My expectations were fairly low for Vampyr on the Nintendo Switch. Considering that the game featured an open world and lighting system, I simply expected it wouldn’t run well. It was easy to assume this considering the quality of other ports for Unreal Engine 4 games on the console. At best, I thought it would probably be about as playable as Saber Interactive’s other recent port, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
However, Vampyr, a dark story-driven action-RPG set in 20th century London, manages to run surprisingly well on Nintendo’s handheld. The Switch port even retains a lot of lighting and environmental details that keep the heavy gothic atmosphere palpable. Really, the only thing setting this version of the game back is a lower resolution and some long loading screens when you’re first starting the game.
A nuanced, blood-sucking good time
The writing in Vampyr, despite there being a great deal, is a highlight of the experience. It’s a story that draws inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula in its romantic gothic prose. That said, it also takes cues from the real-life 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
The story follows Jonathan Reid, a doctor who wakes up in a mass-grave having recently turned into a vampire. From then on, you must balance both the vampiric and doctoral aspects of his life. You also try to uncover the mysteries behind who forced this affliction upon him in the first place.
Bringing this story together is hours upon hours of well-performed voice acting, especially from the title character. Vampyr is also accompanied by an industrial score, one that only adds meat to the overall atmosphere. Oftentimes, Switch ports noticeably compress the audio, which can hinder the experience. This is not the case with Vampyr, even with its surprisingly small file-size (around 7 GB).
Your gameplay choices matter
Since Vampyr is a game from the same developers as Life is Strange, your choices matter greatly in determining how the larger narrative unfolds. Decisions come from the typical interpersonal interactions, but they also arise from how you approach the gameplay.
In Vampyr, you can feast on any of London’s inhabitants, which has consequences that directly impact the city. Spending time talking to them, and thus having them reveal their inner-workings or send you on quests, allows you to increase the quality of their blood. Feasting on those with higher quality blood earns you extra experience points to invest in new abilities. You can also complete the game without killing any civilians, but keep in mind that you won’t get to level up your skill tree as much. It will, however, reward you with one of the game’s four different endings.
A significant portion of the storytelling in Vampyr also comes in the form of various documents that you find. Journals, newspapers, and articles are scattered around 20th century London. These transcripts play into the environmental storytelling, commonly shedding light on the dead bodies strewn about a house you’ve secluded yourself to. Such extraneous materials, while dense, are worth the commitment to immerse yourself in the world.
In terms of the overall gameplay, Vampyr is an action-RPG that’s as brutal as it is flashy. Whether fighting vampire hunters or creatures of the night, you have a variety of different abilities and weapons to experiment with. There’s everything from off-hand weapons, such as stakes, to ranged weapons, such as revolvers. Of course, you also have your supernatural abilities, such as becoming invisible or creating blood spears. However, while the combat is fun here and there, it can sometimes grow repetitive due to the sheer breadth of certain enemies’ health bars.
When you can’t uphold the Hippocratic Oath
Your skill tree in the game enhances and provides these abilities, but it also increases your overall stats. Enhancing your defense and strength will prove important, as Vampyr is a tough game even on the normal difficulty. This forces you to weigh the cost of the human lives you take. Do you feast on the morally ambiguous business owner who could give you more quests, or do you take the life of a random person of the working class from the streets? Of course, you can also play on the “story” difficulty mode if you want to have an easier time making these decisions.
Overall, Vampyr is an ambitious game made with a lot of love. Given how easy it is to become immersed in its world, I was able to forgive some of the more glaring flaws with its repetitive action-RPG combat. It’s not typical for a developer to give the player such power over a game’s world and characters, after all. This affords the game an immense amount of replayability that can also let you reshape your characterization of Reid.
If you’re looking for something different this Halloween season, Vampyr is one of the most impressive horror games on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re sold on the concept, this game definitely deserves your attention.
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2019
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Action, Role-Playing
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment, Saber Interactive
A review code was provided by the publisher.