The year is 1918. The Spanish flu runs rampant through the streets of London, killing hundreds. You are Jonathan Reed. As a doctor, you’ve made an oath to heal the sick and mend the wounded. But here’s the thing about swearing your life to an ideal: it only counts if you’re alive. And you, Mr. Reed, are a fresh new member of the undead – a vampire.
This is the conflict at the heart of Remember Me and Life is Strange developer Dontnod’s Vampyr (pronounced “vam-PEER”). Do you use your hands to help treat a plague, or do you use them to rip the citizenry apart in your quest for power? The answer might not be as clear-cut as you think.
Dontnod is trying to avoid the stereotypical “good vs evil” choice system in Vampyr. Instead, choices will have echoes that create stability or instability as the impact of your actions ripple outward. During a hands-off demo at E3, I was introduced to a lowlife thug who’s extorting a merchant.
Turns out that thug has a son at home, who may be in danger of infection. The father won’t invite you in (a classic vampire weakness) to check on the boy, so you have to figure out another solution. You could kill him, growing your power as a vampire and helping the merchant, but without a father to take care of him, the son could run away, and the district could sink further into chaos.
Dontnod’s version of 1918 London is described as “semi-open world.” There are large hubs to travel between, with plenty of NPC inhabitants. But you can’t just wander off toward a river in the distance, and you won’t find Random Pedestrian #47 wandering about like you might in a true open world game. Everyone here has a job, a schedule, and social connections that can impact or be impacted by your actions. Case in point, the thug mentioned above, who directly weaves into the lives of at least two more NPCs.
Your actions or inaction can also contribute to a district’s stability rating, similar to Dishonored’s chaos rating. Kill too many and you’ll lose your humanity as the streets pool with blood and more ravenous monsters. Save too few and the plague will likewise devour the population, leaving bloated corpses rotting in the streets.
It’s not enough to be a doctor trying to save everyone, nor is it enough to be a creature of the night growing in power – in Vampyr, you are the giver of life and the bringer of death. You’ll need to heal and harm strategically, not just to earn arbitrary good guy points and/or bad guy points.
The complex web of relationships between NPCs also makes the decisions you make infinitely more interesting than choosing between mustache-twirling evil and halo-on-head good. Who deserves to be spared, and who deserves to be food? Do you sacrifice someone with the intention of using your dark powers to save the city, or do you hold onto your humanity as tightly as possible, even if it means dooming those around you?
Dontnod has a history of producing games with strong narrative focus. Vampyr isn’t about to buck that trend, but it’s also clearly not interested in settling. We’ll find out how well the studio’s vision plays out when Vampyr releases for PS4, Xbox One, and PC next year.