Dontnod Entertainment is known by most for its work on the narrative adventure series Life is Strange, though its first title Remember Me was an intriguing experiment as well, despite poor reviews and critical reception. Life is Strange helped put Dontnod on the map, and solidify the developer as one to watch in the future. The studio’s third outing, Vampyr, is an interesting direction to opt for, especially after finding success with Life is Strange and a genre that resonates with a wider audience and age range than the idea of vampires. As such, it’s a game few have had their eye on ahead of its launch. However, having enjoyed a good portion of Vampyr ahead of its release, that’s where so many went wrong. Dontnod’s action RPG is something of a sleeper hit that deserves your time and attention.
Vampyr takes place in 1918 London, right around World War I. You take on the role of Jonathan Reid, doctor-turned-vampire, as he slowly grapples with his newfound “medical” condition and how it relates to saving people and retaining his humanity. It’s a delicate balance, and there’s a thin line between adhering to what the Hippocratic Oath dictates and slaughtering others for sustenance — he’s a vampire, after all. Reid has to choose between saving souls or damning them for all eternity, essentially. During all that, he’s got to figure out if there’s any connection between the mysterious illness that’s befallen the citizens around him, and the plague of vampirism that seems to be catching.
The hook is brilliant, and while Dontnod has always had issues crafting intelligent dialogue for some of its characters, it feels natural and compelling in Vampyr, making for an adventure that unfolds at a brisk pace. You want to keep coming back to figure things out, and when it’s time to pack up and quit for the night, there’s a real longing feeling that grips you, pulling you back in for more.
The very same narrative decisions that plagued you in Life is Strange are here in Vampyr as well, though the consequences are much more dire than annoying a parent or blaming someone else for that “special cigarette” in your room. Vampyr ups the stakes (literally) with life or death situations, then balances things nicely with satisfying combat. The third-person action style, while not something you’d have thought the developer previously excelled at, is done to excellent effect here, with weapons ranging from shotguns to axes that should tickle any combat addict’s fancy.
There’s more to the game still beyond simple combat and dialogue options, though. You can use vampiric abilities that utilize some of the blood you earn from sinking your fangs into the town’s citizens and other enemies to make yourself an even more powerful vampire. Or you can delve into the crafting system to create special serums that help regain some of your health and stamina points when depleted.
Vampyr is all about atmosphere and world-building in a believable setting with a compassionate character that you can easily empathize with. It’s not difficult to put yourself in Reid’s situation. What would you do if confronted with the same choices? Would you save the humans that provide you sustenance or wither away to nothing? It’s a hard choice, to say the least. But that’s how the game slowly begins to sink its dripping fangs into your neck and take a chunk out of you. It’s quiet, unassuming, and even good-looking. But that makes falling for it all the more unexpected.
If you’re looking to explore the darker side of Dontnod, make Vampyr a priority for your next weekend marathon gaming session.