The game industry has changed massively in the last two generations. AAA budgets have ballooned, small indies have found massive success, and the stalwart mid-range devs collapsed in the aughts and early 2010s. It’s taken years to recover, but now games like Vampyr are proving that the middle ground still have a place.
Last year, Ninja Theory wowed us with the budget-price release of Hellblade. In fact, it was so impressive that Microsoft ended up snatching such a promising studio. Similarly, the mid-tier THQ phoenix has been reborn in both name and — to some extent — form with the full-on rebranding of Nordic Games as THQ Nordic. Without a doubt, momentum has been building for the “Double A” or “Triple I” space.
Meanwhile, the teams at Dontnod have continued to crank out some incredible work. Life is Strange was a hit, and we’re already getting to see what the sequel has in store. And within the very same week, the company announced a brand new game, and shipped Vampyr – a very neat story-driven action RPG set in post-WWI London. More than anything, this is a perfect example of modern mid-tier gaming, so let’s take a look at the latest Double A release’s ups and downs.
In terms of critical response, there’s a large range of reactions. Our sister site IGN gave it a Good score of 7 out of 10, and that’s largely due to the ambitious world building. Reviewer Brandin Tyrrel has bones to pick with the frame rate and random loading screens, but the ambiance, lore, and dozens of well-written characters still shine through.
Metacritic currently has 51 reviews that average out to a 72/100, and that puts it in the realm of “mixed or average reviews.” Considering that GameCritics gave it a 90/100 while The Guardian‘s review translates to a 40/100, it seems that critics are extremely divided here.
While total sales are always difficult to parse without official statements, it seems like Vampyr is selling pretty well. It topped the UK sales charts, and it seemed to be well-placed on Amazon and Steam charts. It’ll never be a God of War or Fallout, but with a much more constrained budget, it doesn’t need to be.
Vampyr is enhanced on both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but don’t expect all the bells and whistles. It’s not running at a full 4K on either console, and there’s unfortunately no HDR support. For a game that takes place entirely at night, the lack of HDR is particularly disappointing.
30fps is the target on consoles, but there are performance problems in some places. We’ve put a lot of time into the game on PS4 Pro, and it seems that rain and fog are particularly hard on performance. And while the applied film grain successfully adds to the mood, the heavy use of the effect makes some edges look pretty rough.
When you look at the relatively small map and the number technical hiccups, it’s abundantly obvious that this isn’t a AAA release, but that’s not all bad. Because the scope is reduced, a lot of the team’s efforts were put toward fleshing out the web of character interactions instead. A few notable exceptions aside, most big budget games are much more concerned about blowing off the doors with wide-shallow content. Meanwhile, the likes of Vampyr can at least try to make something that’s narrow-deep. Even if the execution isn’t perfect, it’s still nice to see the ambitious mid-tier game return in full force.
[Image credit: Dontnod]
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