By Marisa Alexander / May 3rd, 2019
|Developer||Fatbot Games, s.r.o|
|Publisher||Fatbot Games, s.r.o, Merge Games|
|Release Date||April 11th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||Rated T|
There is something about CRPG dungeon crawlers that I find utterly fascinating. Both the atmosphere and pure gameplay the genre offers is something I adore. Vaporum, a dungeon-crawler in the vein of Legend of Grimrock, is one such game of the genre. Originally released on September 28th, 2017, it has been given some new life with recent ports to the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. At its core, Vaporum is a grid-based dungeon-crawler with a steampunk aesthetic. However, can it capture that essence and wonder of the genre? Let’s find out right now and see how well it fares.
The story begins with the protagonist washed up in the middle of the ocean, as a giant mechanical tower looms in the distance. With no memory of who he is, he heads inside due to a lack of any other option. Once inside, he finds an exo-suit to put on whereupon he encounters aggressive machinery. As he treads on, he begins to have a feeling of de ja vu, as if he used to have some role inside the tower. Fumium, a source of energy, is shown to have a big role in the society of the tower, even being the source of corruption of those inside. Soon, he learns what his past was, heading further to uncover the mystery.
That covers the beginning and premise of the story. Overall, the story is rather basic and even predictable. Thankfully, the amnesic sub-plot lasts for only a short-while, as the game does not dawdle on it. However, even after that point the story feels relatively underwhelming, as many of the events that transpired already happened in-universe. Closer to the end, the game brings forth some semblance of an actual plot but at that point it is too late. As a result, everything comes off as rather passive.
That said, some of the actual lore behind the game is genuinely interesting. Many of the constructs and humans twisted by fumium had some role in the creation and function of this society. The only issue is that not everything has a reason as to why it is there. Considering that the tower was home to workers, overseers, and more, it’s odd that there are countless spike pits, rolling spiked machinations, and other deadly traps. Even taking into consideration the current events of the game, these traps feel exceptionally out of place.
As for the gameplay, you only control one character instead of multiple. At the beginning of the game, you choose an exo-suit to use for the entire game. There are four, each providing their own benefits and passive abilities. The heavy armor rig for example gears towards withstanding blows, where its passive ability is reliant on taking damage. The assault rig meanwhile increases fumium intake, effectively the EXP of the game, as well as grow stronger with the less health you have.
Beyond the exo-rigs, there are various equipment to obtain. Weapons range from swords and maces to pistols and rifles. All armor offers integrity, a stat that determines your max HP, where many pieces can influence your core stats to even having resistance to non-physical damage types. Throughout the game, there are unique pieces of equipment that bring forth very special characteristics such as piercing through multiple enemies. That said, equipment progressively gets better so special characteristics are not important in the long run.
Another equipment type are gadgets, granting your character more versatility on how to handle encounters. Using these requires energy and after use they are on a cooldown. These range from AoEs, to buffing your character, as well as debilitating enemies. These are fairly useful but depending on your build, you end up potentially locked out of using many gadgets. Even simple ones like a blowtorch are locked if you are not dedicated to using gadgets. Since I didn’t specialize into gadgets, I was locked to a mere handful of the many that are out there.
Thankfully, even with this much equipment, it is easy to cater to your style of play. Leveling up awards circuits to use on a skill-point system, increasing effectiveness of weapons such as pistols, increasing HP and energy, among other bonuses. You can even find hidden circuits to help cater to a build. However, some pieces of equipment come in shorter supply than others. For example, there are advanced shields that you need to apply circuits to effectively use. However, there are extremely few advanced shields to make allocating circuits worthwhile.
As for the rest of the gameplay, I have mixed opinions about it. As a disclaimer, I played this on a PS4 so I had to play a CRPG with the gamepad. As a result, movement, accessing equipment, documents, and circuit nodes, and moving the cursor to highlight secret switches felt incredibly awkward. There’s also a feature to stop time to access your situation and it’s obtuse to do on the gamepad. You have to hold the L2 shoulder button and press up on the D-pad to activate it. In the midst of combat, this is unreliable to pull off repeatedly and quickly. There was also many a time that I accidentally loaded a previous save since that is mapped by pressing L2 and hitting the touchpad, right next to the quick save button that is options.
With all that said, movement still feels stiff regardless. This is incredibly apparent in combat, as trying to outmanuever enemies can be awkward due to both the mediocre movement speed as well as their quick attacks. It is also unclear when an enemy is able to be struck with weapons as they are moving from tile to tile. Is all of this terrible? No, but there certainly can be more polish in this regard.
As for the enemies themselves, there are a good variety of them. Despite being in a steampunk setting, there is a nice mix of mechanical and organic enemies giving good reasons to invest in either blunt or bladed weapons. Many of the actual tactics behind them are also interesting. Issues become apparent when there are multiple of them, if only because the movement is rather off-putting. Even with the ability to stop time, it is nigh impossible to keep track of anything once there are three or more enemies running about.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the game, unlike many other games in the genre, focused on an exasperating amount of arena-styled encounters. In games such as Eye of the Beholder and Legend of Grimrock, it was very rare to be forced into a room that you had to fight all the enemies in to progress. Even then, many of these type of rooms were completely optional. In Vaporum however, nine times out of ten they are mandatory. I don’t believe that this style of encounter design fits with the genre, even with the tools the game gives you. There is a particular instance that an enemy drags you into the arena as soon as you open a normal door, forcing you to take damage. This is incredibly unfair, especially since healing kits are not the most plentiful resource to come by.
As for the rest of the game’s challenges, it’s a mixed bag. There are many rudimentary ones such as box pushing puzzles as well as basic switch puzzles. Every now and then, the game tests your observation skills such as finding secret switches and putting items into the right place. Then there are challenges that boil down to trial and error. I detest these puzzles, since there is no true challenge behind them. For example, there is a switch puzzle that you have to press the switches in the right order to open a door. There is literally nothing that indicates the correct pattern, you just press and see if you are right or wrong. Another instance that happens is a trap where both doors shut and the entire room consists of trap doors. The solution is merely going to the tile that has a lamp light up for an instant. The issue is when you just so happen to look the wrong way, leaving you with no idea on where to go.
Thankfully, the game fares much better on the technical side of things. I have not encountered a single glitch or bug throughout my playtime. The overall sound design was also fantastic. Nothing grated the ears, allowing the atmosphere to seep in. Visually, the game also looked fantastic, where there were a surprising amount of smaller details from time to time, making exploring the tower interesting. That said, the game at default is too dark to reliably see anything, like spike pits. Unless the brightness settings are adjusted much higher, the darkness makes exploration go at a crawl, as your flashlight barely does the job.
All in all, most of the issues addressed above happened in the second half of the game. Vaporum almost literally felt like it lost steam the farther I progressed. Which is, personally, the most disappointing aspect. The beginning and most of the mid-section was where I had an actual wonderful time, where the later half continually soured my perception. There was definitely heart put into the project, which only serves to disappoint me even further. The game is priced at $19.99 on both Steam and Humble Bundle, whereas it’s priced at $24.99 on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. I am not sure why there are two different price sets, but even at $19.99 I recommend for the game to go on sale before purchasing. I appreciate Fatbot Games’ attempt, especially at the beginning, but I can’t in good faith ignore the second half of the game.
Review copy provided by the publisher
CRPG dungeon-crawlerFatbot GamesMerge GamesPCPS4SwitchVaporumXbox One