Dr. Jonathan Reid has returned from the Great War changed, his will weathered by the war and his soul cursed by death. Although we do not know (for now) what turned Jonathan into the monster he is in Vampyr, we know that he is not taking his new role as a child of the night lightly.
Like many stories dealing with vampirism, we find our hero struggling with the craving to kill and what little remains of his humanity. Since this is a game about vampires developed by Dontnod, we should expect no less than a moral journey to take place here. I was surprised by the depth of the narrative showcased in the brief demo I saw at E3 as well as the intricate combat that was on display.
The year is 1918, and the London flu epidemic is in full swing as Jonathan Reid stalks the funeral of his latest kill, conflicted over what he has had to do to survive. Shortly after he is approached by Lady Ashbury, another centuries-old vampire, who has a brief conversation with Jonathan about his inability to balance his newfound need to feed with his instinct to help people. It was at this point that the dialogue wheel was shown off, giving players the ability to choose how to respond in different situations. As a man with a medical background, it is not easy for Jonathan to process the fact that he must kill to survive while there is already so much death around him.
It is Jonathan’s crisis of conscious that adds a unique element to Vampyr's take on the newly-turned vampire tale. The more I saw Jonathan interact with NPCs and think to himself about his own humanity, the more invested I became, something I certainly wasn’t expecting to feel after watching less than twenty minutes of gameplay. Unlike previous Dontnod games the world is open for you to explore with numerous side quests to complete along with the main story.
A majority of the game requires Jonathan to interact with townspeople and solve problems for them or kill them outright if that is what you prefer. Jonathan can use his senses to see how afflicted each person is by the flu epidemic. Once he has an established report with an NPC, you can view all known information about them in the pause menu including the color of their blood, which indicates how sick or healthy they are.
Along with vampires there are also skulls, or mutated vampires, to deal with. The cause of their mutation is unknown, but Jonathan believes it could have something to do with the sickness afflicting London’s population. It is one of many clues he can follow to investigate what’s happening. Their presence certainly isn’t making things any easier for the non-mutated vampires since every kill they make peeks the interest of vampire hunters, making it increasingly harder for Jonathan to move around the city unnoticed.
Vampire hunters have the ability to detect you more readily than normal people and you must avoid them as much as possible. In the demo Jonathan’s teleport ability was showcased as a means of evasion, by transporting him quickly out of sight, especially when a group of vampire hunters can be heard investigating a kill in a nearby building. After teleporting through a broken second floor wall, Jonathan overhears that the hunters are aware that a vampire is active in the city. A few minutes later Jonathan comes across another group of vampire hunters burning bodies in the streets, where his combat skills are demonstrated in full force.
Descending onto the enemies swiftly, Jonathan uses combat moves that are mostly a combination of melee and ranged attacks with some finishing moves with a gun. Although the combat camera didn’t seem to follow the action as well as I would have hoped, it still looked much more polished than Remember Me’s combat which is the only other Dontnod game that had actual fighting combat. I found it very intriguing that the vampire hunter's defenses were more varied, utilizing vampire hunting weapons and ranged abilities that visibly affect Jonathan.
In order to regenerate health and vampire skills in battle, Jonathan must feed. Although this is a really cool and quick way to dispatch the enemy, it does put you at risk of attack so it can be tricky to pull off when surrounded. Once his vampire abilities are charged, you can execute a terrifying attack on your enemy. For the demo we got to witness one of Jonathan’s abilities, calling forth a dark energy below a vampire hunter from which tentacles rise and suspend the hunter in midair by his arms and legs. As suddenly as the tentacles appear, a sharp spike shoots through the hunter's chest, brutally impaling him.
Of course this is not the only menacing ability Jonathan has in the game. During missions you will be able to use a mesmerize ability to get others to do what you want them to. During a side quest Jonathan returns an item to a member of the town who turns out to have a sick child at home with the flu but he himself is kind of a dick. Although you can ignore the quest entirely at this point during the demo, Jonathan chooses to mesmerize the man and draw him to a secluded spot nearby in the cover of darkness, where Jonathan feeds on the man in a sequence that is oddly more intense than I expected. These kills gain you extra XP to help level abilities but seem to be choreographed in a way that forces you question your actions.
Although we didn’t get a chance to see the consequences during the demo, by killing people in the town you will begin to raise suspicion, which will have far reaching effects on the story. The following day the man's death would be written in the paper and the vampire hunters would have another lead to follow. In this particular situation Jonathan could have also chosen to seek out the child and feed on him or speak with him by somehow getting into his home with the information he learned from the boy's father. The choice is yours.
Vampyr is a game with ambiguous solutions with no right or wrong. Jonathan’s journey is meant to be your own, and if anyone can make being a vampire a more real emotional experience than the likes of Twilight, it would be Dontnod. Vampyr is set to release in 2017 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.