Back in the early days of the gaming scene, development teams of the time were restricted by the limited kits they could use. Due to this they had to become creative with the basic tools they had. Games like Doom, Eye of the Beholder and Wolfenstein were front runners in giving the world first-person shooters that changed the way we play. So when I play a game now – one that is retro in its mechanics and influences – I have one thought on my mind before I start. Do I want to go back to playing a gaming mechanic that feels very much of the past?
Well, Vaporum feels like one of those experiences from an older, more familiar, time. But it has still managed to do something to me that was surprising. It made me feel like I was playing something completely new and original.
Vaporum is a first-person, grid-based, dungeon crawler that harks back to games of a vintage age, but it has modern visuals and has come to console from the PC market after two years. The game puts you in the shoes of a man who has lost his memory, happening across a mysterious tower – the Arx Vaporum. As the man enters the tower your job is to find out what has happened in this steampunk world, who you are, and what your purpose is. Vaporum then takes you into the world of the dungeon crawler, telling an intriguing story through voiceover and the journals you find throughout.
I’ll be honest with you and say that the controls of Vaporum do take a bit of getting used to, and that’s to do with the port from PC to console. Just getting used to the grid-like movements in the game will either kill your spirit or make you fall totally in love with it. Sometimes it made me feel sick, sometimes I questioned what the point of it was, rather than just delivering some free-flowing movement, but mostly I started to really enjoy it, particularly when getting involved in combat where it almost becomes like playing a game of chess. Other controls like accessing the inventory and picking up items can become unwieldy at times and it really does feel quite old fashioned. But enough of my moaning, what is it that you are actually doing in this game?
Vaporum has puzzles, where you have to work out traps, triggers and find keys for locked doors. As you move across the underground levels you will encounter a number of monsters in your way, fighting them back in the process. Combat consists of melee attacks with a crossbar, mace or sword, while long-range attacks normally revolve around the use of a pistol or a rifle. Ammo is scarce and the combat is enjoyable when you get used to using the grid movements to your advantage. You have special combat abilities as well, gaining them later on in the game, like an electrical blast that detonates in a small radius around you. There is also a stop time option that gives you a moment to analyze the best strategy around you. All this works well and Vaporum itself really has managed to sink its claws into me, seeing me becoming addicted to the gameplay and composition of this world.
There is loot to collect, which always has the power of wanting you to get the best set up possible. The rig that you wear, which is the armor set, has different categories depending on how you want to play the game, allowing you to decide between nimble or tank like qualities. Saving that progress is easy thankfully, and you will want to do that a bunch as the game gets a lot trickier later on.
Things all look good in Vaporum on Xbox One too, with dark corridors and machinery clunking around every corner. The robots and creatures encountered are well drawn and I particularly like the opening cutscenes with its comic book stylings. There are moments when the world can become a bit too familiar and you begin to feel like you will never see sunlight again, but then I guess immersion is the purpose of the game’s overall plans. Soundtrack wise it comes with a good score that collaborates with the gameplay well. There is a nice somber voice over too, one that helps you connect with the main hero you are playing.
Vaporum is something that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would, mainly because I’m starting to tire of the whole retro vibe and mechanics that are flooding the gaming scene. But this delivers a whole new experience by keeping its dungeon crawling influences firmly on it sleeve. I like the story and the overall tone, while the combat is certainly engaging and solid. The whole control system and how it has been implemented doesn’t work as well for me, with a lack of fluidity and ease of use at times. But overall there is a very good game on offer here, and with it priced up at just about the right level, for fans of this genre it’s probably a must buy.