Disclosure: This game was provided to us for free by Fatbot Games, S.R.D for the purpose of review.
Vaporum: Lockdown is an old-school dungeon crawler that places you deep into the secret facility known as Arx Vaporum. The facility has been developing lots of secret new tech like flying steampunk drones, robots and giant mutant spiders and rats.
To be candid about this game I found it incredibly dull, but that comes with the caveat that a lot of that comes from this kind of thing just not being for me. This game is a hardcore puzzle-solving dungeon crawler with a very specific vibe that it’s going to cater to a very specific niche.
Before reviewing this game I wanted to check with big-time fans of games such as Legend of Grimrock, a game that heavily inspired Vaporum, thought of Vaporum and they all seemed to love it. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I am reviewing the game and I thought it tedious. So if you are a fan of grid-based dungeon crawlers and the original rogue then this game might just be what you’re looking for.
To kick off the review I’ll list my positive. That’s not a typo, by the way, I have one positive thing to say about the game. The design is pretty fantastic. Every monster and humanoid enemy seems pretty well-thought-out and realistic in their madness and decay. The areas you traverse are all very unique but still feel like they’re connected by this giant monolithic tower known as Arx Vaporum.
Moving on to the rest of the review, this game infuriated me. The puzzles and combat varied from either horrendously easy and hairy pulling difficult, I practically got whiplash between encounters where I had my feet up on my desk and was taking it easy when all of a sudden I was faced with a monster I had never seen before, could not kill and was just supposed to figure out I needed to lock the creature in a room I’d seen ten minutes earlier.
The combat is simplistic in a special way that almost makes Skyrim combat seem fun. (Almost.) You move in a grid and your attacks are on cooldown. There’s no weight to anything you do. You don’t feel like you’re dodging attacks you feel like you’re doing cheese strats. You don’t feel like you’re taking a 20kg hammer and smacking someone about the bonce with it, you feel like you pressed left click and a slight crescent swipe hit the creature.
All of the early monsters in the game can be beaten by just moving back and forth between two squares and each time they move over you attack and move again before they have a chance to attack you. When you get to later monsters it’s all about pattern recognition which, as a Dark Souls fan, I’m pretty into but as I said there’s no weight to your actions. When you dodge in Dark Souls and the enemies giant claw sweeps above you and the wooshing sound hits your ears you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something impressive. In Vaporum I feel like I pressed the A key and that’s about it.
As a grid-based dungeon-crawler, there are going to be puzzles to solve. That’s the law. Some of these puzzles are needed to progress the story and some are to get secret loot that buffs your character. Like I said earlier these range from boringly simple to staring at the screen for twenty minutes wondering if you should just go play Monster Hunter because that’s clearly more your speed MATTHEW! Like any bad puzzle when you finish them you feel relieved that it’s over and stupid that you didn’t figure it out sooner. Instead of feeling like you’ve genuinely learned something and feel empowered by your own cool brain.
Again this is all part of a lack of weight to what you’re doing. In Zelda when you beat a puzzle you get this loud and epic tune that makes you feel like you actually accomplished something. Then when you open your congratulatory loot chest you get a tune that to me always sounded like “You did a thiiing!” In Vaporum the puzzle is just over, the door is usually already open because 90% of the puzzles are “Get to the door without doing the thing that closes the door.” So there’s no satisfying ‘clunk’ or ‘woosh’ to indicate you win, you just have won and now it’s time to move on.
The things like skill trees, loot and levelling up are neither praiseworthy nor in any way bad they simply exist; lifted from other games that lifted it from other games before them and so on. They function. When I level up I get a noise and a flash of light and a stat point. When I get a new weapon it has higher numbers or some other enticing bonus.
To touch briefly on the loot system; it all felt very planned out. In most RPGs when you found a weapon in a dungeon it felt like an accomplishment. It was a random drop from some random enemy and it looks different and maybe does fire damage on top of it so you’re eager to try it out. In Vaporum every weapon you find feels like you were always going to find it and you simply swap out your old weapon and move on. It’s just not satisfying.
There’s an interesting thing in the way difficulty is presented in this game. The higher difficulty, not only do the monsters become more fierce but they also take your map away. This is to push you to play old school with a notebook, making your own maps as you go. It’s a neat touch but the game is so difficult/boring to navigate that I found myself opening and reopening the map every few steps anyway just to make sure where I was. I would hate to play the game where I had a map always in front of me but zero clues as to where I am on that map.
I’m sure there are people out there that would love this sort of thing. Just look at the Steam reviews to confirm that. If they enjoy it then that’s great. However, for me, it was tedious, inconsistent and unsatisfying to play. It never felt like I won it felt like I’d delayed my boredom for another two minutes.
Vaporum: Lockdown is available now on Steam for £14.99