Fatbot Games, s. r. o. (studio)
09 April 2019 (released)
09 April 2019
Indie developer Fatbot games have decided for their first outing, to bring us a game inspired by classic grid-based dungeon crawlers. Or more so by the Legend of Grimrock series as Vaporum replicates the semi/dynamic turn-based style movement and combat but places it within a new and awe-inspiring location. Can Fatboy manage to reclaim the glory or classic dungeon clawers and unites fans of the beloved Legend of Grimrock series?
Vaporum is a game that’s clearly inspired by two games. I’ve mentioned the first many times already and the other I will mention now. If you’ve not already looked at the screen shots below (keep reading and don’t skip to the score just yet) you can easily identity a steampunk setting, inspired by old-school classics of the genre. Yes of course I’m speaking of Bioshock as everything from the style and story will sound familiar.
Stranded in the middle of an ocean, in front of a gigantic tower, our hero has to find out what the place is, what happened there, and most importantly, who he is. Sounds very familiar don’t it? Bioshock had the lighthouse and here we have a massive tower in the middle of the sea. But this is pretty much were the similarities end as Vaporum embarks players on climbing the monstrous tower in a bid to find out what the hell is actually happening.
For the most part, Vaporum does a very good job at capturing the player’s attention quickly and keeping players invested. As you explore the tower, players will pick up fragments of the story and unravel the complex mystery at hand, via notes and recordings of those formerly at the tower. It’s nothing new (and yes I know Bioshock did it), but I admire the level of detail each of these fragments has the interesting characters they reveal where once there. The mystery only gets more bizarre the further you go into the tower and it’s a decent payoff by the end. I won’t spoil it, but it’s entertaining none the less.
As for the style, in a single word it’s fine. For the first couple of hours it’s visually pleasing and lends to building a creepy and unsettling atmosphere. But the environments feel like they’re on repeat throughout the campaign and lack any interesting features. It’s nice for the first act or so but then you’ll soon realise there’s little to differ each floor from the last.
Players will navigate the tower by a grid system. Those who played Legend of Grimrock will know what I mean, but those who don’t I’ll explain. Movement is restricted to one of four directions, so changing direction means you manoeuvre a 90 degree turn and move in that direction. Your movement is measured in squares, so you’ll move a foot and stop, then move another and so on. It’s inspired by the classic 90’s dungeon crawlers and was like that due to the limited processing power at the time. Here it’s a quirky aesthetic which I will admit some will either love or hate. Its fine and you can change the way it works through the settings. Lots of things can be changed through the settings regarding movement and interactions thankfully. However there’s just no a way to resize the very small text on screen.
As mentioned this movement style is quirky and works well to simplify the journey in some ways. There are still secrets to find, puzzles to solve and enemies to fight. Combat is a little stilted in the beginning but as you progress, find new weapons and encounter more interesting enemies, it does become more fun. The first act is just very slow with annoying little enemies, rubbish weapons and very simple puzzles. There are some tactical elements in the combat and as you gather new items and skills, the situations become much more compelling to engage in.
Puzzles also become a lot more interesting and the use of a freeze time mechanic helps to give a variety. These lateral elements could be simple like freezing time briefly to make it pass a closing door or something more advanced. Like standing between two turrets and moving out again so that their shots hit each other. There are quite a few moments which really make the most out the of the grid system.
But Vaporum does have a lot of repetition with plenty of puzzles becoming a tedious grind and certain encounters feeling cumbersome. While the grid movement adds a layer of tactical play in the combat, the movement can be a pain when you’re backed into a corner or having to repeat the same manoeuvres over and over to avoid massive damage from a small and annoying enemy. There’s also the lack of navigational help and the relentless key hunting. Moving around the same area a dozen times finding one key to progress can be a breaking point for some and almost had me quitting a handful of times.
While not perfect, Vaporum has a lot of charm and a few dynamics that certainly makes it a memorable adventure. The tactical elements infused in combat and exploration can be engaging and the later stages of the game are very entertaining. It’s has some rough patches with the tedious and restrictive nature to exploration and lateral elements meaning they feel repetitive and long winded at times. It’s still worth checking out but could’ve been so much more.
++ Engaging tactical grid based gameplay
+ Interesting story and location
- Some segments feel repetitive and tedious due to grid movement
- Lacks originality
A PS4 copy of Vaporum was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review