Game Reviews

Vampyr for the Switch Review

DONTNOD's undead yarn is more skal than ekon in this Switch port.

by Brandon Adams
Vampyr: Switch Review

DONTNOD has a penchant for storytelling, and their 2018 title Vampyr was an attempt to marry their narrative chops to a more open-world format. It was a good game for what it was, and we even gave it 3.5 stars out of five in our review. With their port of Vampyr for the Switch, DONTNOD is hoping to sink their teeth into new blood, but unfortunately, this version isn’t an apex predator.

Rather than handle the port in-house, DONTNOD gave the reins to Sabre Interactive, the same company that recently ported The Witcher 3 to the Switch. As expected, that game was a blurry, low resolution affair, but it ran well enough to justify the graphical cuts. It was The Witcher 3, arguably one of the best games made in the last ten years, now portable! Surely if Sabre could conjure such black magic with CDProject’s baby, then Vampyr would be a surefire success.

And it probably could have been, but issues with performance keep Vampyr for the Switch confined to its coffin.

vampyr-switch-dialog

Graphics are on par with what you’d expect.

Graphics are downgraded in ways one would expect: textures are as low as they can go, losing any sharpness and definition they once had. Faces look like potatoes, which would be easy enough to ignore if the game wasn’t so focused on conversation. Textures take ages to load, with most only upgrading from “mud” to “clearer mud” within a few feet of Dr. Reed. Everything in the game looks blurry whether the Switch is docked or in handheld, and dynamic resolution scaling compounds this issue.

The shadows and lighting take the largest hit of all, with dynamic shadows proving rare. What few do exist are faint strands of pixels. To be blunt, even among equal company, the Switch port of Vampyr is one of the uglier ones I’ve seen.

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To be fair to Vampyr, however, I have to concede that The Witcher 3 on the Switch won’t be winning beauty pageants any time soon either. Like that port, Vampyr’s cuts seem to prioritize maintaining the game’s atmosphere more than they are with making the game easy on the eyes. In this regard, the graphical cuts are the sort any average person could make peace with. I’d argue the blemishes are better masked in handheld mode, but that’s a bit of a moot point at this point in the Switch’s lifespan. If I have to be reductive, then I’d say Vampyr looks exactly how you’d expect a Switch port to look.

So, Vampyr at a surface level looks the part: it’s art style and design are retained, the dark alleyways of London still appear gloomy and foreboding, and Dr. Johnathon Reid’s tale is the same as it was on other consoles. Nothing has been cut from this release, and nothing has been added from a content point of view. Cool, so far the port is appearing exactly as I expected it to. Yet, upon looking deeper beneath the skin, I found the organs rotting in such a way that I could no longer overlook the bruised exterior.

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Inconsistent performance drags the whole experience down.

Here is the naked truth: we make peace with graphical cuts in Switch ports because we know the hardware isn’t powerful. Everything I noted above generally falls under the “no crap” category, as far as Switch ports go. Sure, some do look better than others, but that has more to do with art design than technical prowess. At the end of the day, we absolve these ports of their ghoulish looks, so long as the games run well.

And here is where I will have to put a stake through Vampyr’s dark heart: performance is, without a doubt, abysmal.

The game’s framerate is not living anywhere near the word “stable”, with drops below the game’s targeted thirty frames-per-second occurring frequently. Turning the camera to view the grimy world around Dr. Reid is enough to cause frames to plummet, and God help you if you’re near fire, or a bunch of NPCs. Combat is especially janky due to the inconsistent framerate, because dodging and using your vampiric abilities only adds to the strain. Walking around the hospital was painful enough, but upon leaving it you soon learn there are greater nightmares.

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Whitechapel, and the other boroughs of London are all too much for this port to handle, and in the few areas in the game where the framerate stabilizes and reaches the thirty frames-per-second bar Vampyr for the Switch can’t help but stutter more than Bill Denbrough from Stephen King’s It. The framerate issues were so damn dramatic I felt myself becoming motion sick, which as someone who has more than 2000 hours logged flying in an old Boeing 707, isn’t something I experience often. Frame drops and stutters are such a norm here, that anytime I found myself in a smaller, instanced area (like the sewers) I thanked the maker for the reprieve (considering these are the only areas the game seems to run well in).

Add in frequent, long load times over a minute in length that occur not just when transitioning between different instances, but whenever you are running around the world, and menus, dialog, and intractable objects that can all take upwards of ten seconds to load, and you have a port that looks like the average vampire on the outside, but has the guts of fallen beast.

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Tis a shame; the base game is good.

It’s a damn shame the performance is utter trash, considering the underlying game is enjoyable to play. Those few moments Vampyr on the Switch works, it’s a fun action role-playing romp across London as you guide Dr. Jonathan Reid either towards salvation or damnation. DONTNOD’s gem is here in all it’s unholy glory, but Sabre just couldn’t get this port over the finish line.

I even delayed this review to see if there would be a day-one patch; anything coming that would alleviate my concerns and alter this port’s course. I waited in the dark of night, and found the effort was in vain. I hate to say it, but either Sabre put all of their effort into The Witcher 3 port, or DONTNOD insisted Vampyr for the Switch be out by Halloween and didn’t afford Sabre the time they needed. This port is being sent out into the daylight, where it will be burned to ash.

Don’t buy this port until the performance issues are addressed, assuming they will be. For a full $50 USD this port is nowhere near ready. Hell, even at a modest $20 Vampyr for the Switch would be a hard sell. I can’t recommend it as it currently exists to fans of the game, or those with only a Switch in the house: I can’t recommend this port to anyone. Skip Vampyr for the Switch; there are better ways to play a bloodsucker out there.

"disliked"
disliked

Vampyr

  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
  • Published By: Focus Home Interactive
  • Developed By: DONTNOD Entertainment, Sabre Interactive
  • Genre: Action Role-playing
  • US Release Date: October 29, 2019
  • Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
  • Quote: "Don't buy this port until the performance issues are addressed. I can't recommend it as it currently exists to fans of the game, or those with only a Switch in the house: I can't recommend this port to anyone. Skip Vampyr for the Switch; there are better ways to play a bloodsucker out there."
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