The days of grid based dungeon crawlers have more or less deteriorated. However, Fatbot Games continues to keep the genre alive with Vaporum: Lockdown, the prequel to their 2017 game Vaporum. After releasing on Steam last year, the game is now available for the Nintendo Switch. As a prequel, Vaporum: Lockdown continues to find success with its deep progression, interesting combat, and a fascinating setting.
Vaporum: Lockdown is a mix of a lot of things. It’s a steampunk, grid based, first person dungeon crawler that builds the backstory of Vaporum. You play as Ellie Teller, a bright scientist trying to survive in the tower of Arx Vaporum after a disastrous event sends the whole tower into chaos. As Ellie traverses through the tower, you’ll find clues and recordings about the tower before it’s fall, acquire armor and weapons to better prepare yourself, and upgrade your suit in the whichever way you see fit.
It’s not the most original story out there, but it does a great job of exploring an interesting world. The tower is beautiful to behold, with every new floor unraveling the mystery of what caused everything to fall apart. When it comes to voice work there’s not much to talk about. Ellie’s voice can feel flat at times, but the audio messages found around the tower do a great job of telling the overarching story. The game’s music is almost nonexistent throughout the game, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. A lack of music adds greatly to the creepy atmosphere of the tower. Even so, it would have been nice to throw in a few tracks to break up the silence.
Gameplay puts you on a tile based grid system in order to fight grotesque enemies and solve perilous puzzles. Despite the grid system, gameplay takes place in real time, with the option to pause and resume time at any point in order to take in your surroundings. This comes in handy, as combat can become overwhelming in an instant once multiple enemies start to surround you. While difficult, combat was a joy to play, with multiple play-styles available to the player. Weapons consist of one and two handed melee weapons, firearms, energy weapons, and gadgets, which function similarly to spells.
Puzzles are a large part of Vaporum: Lockdown, giving a refreshing break from combat. They start out relatively simple, however they quickly become more complicated. Some puzzles can be so difficult that it becomes more frustrating than fun. One puzzle involves pulling a switch to open a door for a brief second, however the timeframe was so short that any wasted movement will see the door shut in your face. I spent roughly an hour in this puzzle. While trying to figure out what I was missing, I finally figure out that I just needed to be faster. This only applies to a few puzzles, and most are clever puzzles that make great use of the grid system.
Once you finish the tutorial area, you are given the choice between four different “frames.” These are essentially the classes of the game, each one giving large boosts to defense, attack or both. For my first play-through I went with the tech frame, forming my play style around gadgets and melee weapons. After struggling my way through most of the game, I had decided to go back to the beginning to try out a different frame, choosing the heavy defense frame. This is when I found out how much easier the game could be. I put everything into my defense specs and formed a play style where enemies took more damage than they dealt. It feels amazing once the build comes together, but any missteps in your perk points can spell disaster, making your character feel next to useless, like my gadget character.
There it one big downside to creating a build though. There’s no way to respec your character, so make sure to read through all the perks and skills before placing any points. The skill trees, while simple, are numerous. There’s only three active skills in each tree, being separated by general stat boosts. Each aspect of combat has a skill tree, including weapon types, increasing your health, energy and critical rate. There’s even a skill tree for summoning minions.
Vaporum: Lockdown provides a fresh new take on tile based dungeon crawlers of old. The steampunk setting, as well as deep progression, enhance the already fluid combat to create a unique game that demands multiple playthroughs. While it can have moments of frustration, there’s some great fun to be had here. RPG fans may want to look into the game if they’re looking for something different, but nostalgic.
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