(Focus Home Interactive for Xbox One)
By Mike Delano
Atmosphere is an underappreciated quality in video games. I guess that makes sense, since it’s not as easy to put your finger on as something like “this game plays great” or “this game looks great.” It’s intangible — the “feel” of a game. It’s the merging of many aspects of a game, from its look to its sound to its pacing, and what kind of effect that merged entity has on the player. Vampyr, the latest game from developer Dontnod Entertainment, succeeds almost entirely based on its atmosphere. It follows the story of Jonathan Reid, a surgeon in early 20th century London who wakes up one night as a vampire and embarks on a quest to find out how he inherited his newfound bloodlust. Given the developer’s breakout success with the coming-of-age narrative adventure Life Is Strange, it’s natural to think the characters and plot would be the highlights of Vampyr, but they’re not. Nor is the combat, which was the weakest link in Dontnod’s otherwise interesting debut game Remember Me. Here, despite many upgradable abilities and weapons, the combat is rarely engaging, although its inclusion is appreciated as it helps liven up the pacing of the narrative. But despite deficiencies in both narrative and gameplay, Vampyr is still compelling because of its all-consuming gothic atmosphere. The dark streets of London are brimming with menace, recalling the early areas of Bloodborne, and the game nails that toe-curling feeling (exemplified in Cinemax’s The Knick) of the brutal early era of modern medicine. Advancing through the game is fascinating, usually not because of who you’ll meet or what combat scenario you’ll be thrust into, but because progression helps you explore this harsh, seemingly hopeless environment. The violent streets and dark alleys, fetid sewers and fog-covered docks, the sprawling makeshift hospitals and claustrophobic underground communities — these places, and the sense of dread they evoke, are what stays with you from Vampyr.