Vaporum is a steampunk grid-based dungeon crawler created by Slovakian developers Fatboy Games. The game was originally released on PC in September 2017, but a port onto PS4, Xbox One and Switch has now followed.
The game begins, but before you start up your new game you get a nice big list of options to tinker to your ideal style of gameplay. This can range from simple things like turning off headbobbing and movement style, to cranking up your anti-aliasing. You can always return to this menu to tweak to what you prefer when you start the game. It’s important to note that you can only change the sensitivity of the cursor and not overall movement – I’ll be touching on this later.
You are greeted with a beautiful 2D animated opening cutscene. Styled almost like traditional Japanese wave artwork, the main character tells you the tale of how he washed up at sea at the foot of this great tower. He can’t explain why, but he feels compelled by the tower and heads inside.
You cut to the game itself, now inside of this dark and damp tower. The mood is classic for an undersea adventure, coupled with the music the tone nails a desolate, abandoned facility of unknown origin. It has to be said because it’s impossible not to draw the parallel, but the BioShock vibes be strong with this one – and I love it. I sincerely miss the beauty of Rapture, and whilst Vaporum doesn’t go down that road it does hit some similar beats, but it gave me that sense of comfort in understanding what the game had to give in terms of its theming.
Our protagonist tells us that he feels an odd sense of deja vu, as though he’s been here before. As the beginning levels unfold, tooltips can handily tell you the controls as you go. I have to give enormous credit to Fatboy Games because a PC game is not always a simple thing to port onto console and there have been many times where it has struggled to hit the mark. Vaporum nails it, and I felt comfortable and confident in controls as they were rolled out to me – and I’m a particular fan of the L2+Options quicksave feature, a true life saver. Especially in a game like this.
The tower is abandoned, with no sign of human life. You can picture snippets of what happened within the tower, thanks to collecting notes and picking up phonograms (audio diaries) of the people who lived and worked in the tower. The protagonist chimes in from time to time, and I’d like to note the quality of the voice acting. It’s great, and I especially love the almost super masculine caricature that they’ve gone with for our hero. They bring life to an otherwise isolated and lonely game, and gradually reveal just what happened to everyone. Again, very BioShock, but I eat up that level of storytelling like pudding. I live for it! It also encourages you to really dig for more to truly unravel the mysteries within the tower.
It isn’t long before you find that you can’t go further without a key piece of equipment, your exosuit. You have four suits to choose from: the Heavy Rig, which raises your chance of blocking and ups your base HP, the Assault Rig, which ups your resistance, repair power and other features, the Combat Rig, which as it suggests, boosts your combat skills and finally the Thauma Rig, which ups tech and energy skills. I elected for the Heavy Rig for the purpose of the review, I figured tanking it would be a nice and efficient way to do it – I was right, the rig can take some serious hits! On a more personal run, I’m playing Combat, which gives a nice slant as I notice that I can kill enemies much faster. Eventually, I’d like to give all the Rigs a go and see how differently Vaporum plays out.
Combat runs in real time, but there is an option to pause time to enable you to strategize. I couldn’t quite get my head around it, but from what I understand it takes some practice to get used to and is vital to ensure success later in the game when multiple enemies come into the picture.
The enemies themselves are a fantastic selection that pays true homage to the steampunk genre, from clockwork spider-like drones to masked and suited sinister giants. They help cement the dungeon into the genre, and the aggression of enemies helps to give further threads off to the story. A bestiary that you can access from the menu also delves into lore and stats, handy for strategizing and planning in the future.
As you defeat more creatures in Vaporum, you pick up loot and upgrades for your rig. Loot consists of better weaponry, better armor and an array of other items. Upgrades consist of boosting your stats, as any level progression would follow. It’s deep with a long list of upgrades you can invest into, which gives you a clear scope for just how in depth the dungeons really go.
There is one single gripe that I have about the game, and it’s something I touched on right at the start of the review. The sensitivity is too high for consoles. I understand the twitch reflexes of PC, and I understand that in a keyboard and mouse scenario you absolutely require that level of speed. However, to emulate that on console made the game a real struggle for me to play at times, particularly when in combat. It was dizzying when more than one enemy came into play, and I found myself even feeling a touch motion sick at times – and given I don’t really suffer from that, that’s a big issue from me.
It’s a big shame because the features of Vaporum overall are so highly customizable that it’s almost baffling as to why the turn speed in this game isn’t up for adjusting. You can change the sensitivity of the cursor, but this has no real impact. It hindered my gaming and meant I could only play in short bursts. This is something that absolutely must be fixed because this is a game I want to play from start to finish and really build on my rig and grind that loot. At the moment, I simply don’t see that as being possible.
Overall, the PS4 port of Vaporum has done a tremendous job of adapting what has clearly been a game designed for PC with a UI that reflects this. However, Fatboy Games have circumvented the need for mouse and keyboard with innovative shortcuts and clever implementation of controls in the gameplay. It’s just an incredible shame that camera turn sensitivity can’t be lowered, and a shame that this single feature ultimately lets a fantastic game down.