Dontnod takes a thrillingly Gothic perspective on early 20th century London, but squanders it in a dreary and indecisive adventure.

Vampyr review - a beautiful premise wasted in this bland action RPG

Great Gothic horror is all about colour, or lack thereof. The black of night, the white of bone, the monochrome of a gloomy cobblestoned street illuminated dimly by a single paraffin lamp. When colour is used, it's to highlight scenes of the macabre and the morbid so beloved by penny dreadfuls - the yellowing of a lonely mouldering corpse, the fetid green bile of a plague victim, or a single bright glob of crimson gore. Where it should never exist is within the realms of beige.


Developer: Dontnod

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Disease has always been joined at the hip to superstition and fantasy - the term "influenza" once referred to the influence of unfriendly stars - but there's something especially, horribly otherworldly about the flu epidemic of 1918-1920, which claimed over 50 million lives. Invisible to the microscopes of the era, the Spanish flu was a phantom terror, its spread censored to shore up morale in the closing stages of the Great War. Where other outbreaks had ravaged children and the elderly, this one bizarrely reserved its worst excesses for hearty young adults: its effects included "cytokine storms" that turned stronger immune systems against themselves, drowning the afflicted in their own bodily fluids. With no cure forthcoming, many sufferers fell back on folk remedies and occult treatments, lining their nostrils with salt, tying ribbons to their arms and burning brown sugar or sulfur to chase away evil miasmas. It's from this tangle of science and myth, monsters of the imagination versus the monsters of the laboratory, that Dontnod's long-in-development Vampyr takes its cue.

There's a long inglorious tradition of cannibalism in video games, from the many flesh-eaters of the Dark Souls series through the "strange meats" of Fallout to the gaping cosmic horror that is Kirby. In the last few years, though, developers seem to have really acquired a taste for it. Take this spring's The Wild Eight - a survival game distinguished by some neat firelight effects and the preposterous, yet strangely persuasive option to eat the corpse of your previous self, providing you can find your way back to it after you respawn.