vaporum

Vaporum is a steampunk dungeon crawler heavily inspired by games like Eye of the Beholder. The gameplay takes place on a tile system, that dictates how the player can move. Each step moves one tile at a time. This means if the player is trapped in a corner, there is no walking around until the obstacle is taken care of. The gameplay features first person real time combat with puzzle solving and exploration elements. It originally released September 28, 2017 on PC , but released today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

For someone whose only experience with dungeon crawlers before this was Diablo III, it took me quite a bit to get used to the style this game wanted me to play. I love action/adventure games with puzzles in them like The Legend of Zelda, but the tile system here is very restricting. In some ways, I kind of like it. I definitely would not want it in many games though.

Within the first few levels I had to turn the difficulty from normal to easy because I felt like I was dying too much and wanted to have this review done on time. Unless you played many of these games back in the past, I would probably recommend you starting out on the same options. I found it much more enjoyable in combat when I felt like I had a chance to win.

Vaporum has pushed me to want to explore more dungeon crawler games. That is a hard thing to do for someone with little to no experience with the genre and having to put in over 10 hours to review the game in a weekend. In that sense, Fatbot Games has absolutely hit the ball out of the park with this game.

Gameplay

Rig and Progression

Early in the game, Marcus finds the rig suits. There is a room with four different suits that allow for many different play styles. The one I chose gave my suit more toughness, and had a chance to absorb attacks. There were others that added to combat capabilities, and tech which acted as the abilities I will get into later.

The suit choice really allows you to choose how you want to play and to help you decide how you want to make your Marcus. “Fumium” is the experience points of this game and are gained from defeating enemies or finding vials of it in the world. When you level up, your health and energy are instantly refilled and you gain one point for enhancing your stats. This can include more damage with certain weapons, better accuracy while dual-wielding, and many others. In RPG’s, I tend to try and make balanced characters. I feel this really held me back in Vaporum. Looking back on it, if I had focused on certain areas of the game, I would have been able to progress much easier because of my play style. This is purely on me, and if you play the game, do not make the same mistake I did.

One section of the game I truly enjoyed was having all of your armor and weapons stripped from you so you can wear a hazmat suit to get through a corridor. Here, you have to use the environment to your strength to take out enemies and I found this section very fun and engaging even though I was not running up on them and beating them with a mace. Sadly, the environment is underutilized for the rest of the game in combat.

Combat

Because science.

As I said above, I had to deal with quite a learning curve when starting out Vaporum. Both bumper buttons play as your hands. You can equip an assortment of guns, shields, bladed, or blunt weapons and you can quickly switch between two sets of weapons on the fly by pressing the right stick. I love this. Each weapon has its own special use and changing them in and out was some of the best way to figure out to progress in the beginning for me. Bladed weapons are better against flesh while blunted weapons are better against machines. Using this to meet the situation added a new layer of strategy to the game.

Another aspect of the weapons are the bonuses they provide if you do the exploration to find the proper equipment. Early in the game, I had found a crowbar that had a chance to stun spider enemies. Combined with specific gloves, its cooldown would be decreased. The best weapons are found throughout the game while exploring and looking for secrets that are very well hidden, but worth the time to search for.

Using two hands allows for dual-wielding weapons which allows you to uptick your damage output, while sacrificing accuracy. The added chance of missing attacks was infuriating early in the game. After leveling up, this gets better, but after missing so many attacks with enemies right in front of me, I started resorting to using a shield in one hand to block some damage.

Special Attacks

Don’t stand in acid kids.

Another aspect to the combat is the power-up add-ons for your rig suit. There are quite a variety of these and they all affect Marcus and his enemies differently. Many of these are also enemy attacks. Acid attacks reduce healing while dealing damage when the target is in the splash area. All of the early acid enemies destroyed me early on in the game. They were the biggest reason I ended up switching to easy so early in the game. They surround you, and you have to make split second decisions on movements and attacks while keeping in mind your cooldowns, health (while having reduced healing), energy, and the location of other enemies. It was a very daunting task that lead me cursing to myself a few times.

Other special attacks include lightning based attacks that reduce damage, fire, health stealing, increased melee speeds, and increased defense or shields. Multiple can be equipped at a time and using them takes up energy that slowly refills. Before running into a room full of enemies it is best to have a game plan down for how you are going to survive, not just necessarily how to kill the opponent.

Puzzles

Vaporum is filled with many different puzzles which almost never get too frustrating, but the solutions are never easy hand outs. With no description of what you are supposed to do unless you read notes, you find that one level wants you to find four series of books of three and put them in their specific shelves to unlock a room to progress. Pulling levers and switches to make the floor and doors open and close the way you need them were always mind benders of figuring out the just right way to do things.

One gripe I have with the puzzles is that there are too many box puzzles. These require you to push and pull large boxes in the right order so you can reach items or make pathways across death pits. I was not a fan because of the perspective you have when doing these puzzles leads to a lot of running back and forth and slow turning to figure out what it is you are supposed to do. Maybe about half the amount of box puzzles replaced with more unique challenges would have made this an even better experience.

This is not fun. This is not engaging. Moving boxes is slow and boring.

Story

Vaporum takes place on a small island in the middle of the sea. When the game starts up, the player’s character, Marcus, has shipwrecked onto this island with no recollection of who he is. A giant tower called the Arx Vaporum appears that he enters. The place seems familiar, and as he ventures towards the top of the tower he starts recollecting his memories and his connections to the place while battling the harsh creatures and machines within the place.

The amnesia story line does not play out too well in my opinion. Marcus figures out who he is and what he is fighting for about halfway through the game, but there is never any real payoff. The ending also tries to give a bit of a twist that really is not that surprising and features a character that really has not been built up successfully.

The storytelling for the main story may be lackluster, but I really enjoyed the side stories you find in the scattered notes, voice recordings, and environment clues throughout the game. For the notes, it is completely up to the player if they want to learn more about the scientists that used to inhabit the tower. The different personalities and the things they would do are put on display brilliantly, and pushed me to want to find out more about them.

The main story and voice recordings are completely voice acted and done very well. Marcus has his moments at time, but the voice actor overall did a very solid job of making this character with amnesia seem believable.

Getting Lost in the Dark

I died a few too many times to this puzzle.

The tower in Vaporum is incredibly dark in the beginning. A little too dark to be honest. When first entering the tower, there is barely any light at all. The first box that I had to shove forward I thought was putting me into a loading screen or something because my screen went completely black. I stood there doing nothing for about 20 seconds before I finally turned and saw all I had done was take a step forward.

You quickly equip a suit that will always have a flashlight on in front of you which helps. I still found the first few levels at times annoyances even though I was enjoying the game. One small room in the early game has the player moving boxes to reach a switch so they can progress. I spent at least 45 minutes on this one room because it was so hard to see my surroundings. There is not much guidance on what you need to move and it was very frustrating.

As you move up levels, more lights are turned on and it is easier to see things. Besides the pitch black darkness in the first three or four levels, I really enjoyed the steampunk setting. The many machines you have to navigate around do not serve as anything more than walls, but they make the world more interesting.

Graphics

The cockroaches are absolutely creepy, gross and amazing looking.

I am not sure how big of a team Fatbot Games are, but they have impressed me with Vaporum. It is a very good looking indie game. Tiles and the same wall patterns are not hard to duplicate throughout each level, but I was very impressed with how the creatures that inhabit the world look. Early game, you are attacked by many mechanized spiders and mutated cockroaches (because scientists thought it was a good idea). They all look creepy and combined with the dark atmosphere and difficulty I was having early on, got a few jumps out of me.

Besides the bugs, there are also drones, big guys with shotguns, flamethrowers, or sledgehammers, and towards the end will even encounter zombie-like enemies. There are quite a few variations on the enemies as well. You have your acid and electric variants, but there are also bigger cockroaches that have increased armor and can heal themselves. The large variety of enemies helps keep the gameplay fresh throughout the game and all of them have great designs behind them.

Conclusion

Vaporum was an absolute surprise joy for me to play. When I first viewed the trailer for the game I thought it looked decent. Diving into the worlds deep side stories and the fun combat and customization options really make this game stand out though. The creepy, dangerous enemies and mostly engaging puzzles make this game worth coming back to for the challenge, and even though the game may conclude on a weak boss fight and disappointing ending, Vaporum is a modern dungeon crawler that is doing something different. Not many games, AAA or indie, can say that nowadays.

You can read more Gaming reviews over at Opencritic.com!

THE GOOD
While not a system I want in many other games, I enjoyed the tile gameplay here
Great design choices on enemies
Great side stories (notes and voice recordings)
Deep and fun customization options and weapons
Good voice acting for an indie game
Challenging, but not infuriating puzzles
THE BAD
Too dark early in the game
Too many moving boxes puzzles
Poor main story
8
Great

Review Summary

Vaporum is an excellent throwback to games that have largely been forgotten. It’s an over 10 hour experience filled with rich, deep gameplay and is worth its price tag. If you have never played a traditional dungeon crawler, this is an excellent starting point.

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