Vampyr, the action RPG from Dontnod Entertainment and originally released in June 2018 for PC PS4 and Xbox One, has found a new home on the Nintendo Switch. This newly ported title, courtesy of Saber Interactive, offers players the opportunity to dive into the dark and dreary world of Johnathan E Reid, a war doctor turned vampire. Faced with both the oath he took to do no harm and a newfound thirst for blood Reid sets out to solve a series of grisly murders.
The real mystery, however, is just how well the title holds up on everyone’s favorite handheld console. So dawning my favorite hunter’s cap and channeling my inner Cumberbatch I set out to solve a couple a mysteries of my own. So grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy our review of Vamypr for Nintendo Switch.
It was The Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
Conceptually I love the idea of Vampyr. It offers a dark take at one of the best story arcs possible; man vs self. In the case of Reid, we see a war-torn doctor who now must battle with his own desire to blood.
The game opens to Reid shortly after being turned into a vampire with no memory of his attack. As he stumbles through a plague riddled London during the time of the great Spanish flu, quickly realizing that he is not the man he once was. The game thrusts Jonathan along a path that leads him to both attempting to find a cure as well as solve a series of murders that are taking place in the underbelly of the city.
The whole story is wonderfully crafted and is a pleasure to explore for those that are a fan of mysteries. The game tries to find a balance between inquisitive conversation, deductive reasoning and straight-up combat in a dark and intriguing world.
The key here is that it tries. Unfortunately, the pacing can at times feel off-balanced, with an excessive amount of dialogue leaving you wandering around mashing the ‘a’ button on every NPC you encounter. As much as I appreciate the idea of sleuthing my way through a game the execution quite frequently left me more bored than intrigued.
A World In Turmoil
The world itself once again is a concept that I absolutely love. A dark gritty London at the end of World War One, the supernatural and science intertwined, a mystery to be solved; all these should work together to create an incredible world to explore.
Unfortunately, Vampyr suffers some poor world-building implementation. To begin the physical layout of the city makes navigating (even with a map marker) a frustrating and confusing affair. Vampyr feels like it’s trying to be clever with puzzles that must be solved in order to access parts of the world.
Instead of clever it simply becomes cumbersome, and more times than not you’re left aimlessly wandering around mashing ‘a’ on anything that glows. All this is done in the hopes of unlocking the next area.
The visuals, at least on the Nintendo Switch, feel washed out and devoid of any real character. Its a shame really, given how interesting London was in the early 1900s. There was real opportunity to create a beautifully ‘alive’ city in Vampyr, something that could have been a character in and of itself. What we got, unfortunately, was a lot of dark corridors and dead ends set against a bleak and uninteresting backdrop.
The Bright Side
It’s not all doom and gloom however as Dontnod Entertainment did introduce some great elements that help compensate for these miss-steps. For starters, the game does offer an interesting progression system. As with most titles, kills give you XP. What makes it interesting here harkens back to one of the base narrative concepts in Vampyr, the battle with self.
Draining blood gives Ried a serious shot in the arm in regards to XP. If you are inclined to go full Dracula on the NPC’s you’ll find you quickly become an unstoppable, supernatural monster. The game basically becomes a murder fest with NPC’s even giving more XP based on their medical status. The healthier your victim the greater your reward.
However, Vampyr encourages you at every turn to stay on the path of light, to save as many people as you can. It pushes the narrative on you, always pointing you towards the next story beat. Although choosing the side of light is a slower route it does offer you XP. It’s an interesting way to carry some of the game’s themes over into the mechanics themselves.
Vampyr also offers some decent combat, with the aforementioned XP unlocking some pretty fun supernatural abilities. Much like the story itself, Jonathan can be specced out to lean more towards the light or the dark. Some abilities offer non-lethal solutions to problems while others throw caution to the wind and allow you to eviscerate your enemies.
One final note on some of the highlights from this title; the voice acting from the lead and supporting actors is superb. As much as the long dialogue sections were a mini-game in and of themselves I did find the delivery of dialogue to be wonderfully executed. Everything from dialect to language felt right and at home for the era.
Porting Can Be Such Sweet Sorrow…
The Nintendo Switch port itself does run into a few issues that need to be mentioned. The most frustrating comes in the form of random loading screens in the middle of open areas. The game isn’t an open world in the truest sense of the world, with doors acting as load points between overworld and dungeon-like areas.
However, when in the open-world, I found my character frozen with a loading icon flashing more times than I cared to count. This became a point of frustration as many times it would happen while in combat or simply while retracing my steps. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason for it and it also wasn’t consistent.
This random loading was only part of the issue when exploring the world. I also noted several times where frame drops would leave my character shuddering for a half a second or more while the game caught up to what was happening. Once again there didn’t seem to be much consistency as to when it would take place.
The final point to note is how downscaled the visuals looked on the Nintendo Switch. When I compare Vampyr to other ports I’ve reviewed over the last year I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. NPC’s are left looking just a little better rendered than characters I’ve seen on the PS3 and the world itself feels flat, washed out and a bit too pixelated for a title that came out in 2018. In an era where I can gleefully play DOOM 2016 seamlessly on my Switch, I would have hoped for a little more out of Vampyr.
A Switch code was provided for review.