I am finding this game to be a very interesting experience so far and I can't help but want to share some thoughts about this game before it drops from Sony's Instant Game Collection after this week. I'm not super far into it - about 4-6 hours give or take, in Chapter 3 of 7 though the game still calls this Act I and ar ough scan of some guides implies this is the meatiest section of the game so my impression could change mightily over the course of this chapter. But right now I'm finding myself squarely in the headspace Patrick Klepek found himself in back when the game came out and he was deep in his "bad games teach good lessons" schtick.
With regards to the game itself, it has this super weird basic construction to it that implies the game could have gone myriad different directions and settled on, perhaps, the safest amalgamation of all of them? On the one hand this is a relationship simulator, on the other a pandemic controller (more on that in a moment), on yet another a character action RPG and on yet another a sort of visual novel. To be sure, the most interesting parts of this game are the conversations thanks to a truly wild in 2020 setting as well as some mostly ace voice acting and a perspective that seems keen on slowly unraveling mystery and characters who are struggling between their own self-interests and the good of the people - sound familiar? So you keep pining for that, but sometimes you're controlling an Arthur Morgan-like tank without the peerless animations to back the wooden traversal up, or you're hoping you drilled into the tech tree intelligently like a slightly railroaded Geralt. Pretty early on you start wondering how fruitful fighting the randomly generated enemies on the city streets is really going to be, especially when entire districts develop fatigue and pneumonia after just a couple of nights while the game offers zero fast travel, a mostly pointless map and yet - and yet - a sprawling artificial London to memorize.
Sometimes, in fact, Vampyr seems so desperate to remind players of Bloodborne that it almost feels like an abject failure on those demerits alone. This is a Victorian village stricken with the Spanish Flu and thus on - mostly, though not nearly as consequentially - a lockdown similar to Bloodborne's Yharnam, and early on you're introduced to this idea that perhaps your blood - your increasingly Old Blood... may be the key to whatever is happening to this city. Dontnod are clever to insinuate this Spanish Flu has mutated from its presentation on the continental European land, though this opens its own can of worms...
Because if you struggled at all with the pandemic imagery of The Last of Us Part II earlier this summer, Vampyr gains new relevancy through being the most prescient, in-the-know game of the many games released between 2013 and 2020 that centered themselves on autocracy, mass illness and public skepticism. The first time I rounded a corner to find a corpse slumped against a brick wall, mask on yet spirit exhumed, I was a little stunned. I'd already seen the posters and the flyers advocating masks, stay at home orders and reporting sicknesses to the appropriate authorities by that point, and in 2018 this would have just read as some standard game world building. Here are the worries - here are the consequences! But now? Duders, I don't even know...
But again, at some point you remember you are playing this game, and it's..."fun", perhaps? Sometimes that fun is derived from a 15 minute conversation tree about your conversion to being a vampire that ends with "Am I...a vampire?" and sometimes that fun is derived from realizing you're simply trying to bulldoze this game to progress and not engaging with it fully, so like Vinny in the Quick Look you realize you're accepting the combat is simple but not taking advantage of your ability to trivialize it. I've spent a decent chunk of this game at least four or five "levels" weaker than my enemies, but once I focused on what works it turns out that's not entirely relevant. On paper the game can look like a true role playing experience, but in practice it feels like it is very possible to min/max the right skills and cruise through encounters that initially seem tough until you really consider the scenario.
Lastly, for now, Olivier Deriviere did an awesome job with the composition. The soundtrack is engrossing at all times and really settles you into this dark, reserved to failure sort of vibe and is porbably some of the more memorable score work I've heard this year despite being from 2018. The game is really capable of setting specific moods with his score even if the action or conversation tends to belie its budget constraints. In particular the game's apparent main theme that plays back at your homebase is a perfect mixture of hope and hopelessness that just nails the tone and can convince you to keep drilling into the clues and sub-stories of the various NPCs you meet. If it feels a little silly that your superhero/villain doctor guy spends most of his time as more of a Sherlock Holmes, the music grounds you in that core loop in a way the character himself sometimes can't.
TL;DR, I'd really recommend anyone who skipped Vampyr mostly out of budgetary concerns like I did at least click the Add to Library button on their PSN account if they have the choice because, especially in 2020, this is a really bizarre fantasy to wander around in and really feels like, in many odd ways, the most now game of this enduringly specific Year of Our Lord.