Genre(s): Grid-based, Dungeon Crawler
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on: PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 22/3/21
A code was provided for review purposes
The term “grid-based” often brings up feelings of top-down RPGs or turn-based RTS titles. The ridged movement of these genres offer a somewhat tactical style of gameplay as your team moves between each tile on the map. Heading further back into gaming history, the grid style was fairly common in older PC titles – mainly games they allowed you to play is School. These educational games would often see you traversing a dungeon within a first-person viewpoint whilst solving reading puzzles or the dreaded mathematical questions. Vaporum: Lockdown is one of these games.
At its core Vaporum: Lockdown is a grid-based dungeon crawler RPG, where maths has been replaced with Steam-Punk horror. It also serves as a prequel to Vaporum and dives into the story leading up to that game. What happened at the Arx Vaporum Station? Well, kicking and screaming I’m about to find out…
Before playing Vaporum: Lockdown I’d not experienced the original Vaporum – and I still haven’t. While this foresight didn’t detract from my experience, playing the original would definitely help piece things together. Vaporum: Lockdown is set on the Arx Vaporum Station. This station serves as a hub of scientific discovery that revolves around a newly discovered substance – Fumium. You play the role of Ellie, a resident of the station who’s been sent into the depths to discover the whereabouts of some missing crew members. It’s not long into Ellie’s journey when weird things start to happen such as security drones tagging Ellie as a threat. Or long abandoned experiments suddenly reactivating. These strange occurrences then start to happen across the station and soon Ellie is in a fight for her survival.
The narrative to Vaporum: Lockdown feels very similar to that seen in DOOM 3. While small parts of the story are given to us. A lot of the underlying layers in the world await discovery. There’s plenty of documents that detail past events that slowly piece together the current predicament. Naturally, this turns out to be caused by the old chestnut of human curiosity. It’s a story thats been done plenty of times. However, Vaporum: Lockdown adds a steampunk horror ascetic to it, which at least makes it appear fresh.
The core gameplay to Vaporum: Lockdown is a first-person grid-based dungeon crawler. Throughout Ellie’s journey, you’ll be collecting various weapons and equipment whilst attempting to solve puzzles and fight the “bad guys”. It’s a very linear experience that doesn’t let you explore too much from the set path. While this can often be a moot point, the claustrophobic atmosphere does seem to make the world a lot bigger than it is. It’s an odd style but considering the genre, it works.
If you’ve never played a grid-based game within a 3-D setting before then look away now. Movement is both easy and a nightmare. Due to the grid system, Ellie is able to move through one grid at a time. This gives everything a stop-start feel as you move one action at a time. The sense of depth is also very misleading. There were plenty of times when I thought I had more room than I actually did. These misgivings caused quite a few deaths as Ellie plummeted into various pits and traps.
Once you’ve overcome the fact that this isn’t a typical FPS, everything starts to feel natural. The deaths weren’t so frequent, and I was able to strafe around the enemies rather than stand rooted to the spot. Movement also plays a big factor into the games many puzzles with Ellie needing to move various items to bridge gaps and hold down pressure plates.
Aside from being a grid-based FPS, Vaporum: Lockdown also had a few lite RPG elements too. Throughout the journey, Ellie is equipped with a modular suit that allows you to configure your gear based on the current need. There are also two other suits available as the story goes on. Each brings their own strengths and weaknesses, but are just as customisable as each other.
The ability to customise these suits come from the various “nodes” attached to the suit. These do allow for an impressive amount of customisation as you’re free to equip what you want. Fancy two melee weapons, or akimbo shotguns? The choice is here. Naturally, the RPG element isn’t as in-depth as say Skyrim, but the option for a degree of replayability is here if you wish.
Visuals In A Claustrophobic World
Considering that Vaporum: Lockdown is an indie title, the visuals are pretty decent. The dark foreboding corridors of the Arx Vaporum Station give a very claustrophobic feel to them. Quite often I felt that the general aesthetic could have easily transferred over to a Warhammer title too. There’s plenty of gothic/steampunk architecture throughout which just oozes with a sense of unease.
In an interesting move, the game doesn’t feature any music. It’s an interesting choice which both does and does not work. The lack of musical score works well during tense moments as it allows you to focus on the often quiet noises within distant shadows. Yet during the games quiet moments, it’s exactly that…silent. The odd shriek of a violin, or smash of a piano key would have done wonders in playing on the constant sense of dread. Ellie is also fully voiced which does a great job in bridging an emotional connection. There’s some great dialogue between Ellie and her friend who’s hiding out somewhere else on the station. The two actors playing these roles deliver their lines with a sense of belief that pushes everything forward.
In closing, Vaporum: Lockdown is a game you’ll either love or loathe. It’s definitely unique with a great blend of Horror and a somewhat neglected genre of gameplay. The general aesthetic is somewhat pleasing within its horror. The sense of dread never goes away, and at points, there’s a real sense of tension as Ellie attempts to survive. However, the often unforgiving controls lead to a lot of frustrating moments that can slow the gameplay and take the enjoyment away. However, developer Fatbot have delivered a game that’s satisfying for an indie product. I’d personally like to see what the studio can do with a bigger budget.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
Vaporum: Lockdown is available now and can be purchased via the Nintendo Switch eShop by clicking here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.