Oh boy. A long time ago, I talked about how this game is being made by the studio who brought me my favorite game of 2015, and thus my standards for this were sky high. In playing this game, and seeing the stuff that is coming out of E3 lately, I have realized some things. The studio who brought us this game also knows that they made my favorite game of 2015, or at the very least they knew that that game was a big deal. And it seems that they let them go to their head. Or maybe I should have seen their other games and realized what was facing this one. I don’t know. In any case, this game let me down big-time. Let’s talk about it.
The plot goes that Dr Johnathan Reid has been afflicted with vampyrism, and now he has to manage that, all while a mysterious “Spanish Flu” is working its way through London and he has to deal with that at the same time. Meanwhile, hunters are on the loose, making a situation that could be bad worse. All while he also has to balance the vampire caste’s politics. It was sold to us as a game about balancing your hunger, along with the plot, and keeping the districts safe. At face value, that sounds really cool. It sold me. But the devil is in the details.
First, the vistas in this game are butt ugly. That is when you can make anything out. Don’t tell me it’s supposed to be night! It was night in Arkham City too, and that game had various locations all with their own sense of style. This game was drab, and boring. A story set in early 1900’s London has the potential to be gorgeous to look at. Instead, you can barely tell one district apart from the other, in the tiny amount of area that you have to explore.
Which is another thing – this game’s size is pathetic. I was thinking that I was going to get to explore London. Instead, I am in this tiny part of the city, with the rest being this mythical thing that I hear about but never see. Maybe it is Dontnod just biting off more than they could chew with that, but there it is. I prefer games with broad levels instead of an open world with nothing in it. This game seems to be riding the fence about that concept, and it fails on both.
Then there’s the combat. At first, this is pretty fun. You have plenty of powers to play with, though you don’t get access to any powers as you go through the game. Instead, everything available to you is open right from the start. So learning neat things about being a vampire and getting to immerse yourself in the experience? That was fucked. Between repetitive enemies and difficulty that is entirely contingent on what amount of a prick you want to be,
Oh, and while we’re talking about that, this game has a REALLY bad habit of fucking with you in the choice department. See, I wanted to be a good guy and save the city. So when Lady Ashbury tasked me with stopping there from being blackmail against her in a way where I didn’t kill the person, that’s exactly what I did. I found the source, and convinced her to walk away from all this with my mesmerizing powers. But apparently that was the wrong approach to take! Because she turned into an undead and started killing everyone. What?! Why is that?! I saved her without killing her. Why did the game decide that I was going to fail anyway?
Next, there was Sean Hampton. He’s turned into an undead and is eating raw flesh to satiate his hunger, saying that the Lord is going to be his guide if he ever loses his way. I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though the REALLY ominous music is not helping. I guess I should have listened. Because while I was able to salvage the last district that was falling apart, this one went completely to shit. So me taking the nice guy approach doesn’t work. Then I should just kill everyone? This game is really bad about telling you to play one way, then not rewarding you for that. It was genuinely frustrating to see all my effort go down the tubes.
Oh, and there’s also the busy work. Tasks that you have to do because the game tells you to, and if you don’t, the districts that you have saved go to shit. Like how everyone in your districts is getting sick all the damn time, and you have to save them all the damn time. I keep having to fight through more powerful enemies over and over to keep the districts healthy all the time. It gets on my nerves REALLY quick.
Does this mean there was nothing I liked? Not at all. The narrative was fairly interesting. It has a couple of hiccups, but it keeps me going the rest of the time. If they had only been smarter about making this game, who knows what they could have accomplished. Not to mention a few characters stuck with me. Most notably Lady Ashbury. She’s a vampire who is trying not to be a monster as well, and my attempts to be a better creature of the night at least resonated with her. That’s one person who is appreciative.
It’s painfully clear that Dontnod is coasting on the success of Life is Strange, using a TON of brand recognition. In my opinion, it went to their head. That’s not a good thing. This concept could have been genuinely amazing. I wanted it to be one thing, but came out something else. Which hurts me because I was genuinely hoping for a cool game about being a vampire. There aren’t nearly enough. It’s a tragically missed genre that has so much potential.
So I will give you my crash course in a video game about being a vampire. First, have powers be something that the character learns about over time. Don’t just throw it all out there and tell me to run with it. Next, make the narrative more about the vampire world than the human one. I get the idea of choosing how much of a monster you want to be, and I am all for that concept. But it gets lost when the humans in the game are such a pain in the ass that you constantly have to look after. Have choosing to be a monster be more about the narrative and how you have to live with the creature or person you let yourself become.
And since you are stuck in a world of the night, make the areas you explore interesting. Not just drab back-drops. Give them flavor. It’s London, for fuck’s sake. That’s easy to do. Some art deco style and appropriate mood lighting and you got yourself a good London dark city. Have the vampire society have its own aesthetic, to give it a kind of alienation with the world that humans live in.
Making a fun vampire game is a tricky deal. But I was REALLY hoping that this was more Vampire: The Masquerade, and less Remember Me. Overall, this game is horribly terrible. It’s just insatiably boring. Dontnod really is floating on their success with their last big title, and that’s unfortunate. Because I could look past the flaws of Life is Strange like the dialogue being wonky or the world looking odd because the aesthetic was all its own. I went after that game for the bigger issues, like fucking up the ending to the series in a worse way than Mass Effect 3.
Dontnod really wants to capture lightning again after their last major game. Hell, they just showcased a new game that for some reason is set in the same universe as Life is Strange about a kid dealing with growing up alone in the middle of nowhere with a drunk dad. Don’t know why they set it in that universe, other than a way to market it to people like me. This studio needs to assess what they want to be, because they have one good but flawed work, while several other REALLY mediocre ones. That’s not a good look. Take this for what you will.
4 out of 10