Vaporum: Lockdown is the standalone prequel to the original Vaporum from 2017 and Fatbot Games did another fantastic job with a great world to explore. The game follows the story of Ellie Teller, a scientist who is a part of a mysterious research project in the middle of an ocean.
After getting an official Linux release back in October, I spent some time with it crawling through dark hallways, dealing with freaky creatures and solving puzzles. Much like the first game, I've come away with a lasting impression and thoroughly enjoyed the experience it offers. With a sleek steampunk style, along with real-time exploration and combat, everything in Vaporum: Lockdown feels like it flows together quite nicely.
Vaporum: Lockdown is a proper steampunk game too with the majority of the design work in the environments, enemies, the UI and so on being clearly inspired by a lot of old technology with a sprinkle of retrofuturism. It is quite exciting both in terms of the setting and the art style Fatbot Games created for it.
Easy to get thoroughly sucked into and appreciate too, especially with the middle-click head movement allowing you to get a good look at your surroundings which is often useful when you're hunting for some secrets. However, it's not an easy game overall, in fact it's actually quite challenging.
The combat being real-time is part of what makes this dungeon crawler so unique, as you can dodge enemy attacks and move around them to do your own attacks if you're quick enough or get the range on them needed if you've got ammo for firearms. However, it's still difficult because you need to think quickly and react quickly to enemies and pick your attacks. It's all about your rhythm while you dodge, attack, turn, move and keep repeating. Prepare to mash that F5 button to quick save too, I lost count of the amount of times I quick-stepped backwards from an enemy into a hole. There's also enemies that can quickly close the gap between you, so it firmly keeps you on your toes.
Thankfully though, there is a Stop Time mode you can activate at the push of a button that allows you to catch your breath. You can use this along with another button to advance time, so if you do find the real-time combat a major difficulty or even frustrating, it's really quite easy to get around it like this and likely a reason it was included to help less-able players to still enjoy the exploration, puzzle solving and the story. It's actually a pretty clever feature, as it keeps everything still until you perform an action, with everything advancing one major tick during this mode if you move, turn, attack or do anything like that and allows you time to properly plan if you need to.
Something else I did like was the polite difficulty reminder, after you've died repeatedly a few times it will mention the current difficultly level and see if you wish to reduce it. There's also an option to never see that reminder screen again if it bugs you. Lots of nice touches.
For the puzzles, there's plenty of block pushing and a few timed puzzles sprinkled throughout. Needing you push great big boxes into holes, shoot far off targets to activate trap doors or switch between opening and closing certain trap doors. All while you're trying to manoeuvre yourself and a great big box around - leading to more times of me walking backwards into a pit of death than I would care to admit — just like with the combat. There's a few puzzles that involve different types of turrets too, and some that require real careful timing can be a little punishing. One in particular is going to haunt me, because it took me 30 minutes to do and the solution was really simple. The puzzle design is good, my brain…not so much.
The exploration in Vaporum: Lockdown made me quite nervous, which is quite a testament to the thick and impressive atmosphere it manages to give off. All the steampunk goodness of great big cogs moving, pistons pressing down hard and then the whole complex starts shaking…I definitely wouldn't want to be stuck inside the Arx Vaporum.
When it comes to the customisation side to it with the RPG mechanics, they're pretty good too. You get to pick your own special "exo-rig" which comes in a few different specializations, which will depend on how you want to play it. You get choices between things like more damage for energy weapons, a chance to reflect enemy attacks back and more. Actually choosing that was quite difficult. Even past that you also then have various gadgets you can install too that have all sorts of abilities like shocking the floor around you which is always delightful.
That's not all though, there's a full levelling system that allows you to rank up certain areas like Energy Weapons, Blade Weapons, Dual Wielding and other specials like Maximum Energy.
When it comes to the story, if you've already played the original you know a fair bit about what went on but Vaporum: Lockdown sprinkles in plenty of satisfying information left out and serves as both a great prequel and standalone title. Getting engrossed in it was easy too, thanks to the good voice acting through the main story.
As for the Linux port: it performs so well in fact that I was able to turn up the Supersampling Scale above 100% to make it look even better while still performing very smoothly overall. However, having ScreenSpaceReflection turned on will make it periodically crash so keep that off (the developer is aware). Apart from that one issue, no other complaints at all there it's been great. Smooth, it looks good and it's feels great to explore and learn more about the tower of Arx Vaporum.
For players that don't often get into first-person dungeon crawling, I think that Vaporum: Lockdown could serve as a fantastic introduction to the genre. Overall though, it's a huge amount of fun even if it's a genre you jump into often, I was constantly surprised by it and sucked in with the great atmosphere and I feel that it's firmly worth picking up.