertainment are back, and its working on something new once more. Vampyr is an exciting and rather sinister bloodsucking role-playing game that is being published by Focus Home Interactive.
What does a developer like Dontnod do after two interesting, but quite different games like Remember Me and Life is Strange? They go for something very different once again, of course. Vampyr is an action role-playing game that takes place in London in the year 1918. The whole country is afflicted by the Spanish flu. On the streets of the city there is unrest and violence, as a result society as a whole cowers in fear. There are special quarantine areas where the common citizens continue to live in relative safety and are kept away from the infected. Those who are not so fortunate and are easy prey for a group of vampires who use the chaos for their own purposes.
We assume the role of surgeon Jonathan E. Reid, who lives in the city and helps the sick. At first he thought he was infected with the flu, then he realises that he has been transformed into a vampire. Now Reid needs blood to survive. On the other hand, he still carries himself like a doctor and wants to save lives. It's a dual nature he now has to try and balance. Based on this conflict, the French developer wants to tell a powerful story in which the player decides how to tackle this duality. The more people we kill, the stronger we get. The development of the character is directly linked to this conflict, and our behaviour has consequences for the district.
The world consists of several areas, which are interconnected via hubs. They in turn consist of several levels and there will also be a lot of hidden locations. In line with the narrative and setting, dark colours and especially brown tones dominate the visual finish. In one mission early in the game we are looking for a mysterious nurse in Whitechapel who is apparently blackmailing a fellow vampire. It's fairly quiet and the atmosphere is tense and oppressive. Throughout the game a filter with visible grain is used to contribute to this gloomy mood. It reminds a bit of Dishonored, but without all of the steam punk (sorry, whale oil punk) elements. The world of Vampyr appears founded in realism, in spite of some fantasy ingredients.
You will be fighting against other types of vampiric creatures in the game and you'll try to find out where they come from as part of the story, but they are not your only problem. Among other things, vampire hunters will be on hand to provide a little friction. The quarantine zones in particular are dangerous, but of course we are not entirely defenceless. We have among, other things, a bone saw and a powerful colt. More melee and ranged weapons can be upgraded using a crafting system. The combat is supposed to be instinctive and aggressive. Correct timing and positioning while attacking is crucial. But from the limited scenes shown to us it is difficult to assess how it actually plays.
As a vampire we can of course use various supernatural abilities. There is a ghostly leap called Spring, with which we can dash forward. In the short demo this was also used to progress more quickly. It is similarly useful during fights and we can reach higher places using it. And as is the norm according to the lore, a vampire can influence other people by manipulating their thoughts. This comes into play in the dialogue, but we can use it to completely take control of characters as well.
Three different skill trees are available that support different styles of play. The developer didn't want to go into detail on this for the time being. But we already know that the supernatural vampire abilities also come with a price. Our health bar also powers abilities, their use giving us an advantage, but weakening the doctor at the same time. So while fighting you always have to hunt for some fresh blood to replenish the bar.
It is quite interesting to see the new focus Dontnod has selected for their next game. All of the characters have their own personality, different tasks, and functions. They relate to each other, have their own problems and secrets. A personal loss in the environment will affect their behaviour. We need to weigh up how much we want to deal with any of them or whether a character for us is just prey that will ensure our survival. The devs are promising that these are meaningful decisions that will lead to very different results, and this is in addition to the aforementioned inner conflict. It sounds very ambitious to aim at such depth of play across all elements of the game.
There are, however, a few tricks being used by the French studio. Abandoning a true open-world does away with one layer of complexity. The question remains though, how large and vibrant the world will be? Dontnod wants to offer at least fifteen hours of play time in Vampyr, although no doubt anyone who wants to uncover all of its mysteries will find it takes longer. What's really interesting will be how naturally our decisions are realised in the world, whether their effects are predictable and how important they turn out to be in the end. Dontnod plans on telling us more about this during the year ahead.
When we finally find the said nurse there is a decision to be made, and at the end she says something that is suitably fitting: "We had much in common, Doctor. Though in the end, I saved lives, while you take them."
The fate of Jonathan E. Reid is an interesting starting point. We'll try to stop the disease, try to save lives, but we're also likely to have to make sacrifices here and there. The balancing act we pull off is intended to decisively influence the world and the course of the story. We will find out if the concept works when the game finally ships next year.