In just a handful of weeks, we’ll finally be able to get our hands on what Dontnot has been working on in parallel to the next Life is Strange. It’s not the game, or rather subject matter, we expected from the developer. Vampyr looks like a systems-heavy action RPG, as opposed to what we figured the developer would lean into, the narrative and choice-heavy structure of Life is Strange. That said, we musn’t forget Remember Me, which proves the team does also speak this language quite well.
While Vampyr is a modest game, considered “AA” by its creators, the marketing has been quiet but effective, with the right amount of information flow combined with intrigue. But as we zero in on release Dontnod has released a big story trailer, and now feels like a great time to dig into what we know so far, and talk about what makes this take on such familiar genre territory so appealing.
Vampyr is set in London, just after the first World War. The story follow Johnathan Reid, a doctor who served and, upon returning, is attacked by a mysterious creature. He soon notices changes within himself that signal, well, he’s a vampire. At the same time, a flu outbreak threatens to ravage the local area. Reid is now trapped, ideologically, between the need to survive by feeding on people and his human calling to help people as a doctor.
To me, the central dilemma in Vampyr is an excellent hook. The notion of a new vampire struggling between the hunger and lingering human morality is not new, of course. But Reid’s being a doctor, one so dedicated that he would join the war effort, adds a new layer to that dilemma. As a character, this is a super extreme example of a man vs nature conflict that is also a perfect fit for a video game built around making moral choices. The player will also have to navigate this dilemma, and Dontnod appears to be doing everything it can to make that difficult.
In a web series released over the past several months, Dontnod’s team speaks to the degree that which Vampyr is designed to make the player actually think about the act of killing in a video game. Far too often do games feature killing without a second thought – Vampyr is designed to take the player to task, to treat NPCs and other characters as more than bags of meat and experience points. To that end, Reid being a doctor in the middle of a flu outbreak exposes the player not only to Reid’s internal conflicts, but also the vulnerability of the people he will likely fight to treat despite his own primal urges. You’ll talk to people and they’ll open up about their lives, and if you choose to kill them, Reid will actually absorb and be privy to their final, dying thoughts.
Along the way, Vampyr will also introduce its overall take on the vampire mythos. In trailers we see that there are multiple variants on vampires, each with their own self-given “species” names, with Reid’s particular brand being closer to tradition, while others often taking more inhuman or grotesque forms. Likely this lends itself to the game’s combat, as well as other, external conflicts driving the story beyond Reid’s own struggles. The latest story trailer from Dontnod acknowledges as much, showing Reid both struggling to figure out what’s happening to him, as well as discovering more about the supernatural underworld he likely never considered before as a man of science.
Considering its status as a smaller-budget game, Vampyr looks like it will be one of the year’s most ambitious games. And supporting that, it’s already seen a big delay since it was announced two years ago. But it’s definitely coming out now, and there will be plenty of room for it ahead of the rest of this summer’s big releases (unless you’re a BlazBlue fan). With its promising narrative hook, Dontnod’s provable history, and confident preview content, I’m super excited to chow down on Vampyr when it launches in June. What do you think?