As I found myself getting deeper into tabletop role-playing games, I started to understand the draw behind grid-based dungeon crawlers. Those dungeon crawlers were ever-present growing up, and it wasn’t until decades later that I realized that they emulated a certain style of early Dungeons and Dragons dungeons. I’m assuming it’s be design, but as I DMing my players as they checked every ten foot square for a trapped floor, I realized there were so many video games in which I did the same. Much like CRPGs in the last decade, these grid-based dungeon crawlers are making a comeback. And not only are they coming back, they’re doing it in increasingly innovative ways—both in terms of mechanics and setting. Vaporum: Lockdown is one such title.
Vaporum: Lockdown is a grid-based dungeon crawler role-playing game with real-time combat. On its store page it is described as a “steampunk dungeon crawler” which I would say is pretty damn accurate. It’s a prequel to 2017’s Vaporum—though, for full disclosure, despite it being on my wishlist for years, I never played the original. I don’t think knowledge of the original is required to enjoy this one, but I’m definitely going to check it out.
In this prequel, you play as Ellie Teller, a scientist who is trapped in the mysterious tower called Axr Vaporum. On her way to do some tests, things start to go haywire, and she finds herself trapped in the mysterious tower, now filled with murderous drones and other enemies. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper steampunk universe without some fantastical element that makes their brand of steam technology work, in Vaporum it’s called Fumium, which of course powers much of the technology in Vaporum.
Vaporum: Lockdown is a role-playing game with a pause system. You move your character from tile to tile in a first person perspective—but anyone familiar with this subgenre might know that it is definitely not like a conventional game played from a first person perspective. Rather, you are sort of locked into each grid square you step on, until you step on the next. This also means you can’t squeeze past obstacles, or jump over gaps. Most obstacles are usually surpassed by solving a puzzle, which you’ll spend most of your time doing while exploring—that and combat.
Combat in Vaproum: Lockdown is in real-time, and positioning matters a whole lot. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Vaporum is a twitch-based game, reflexes and movement play an important part in fighting. It’s possible to dodge enemy attacks. Attacking is as simple as facing the enemy, and hitting them from an adjacent tile for melee weapons, though there is a selection of ranged weapons to choose from. If you want even more control over the action, you can employ a toggle-able pause, which works a bit like Super Hot, where things don’t move unless you do. But you can do more than shoot and slash in Vaporum: Lockdown when you employ gadgets to add abilities or expand your arsenal.
Being a role-playing game, there are abilities to upgrade, and skills to acquire in the form of gadgets. Gadgets give you different abilities—like shooting flames, melee speed increase, or even the ability to call forth holographic allies to help fight your enemies. Vaporum: Lockdown has character classes, but they’re represented by exo-suits, which you choose after completing the intro that doubles as a tutorial. Since it’s a role-playing game you would expect different gear to find—armor, weapons, etc. Vaporum: Lockdown has an array of gear to find, with upgrades coming pretty regularly as new areas are explored.
Most of the items and upgrades in Vaporum: Lockdown are somewhat ho-hum. Most items I found were pretty basic upgrades of previous items—exciting mostly in stats only. Same with ability upgrades, which are pretty basic, though after a few steps of certain trees you are given an extra, more powerful ability or buff. There are a good number of different paths to level up, but these tech paths are completely linear.
Vaporum: Lockdown is based around several mysteries, which you can uncover with diligent exploration. Lore is told through voiced characters, as well as audio recordings that you can find scattered about. This voice acting is pretty middling and sometimes downright bad. Often characters don’t emote properly based on what’s happening around them.
I really enjoyed my time with Vaporum: Lockdown. It’s a solid dungeon crawler, and the best example of the genre I’ve played since Legend of Grimrock. If you are curious, it’s definitely worth a look—and if you’re a fan of this subgenre, it’s a must-have. There are some uneven moments, but otherwise it’s steampunk dungeon crawling perfection.
Vaporum: Lockdown is available today on Steam.
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