Hot on the heels of the fantastic Operencia: The Stolen Sun, Vaporum is here to deliver another dungeon crawling RPG. The game opens with a rather convoluted setting; you awaken on a small rock in the midst of a harsh ocean. Suddenly, you notice a giant metal tower. While you don’t seemingly recognize said tower, it’s clearly calling for your attention. Something seems familiar, but you cant quite put your finger on what. One thing that is clear is that the tower holds the answers, and it’s up to you to seek them out.
In regards to the story, it’s all rather drip-fed. The plot is delivered via two methods; through obtaining journals, and through voiced narration. Collectively, these beats sum up the reasoning of your adventure. Unfortunately, for me at least, the pace is just far too slow to be considered interesting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s moments of genuine intrigue within, but due to how laid-back everything is, it just hits wide of the mark. The game’s world offers a dark steampunk aesthetic, but one that aims to be more for the maturer audience.
In truth, this theme sits rather well with the story. There’s a constant sense of mystery within, one that’s merged with desperation and solitude. The towering structure is home to many nasty inhabitants and heaps of deadly traps. If you take the time to truly invest yourselves in this world, you’ll find no shortage of things to think about. What exactly happened here? Where the hell is everyone? Who the freaking heck am I playing as? If anything, Vaporum does a stellar job of encouraging your capacity for fact finding.
The downside, however, is that it never really amounts to anything meaningful. It would have been nice to see more effort focused on the game’s narrative, but instead, it does little more then (slowly) build, before handing out twists that rarely feel satisfying. The crux of play sees you moving through a range of rusty metallic environments as you battle enemies, solve puzzles, and ultimately pull closer to the endgame. The game’s difficulty curve is all over the place; starting out fairly easy, before chaotically fluctuating from thereon out.
Vaporum adopts a grid-based movement system, meaning that much like Operencia: The Stolen Sun, your movement consists of four-directional traversal; forwards, backwards, left, and right. Just like Operencia, it can take some getting used to. Unlike Operencia, the handling is a way off. The game clearly hasn’t transitioned to the controller’s sensitivity well enough at all. I found that more often than not, I was moving too far in one direction or religiously wall bouncing. This lack of feedback refinement is an absolute nightmare, paving the way for frustration.
Normally, this would be a fairly simple thing to overlook in any other game, but here, due to how the game is centered around its movement systems, it comes off rather sloppy and half-baked. Hopefully the developer can adjust these parameters in a post launch patch, but as it stands, I would caution against a blind investment for the sake of your patience and sanity. Yes, it really is that fiddly. Thankfully, during combat, things are a bit smoother, that, and you’re likely to be that pissed off with traversal that you’ll welcome something to kill.
To begin with, enemies may as well be called cannon fodder. You’ll dispose of pretty much anything that stands in your path with ease early on. I can say the same about the game’s earlier puzzles, being that they’re so simplistic, it’s borderline insulting. Something as straightforward as retrieving a key to unlock a door is what you’ll be working with, before needing to tediously rearrange an entire room in search of a hidden lever. Later on, on the other hand, Vaporum suddenly shifts from being overly easy, to outlandishly taxing.
Now, as with any RPG, loot takes center stage. That means that every opened chest or locker will usually be a gateway to bettering your stats. Your equipment and weaponry can be swapped out on the fly, and you’re free to compare new gear with equipped gear to see any differences. Weaponry ranges the usual; blades, through to firearms. You can also dual-wield, though, guns require ammo in order to use, so it pays off to play wisely. It’s also worth seeking out weaponry that doesn’t easily degrade or break, granting you some security.
Special abilities are present and accounted for too, with you able to hold up to four in total. These all provide different powers to toy around with, and allow you to get a bit tactical when the occasion calls for it. They’re pretty useful, I might add. One may electrocute a set number of nearby tiles, whereas another may increase your blade skill. There’s a cool-down to be mindful of, which is in place to prevent spamming, but all in all, there’s a good balance to lean upon. The core combat mechanics are exactly what you would expect them to be.
Combat takes place in real time, with each and every enemy housing distinct traits and characteristics. You’ll need to carefully weigh up your abilities and your weaponry to ensure that you’re getting the most from your tools, which is essential for overcoming the later encounters. There’s handy halt time functionality to make use of, which affords you some time to plan out your next move, but for the most part, you’ll tactically trade blows with your opposition until one of you falls down. Once a battle is over, you’ll gain some EXP.
You may even gain some additional loot for your troubles, so it’s certainly worth partaking in combat whenever you can. You’ll also get some crafting points throughout your time in Vaporum. These points can be used to bulk up your skill tree, ultimately aiding your character across several aspects of play. There’s plenty to work towards, which will undoubtedly keep you busy for a fair number of hours as you fine tune a build that suits your style of play. This is spread across permanent attribute bonuses and passive skills; all fairly standard stuff.
You’ll mix up melee and ranged attacks with the aforementioned abilities as you ascend the tower, beating down the few variations of foes that stand between you and the game’s conclusion. It can be rush to come up against a foe that you’re unsure of, trading blows as you suss out what they’re immune to and what they’ve a weakness to, but again, the lack of enemy variation hurts the affair somewhat. Sure, it’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but some added depth certainly would not have gone amiss.
The main issues with the combat itself is that later in the game, the enemies tend to grow in number rather than becoming independently smarter. This only makes what soon becomes a tedious trek, all the more irritating. This may serve enthusiasts well enough, but those stepping over from the game’s more robust and diverse contemporaries, are likely to feel shortchanged. Dungeon crawlers should never leverage difficulty through overwhelming odds alone, but through trying to outsmart its players instead. I suppose the developers didn’t get that memo.
There’s some added longevity and replay value to be found in seeking out hidden secrets, many of which are areas and puzzles that are exclusive to the intuitive mind. I’ll credit the game for its mashed up framework. Vaporum knows how to blend its concepts well, putting forward a decent blend of puzzles, exploration, and combat, neither component lingering for too long before another steps in for its turn. It’s just a shame that not a single component has any real staying power. I wish I could wholly commend the visual and audio presentation, but alas, I cannot.
Vaporum is a very dark game, and by dark, I mean it’s normally too hard to see traps and points of interest. Whilst there’s some environments that stand out above others, the lack of decent lighting, together with the dodgy controls, makes a stroll feel like a mountain climb. That’s not to mention its heavily recycled assets. Equally, the game’s audio design is out of whack; generic cues, a forgettable score, and hit and miss voice acting from beginning to end. The game, at its absolute best, is merely a serviceable affair that relies far too much on long forgotten gimmicks.
Hot on the heels of Operencia: The Stolen Sun, Vaporum feels quite out of place, and frankly, behind the times. Whilst the game sports an intriguing framework and houses some commendable RPG elements, the whole ordeal is greatly let down by its poor handling, its ridiculous difficulty curve, and its weakly paced story. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but alongside its vastly superior contemporaries, it’s a hard one to comfortably recommend.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.