Having originally released for the PC back in 2017 and then the consoles last year in 2019, Fat Bot Games’ Vaporum took the classic First Person Dungeon Crawling style and made it its own. With real time elements making you really have to think on the fly or otherwise die, Vaporum: Lockdown makes a return to the world before everything happened showing us what we’ve been really wanting to know. What exactly happened when things went to hell?
The original Vaporum had a winning formula like Mary Skelter: Nightmares that managed to inject new life into a fairly old style that works so well, almost no innovations had been seen in a long time. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Taking what they learned from the original, Lockdown for the most part looks and feels like the original while also adding in some quality of life improvements to how you go about manipulating the world especially when using a controller.
Unlike the original where you had to decipher who you were while exploring a place that you “didn’t know”, Lockdown puts you in the shoes of the scientist Ellie Teller who goes from testing out equipment to running for her life. Equipped with a basic Exo Rig before getting her hands on a more powerful one, Ellie is going to have to explore the various parts of the Arx Vaporum to find what she needs to get a submarine back into working order if she plans to live through the mess that she now finds herself within.
What continues to make Vaporum, and now Vaporum: Lockdown, stand out from the crowd is the implementation of real time into a world that generally only sees movement when you decide on it. Most first person dungeon crawlers act like most roguelikes in that everything within only moves when you do. Some move two spaces for your every one, others move one for your every two, but the general rule of thumb is that if you move one space, they move one space. Adding real time elements to this and you no longer need to move for the world to move, it does it on its own. Still square based in its movements though, this still allows for you to plan ahead of where you’re going to move and what you’re going to do.
Between the various puzzles that require you to unlock doors, throw switches, move crates and trigger floor panels, Ellie will have to fight for her life against the mechanical beings that hunt her as she moves through their territories. Small spiders, roaches, flying robots or large brutes with mauls or shotguns, each of these foes all have their own attack patterns from up close and personal, jumping straight for you or spreading acid, fire or electricity over a specific area. Like any good strategist, sometimes running away is the best course of action in order to get into a space that is easier to manage as the Arx Vaporum is full of tiny spaces and tight corridors making frontal attacks is often not the best course of action until you plan on spending all of your limited healing packs.
Now while everything moves in real time, the option exists to stop everything in its tracks to give you a breather and plan out your next move. What I really appreciated about this is that even if everything stops, things will get to move as you move. So turning left or right? Those are partial time movements allowing an enemy to start to close in on you. Moving a full space will allow them to do the same. Attacking, like moving, takes a whole “time segment” so if you’re going to get hit, you may want to move out of the way instead. It’s effective in keeping your enemies where you can see them especially when there are more than two coming at you. In a large room with four? Stop time and check things out. In a small space and there are five swarming you? Lay a few traps and move out of the way just make sure that you don’t get caught from behind as the AI is smart enough to take other routes if the main one to you is blocked off.
It sounds like a lot, but combat is generally over in seconds allowing you to get back to doing what you’re supposed to be doing, escaping the Arx Vaporum. What I found interesting this time around as Ellie is that as you find notes, as you find tape recorders of her colleagues and even of her own, she has a personal input or retrospective thoughts on what happened. What she thought was a good idea back then, she may regret now as it could have easily led to the current circumstances. It adds a more human element to this mechanical and steampunk world especially when you see everything from a first person point of view.
If I were to have an “issue” with the latest Vaporum, it would be from a minor technical standpoint. The visuals are smooth, the audio is fantastic, making me cringe often enough to check if something is behind me, and the combat is just fun. Where things could have a bit of an issue is in the controls when it comes to a controller. The layout, when visually looking at it makes sense but when you move from a mouse and keyboard over to a controller? Things feel backwards. Abilities on the right need to be triggered with the left trigger. Healing which is on the left needs the right trigger. Main hand and off hand while mapped to the bumpers, are going to be backwards in your head as no one really uses the left bumper to attack, you use the right. Thankfully there’s no penalty for putting things in your off hand as long as you’re either dual wielding or have a shield.
From a gameplay perspective, my only real complaint is that some of the “puzzles” are a bit too tricky to figure out at times, but that could have just been me over complicating it. Throwing switches, finding keys, needing to block balls of light from hitting receptacles, they all work well but sometimes the amount of time that it took to figure it out made me question if what I was doing was even the right thing. It’s a challenge, but I wonder if sometimes it wasn’t too much so.