One of the biggest reasons I got into gaming are the well-crafted stories behind the cool graphics and fun gameplay. Stories with an emotional heartbeat and memorable moments that will remain with you even after the last credits have rolled. It’s a connection I seek out in much of the video games I play. So what do you do when you encounter a game that has a potentially mind blowing story, but to get there, you have to slog through gameplay that’s less than what you expected?
A few months ago I finally purchased Dontnod Entertainment’s Vampyr for the Xbox One. After the studio gifted us with a gem like the Life Is Strange series, it really felt like a no brainer to add this to my growing list of backlogged games to play. Dontnod also has a proven track record of bringing gamers compelling story and characters with decision trees that are far more complex than they appear to be. And to have their next game set in the world of vampires and 1918 London? I was all in on experiencing a dark and gothic tale about a newly turned doctor struggling against succumbing to the beast within to feed on the innocent and not so innocent civilians he’s supposed to save. After an hour or two spent on Vampyr, I already hit a snag with the game—the combat controls.
Vampyr takes the intricacy of making decisions from Life Is Strange, but tosses in an open world and combat component. As Dr. Jonathan Reid, you’re encouraged to skulk around every back alley and abandoned building for useful items that will help you craft medicines to cure the sick or subsist on the occasional rat you see scurrying around for their blood, if you’re avoiding to kill any humans for your own survival. But like any open world game, you’re bound to run into creatures or unfriendly folks who will act hostile towards you and attack. Unfortunately, the combat is lackluster and mostly frustrating than fun.
While the game presents a bit of a challenge to fight against enemies, should you choose to go on an all rats and non-NPC diet, it really shouldn’t be impossible to gain the upper hand in a fight with these restrictions. The controls feel disjointed and unresponsive at the worst of times. There are instances when I would push certain buttons to have Dr. Reid deliver a devastating blow only to get his ass handed to him instead. Somehow, fighting in this game sucks (no pun intended) the fun out of being a vampire. Rather than wanting to run headlong into a battle, I want to run away and avoid it at all costs. Since then I haven’t picked the game back up.
I’m a little disappointed that I can’t motivate myself to continue with Vampyr. It’s not like this is Dontnod Entertainment’s first foray into the action adventure realm. Their first game Remember Me had a balance of pretty decent combat and smoother controls that didn’t frustrate, though, I have yet to finish the game in its entirety. It’s a little baffling why Vampyr, arguably a similar type of game but in a different setting, doesn’t play as well. At least to me it doesn’t. From what I have played of Vampyr, it looks like the studio spent more time developing the story than in perfecting the overall gameplay. This isn’t the first time I played a game where the gameplay is mediocre but the overall story is phenomenal. The best example of this is Spec Ops: The Line.
Released back in 2012, 2K Games’ third-person shooter video game wouldn’t have been on my radar initially if it wasn’t for a good friend giving it to me as a gift one year. I’ve written about my time playing Spec Ops: The Line on the blog many years ago, and it’s certainly a game that isn’t what you would expect. The narrative is surprising and carefully written to give gamers an amazing and thought provoking experience. It’s truly one of a kind, but what this game does have in common with Vampyr is having gameplay that is more on the wonky side. Again, I dealt with button commands not registering the way it’s supposed to whenever I needed Walker of Spec Ops: The Line to do simple actions, such as ducking in and out of cover. I remember being irritated with the gameplay here, except maybe not as much as Vampyr since I did complete this game and I got one of four possible endings.
This brings me back to my original question in the title of the post, can story ever be enough to overlook a flawed gameplay system? Maybe, but there’s a lot to consider. It depends on how bad the gameplay is and how patient you are in soldiering through it to be rewarded with a satisfying payoff in the end. I think the gameplay issues in Spec Ops: The Line were minor enough to not detract from the story as a whole. Vampyr, on the other hand, has been more of a challenge to keep playing because the controls to make Dr. Reid fight effectively against opponents has too many kinks I haven’t been able to ignore. There is an easy mode to the game that will allow you to focus more on the story than the fighting aspect, but that’s not what I came for. I want a balance of both story and somewhat challenging gameplay. Playing it on normal shouldn’t feel like I’m playing it on a higher difficulty setting every time I enter a fight.
I’m not saying I have given up on playing Vampyr and seeing Dr. Jonathan Reid’s journey to the end. I’m just not in any hurry to finish the game at the moment.
Do you think a good story will always make up for a flawed gameplay design? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!