Since the success of The Legend of Grimrock in 2012, many indie developers have tried their hand at making a first-person grid based dungeon crawler with varied success. While Vaporum might look like a Grimrock clone at first glance, it does enough different to stand on its own feet. First is the rarely used steampunk setting. In addition, Vaporum has a story, and the kind of storytelling it employs was clearly inspired by System Shock and its successors (like Bioshock and Prey). Also, in Vaporum you don't control a party, but a single character and that character's abilities are determined by his rig, a kind of exoskeleton. Lastly, Vaporum has an optional pause system, which lets you tackle combat in either real time, or real time with pause. While doing some different things is fine and good, executing them well is the key. Vaporum is clearly developed with a limited budget, but when one takes that into account it generally has well designed, if not incredibly original elements.
Vaporum's gameplay borrows a lot from The Legend of Grimrock in that most of a player's in game time will be spent fighting or trying to solve puzzles. There is also some character development and inventory management.
Combat often involves multiple opponents with varying abilities. The spider robot in front is a fast meleer. The acid robot behind can flood all the hexes around it with corrosion.
The enemies you face in Vaporum deal out far too much damage to stand toe to toe against. Even though one can probably survive such a fight, the only means of repairing the integrity of your exoskeleton (which is the health or hit point stat in Vaporum) is to use a repair kit or to level up. And neither of these things happen particularly often, so you'll need to get through a number of fights in between. This means one of the most important part of combat is not to be hit, and much of combat involves "dancing" around opponents, while making sure not to get surrounded, dodge into a pit(which is instant death), or retreat into a dead end. In order to defeat your foes you'll have a number of tools at your disposal. You have one and two handed melee weapons, pistols, rifles, and a number of gadgets. You can equip two gadgets at once, and they have a wide range of effects. Some do damage to every square around you, while others fire straight ahead in a line. There are also some which buff your combat abilities, raise up a defense, or trick your opponent. Even though I specialized my battle suit to use two pistols, I also consistently used melee attacks and gadgets throughout the game. I think even a melee character, which isn't reliant on the limited ammunition or energy cells that you find, will still find situations where its advisable, if not necessary, to use gadgets and ranged weapons. Vaporum's combat is pretty standard for this type of game, and its executed well. You have a number of tools at your disposal and will either have to do some thinking (if fighting with pause on) or some quick thinking and quick reacting (if not). Vaporum also does a pretty good job with its enemies. New ones are introduced at a fairly decent pace, and these are different enough that once combat feels like it's becoming a routine, something new is thrown into the bag.Vaporum's dungeons and combat can be navigated in real time or is pause mode. In pause mode, after every square moved, facing changed, or attack made, the game pauses. This makes combat easier, but also slows the gameplay down considerably. Along with the various difficulty modes, pausing (or not) offers a way to make combat easier or harder. The pause mode can be turned on and off at will. As someone who has horrible reflexes, I personally was happy to have it, and normally turned it on when combat was imminent.
In pause mode the world turns grey, and you have time to plan your next move.
When you're not fighting, you'll be spending times avoiding deadly traps or solving puzzles, mostly to gain access to a different part of the dungeon. In Vaporum, you'll throw levers, push crates, use teleporters, step on pressure plates, order books, and dodge fireballs, among other things. Some puzzles are optional and yield special items that will give you an additional edge in combat. There are also secret areas on most levels, which can be found by very carefully examining your surroundings. The vast majority of these are also optional and contain additional goodies. I was able to get through most of the puzzles with my weak puzzle solving skills, though I did check a guide two or three times, because I was having trouble progressing past a certain point. Vaporum does a good job mixing up its puzzles. While you'll experience some similar type of puzzles as you advance, its usually at a good interval and with a slight twist. Also, just as you run into new monster at intervals, so to will you run into different hazards and riddles.
This teleporter puzzle is one of Vaporum's many, varied puzzles.
Character building is relatively simple in Vaporum. You start early in the game choosing an exoskeleton, each of which have certain passive bonuses, such as higher integrity, better combat skill, more energy, or an xp bonus. You are not bound to this choice forever, though, as a couple of times in the game you find upgraded exoskeletons, and you can switch at that point. Also, when you gave levels you get a new circuit, which is basically a skill point. These can be invested in a variety of ranged attack, melee attack, defensive or gadget related skills. Once you get to level 3 and level 5 you get a powerful passive ability related to your skill. I chose to dual wield pistols, and got a ricocheting shot, for example. Most skills and passives looked attractive to me and would certainly allow for a variety of builds.
The passive perks you earn when leveling up skills give very powerful passive bonuses.
As you search through the ruins you come across a small amount of loot with which you can equip your rig with. You can switch between two weapon sets and selecting what two gadgets to use on your exoskeleton is probably one of the most important choices you'll have. You've also got a fairly limited inventory space.
For those who care Vaporum's loot and enemies are all hand placed. (and not random).
Story and Atmosphere
Your character wakes up on an arctic island with no memory, but not far from him is a huge tower. That sounds like the setup of a number of dungeon crawlers, but Vaporum doesn't leave it there, and instead begins to spin a story, with you're character eventually realizing who they are and why they are going into the tower.
The main character ponders over what occurs during the game, and fills in details you might suspect, or have overlooked.
As you travel through the tower, it quickly becomes clear that something has gone very wrong. The tower is filled with aggressive robots, giant beetles, and worse. Although the human inhabitants seem to have disappeared, they have left behind journal entries. Most of these entries are written, but the journal entries from the three most important characters are audio messages. I am sure the developer would have had them all voiced if they had had the funds to. The character you play is also voiced. As he learns new clues, puts together his past, or encounters new things, he makes his own comments and observations. He also occasionally offers a verbal hint about how to proceed with some of the mandatory puzzles.
He can also give important tips about traps or puzzles. Ignore his comments at your own peril.
Vaporum's story may not be the central element of the game but it is hardly an afterthought like the story of many dungeon crawlers is. I found it enjoyable and piecing together the story is an entertaining change of pace from the combat and the puzzles.
The game's steam punk atmosphere is also well done. You run across grinding machines, steaming pipes, electric rods, and vats of unknown liquid. Being inside the tower feels like being stuck in a ship or a giant factory and gives one an oppressive feeling. Also, the game's equipment, enemies, and journal entries do a good job of conveying this.
Vaporum's graphics are pretty good considering its not a mid- or big budget game. I would say they are a comparable quality to what Legend of Grimrock's were when that game was released. The game's dreary atmosphere does mean though that its hard to describe the dungeon levels as beautiful. Each dungeon level does have its own theme, though, and even though things remain oppressive and dreary, that means that you at least get a variety of dreary and oppressive levels to move through.
While good looking, the atmosphere in Vaporum is gloomy.
The game's sounds and voice acting are also good. The choice to only voice a small number of major characters, but to voice them with quality voice actors was much better than trying to voice all the minor character and sacrificing quality. Vaporum is also full of the sounds of machines, and many traps and puzzles are helped by their audible clues and effects. Vaporum's music also goes well with the game, adding to the mechanized tower's eerie and dangerous feel.
Vaporum has 12 levels and it took me about 16 hours to complete. I did not look for all the secrets, and I looked up the solution for a few of the more frustrating puzzles, so there is probably more playtime in the game for a completionist. This makes Vaporum about the same length as the original Legend of Grimrock and also comparable to most other games like it. Nevertheless, for some gamers the short playtime may be a turnoff.
Vaporum is an incredibly solid game. One of the things I am called on to do as a reviewer is to list a game's cons. And that is easy to do for most games, even brilliant ones. But Vaporum is one of those games where you can't really complain about too much. It's a game where all of its elements are executed extremely competently. But competence alone, even with a bit of originality thrown in, does not make a great game. While I enjoyed playing through Vaporum, it rarely made me lose track of time or sucked me into its world. Nor do I feel like I someday want to try a second playthrough, something which the best games give me the itch to do, even if it's just an idea in the back of my mind (here's looking at you Grimrock 2.) And while Vaporum does everything well, it does almost nothing brilliantly. Its story is good, but not moving. That could be said about almost any other element of the game. The steam punk atmosphere is original for a dungeon crawler of this kind, and the optional real time with pause mode as well. While Vaporum is not a must play game, it certainly is something I can recommend. Also, if The Legend of Grimrock 1 or 2 is your kind of game, and the setting doesn't turn you off, then you really should give Vaporum a try.
Developer: Fatbot Studio
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2017-09-28
· Publisher: Fatbot Studio
- Almost all aspects of the game are solid
- Can be played in real time action or in real time with pause
- Relatively unused Steampunk setting
- Well done atmosphere
- . . . but none are excellent
- 15-20 hour game length might be too little for some players
- Obviously made on a limited budget