Vaporum Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2017-09-28
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Of the RPGs I've played, Vaporum most resembles Legend of Grimrock.  The two games have a similar interface and a balance between fighting enemies and solving puzzles, and in both cases you're tasked with exploring a strange tower while figuring out what's going on.  However, Vaporum isn't just a clone.  It tries to do some things differently.

Consider combat.  In Legend of Grimrock, you could win most battles by performing the "Texas Two-Step."  You'd wait for an enemy to most adjacent to you, then attack, then move to the enemy's diagonal, and then repeat as many times as necessary.  Vaporum solves that sort of dance by giving its enemies lots of different types of attacks, and by almost always pitting you against multiple enemies.  For example, some enemies have ranged attacks, or area attacks, or damage over time attacks, and some can turn invisible or teleport or leave damaging acid on the ground.  Or they might have some combination of the above.  So the fights tend to be trickier, although usually you just need to figure out a new dance that works.

Unfortunately, while Fatbot Games did a nice job with the combat, they weren't as successful with the puzzles.  The puzzles are mostly straightforward, just requiring you to push buttons or throw bricks or push blocks in obvious ways.  As an example, in one puzzle you find a room filled with trap doors.  When you start the puzzle, a light shines over one of the trap doors, and you're given a few second to make your way over to it before all of the other trap doors open up, potentially dropping you into spikes of death.  Then to complete the puzzle, you just have to repeat the process a half dozen times.  This puzzle is sort of annoying because you have to be facing in the right direction to see the light, and even when you do spot it, it's sometimes difficult to figure out exactly where it's shining, which means you'll probably fail and die a lot before succeeding.  Or at least I did.

Another thing Vaporum has in common with Legend of Grimrock is that it includes a bunch of secrets for you to find.  Conveniently, the interface tells you how many secrets there are on the current level, and how many you've found, so you can always stay on the current level until you've located everything.  The secrets start out straightforward (where you're usually given a clue for where to look), but then eventually they rely on you finding small buttons on random walls (where the buttons blend in with the texture style), and unless you're way more patient than I am, you're probably not going to find them.  Even when I knew roughly where a button had to be, I often had trouble finding it, so for me Vaporum failed the East Egg Hunt Rule, where you want things to be hidden, but not so well hidden that nobody find them, and you end up discovering rotten eggs in your backyard two months later.  Fatbot Games was nice enough to send me a walkthrough for Vaporum along with the game, and I used it a lot to find secrets, but I never needed it for the puzzles.

When you defeat enemies and solve puzzles, you're often rewarded with equipment.  Characters can wear several items: helmets, gloves, body armor, boots, a main hand weapon, an off-hand weapon or shield, and at least two gadgets.  I only saw one item set in the game.  Otherwise, items are just "regular" or "magical" (with extra bonuses), and they pretty much only come in strict upgrades of your existing equipment.  That is, the equipment isn't very exciting, and you're not given a lot of options for what to wear.

Helpfully, the interface contains an automap feature, so you're not required to break out a pad of graph paper to make your own maps (unless you want to; there's an old-school mode for anyone feeling masochistic).  You're even allowed to annotate the maps -- at least theoretically.  Annotations weren't working in the version of the game I played, but I'm guessing they'll be fixed in time for the retail release.

Unhelpfully, your exo rig regenerates energy but not integrity, so you have to be extra careful when fighting lest you run out of repair kits before an important boss fight.  You might also have to do some saving and loading so you complete battles "well" rather than just getting through them.  And waiting for your energy to regenerate after battles gets tedious, as you might have to sit around for a couple of minutes with nothing to do.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics in Vaporum are functional but not great.  Weapons only have minimal animations -- for example, you only see the "swipe" of melee weapons, so they all look the same -- and you never see your character at all.  Environmental textures are repeated all over the place.  There aren't many enemies, and they re-use assets, but you can always at least tell what's coming, which is the important thing.  For example, acid-dealing enemies always glow green.

There isn't much in the way of music or voice acting in the game.  You mostly only hear the ambient noises of the level you're on -- the sound of your footsteps, the hum of a teleporter, the clang of a gate closing, and things like that.  As you search through containers, you sometimes find notes and audio recordings (which is how Vaporum tells its minimalistic story), and your character sometimes comments on things, which is where the voice acting comes in.  The voice actors are ok.  They're only required to read their lines clearly, and they do that well enough.  You never meet any NPCs or visit any shops or anything like that.

Conclusion

I liked Vaporum well enough, but I didn't love it.  The game owes a lot to Legend of Grimrock -- both in how it looks and how it plays -- but it feels like a more simplified, minimalistic version of that game, with significantly easier puzzles.  But since Legend of Grimrock 3 might never arrive, Vaporum fills a niche, and it's a perfectly reasonable way to spend 20 hours of your life.