When I first heard of this game my impression was Lands of Lore meets Bioshock, and while the game proves itself a homage to the latter in spades it is more heavily weighted towards hidden objects and puzzles than combat.
The first thing you’ll notice when starting the game is the plethora of customization options for almost everything- I’ll get back to the almost in a moment- including removing headbob, which as someone with motion sickness I very much appreciated, and five difficulty settings. In particular that stands out as great, as anyone who is far more keen on the atmosphere and puzzle aspect of the game can make battles fairly trivial, while amping the challenge up makes finding secrets necessary, along with expert use of consumables and ammo.
Unfortunately, once you get past the starting menu, your customization options dwindle. While you can control many things, the speed at which you move or turn is set, and overturning became something I regularly did at the most inopportune times. In fact, fighting with the controls is probably going to end up being the most memorable thing about this game. While usually hearing about something unique and creative a game has done is a good thing, in the case of control scheme it’s one of the worst things you can do. Having intuitive, standardized controls makes it considerably easier to start playing a game naturally- but for Vaporum, hours into the game I’m still pausing to think ‘wait, which button combo do I need to press to do that?’
Here’s an example of something that is, quite frankly, completely unnecessary. In order to throw a brick, something that’s often needed in solving time sensitive or pressure plate puzzles- I need to press down to open the menu, l2 and x to select the brick, r2 and then move with the left analogue to choose where to place/throw it, and then finally x to throw it. The controls are baffling, especially since otherwise frequently used buttons have nothing mapped to them and easily could. Remember that ‘almost’ I threw in about customization? Yeah, of all the things you can customize, the controls aren’t it.
The limited customization carries through to the game too. You do have a few choices- do you want to focus on being tanky, doing more damage to machines, more damage to living things, or use gadgets more proficiently. This ends up being very basic and largely comes down to numbers rather than different playstyles.
There’s no randomization, so replay value is fairly close to nil, but it is a decent length game, about ten hours if playing casually, likely more on higher difficulties and if you intend to find all secrets. Puzzles, which are a major part of the game, often rely heavily on finding something, backtracking, finding another thing- and on occasion you come across something that actually takes some thought to figure out. However, there’s also many puzzles that were far, far simpler than I anticipated or were solved by simply exploring until I found a hidden switch or a key.
Vaporum is a decent game, it does have a limited niche as it does combat decently but with limited variation, and should appeal to those who enjoy relatively mundane puzzles and hidden button finding, but rushing over timed spike pits or timing button presses with these controls becomes more challenging than figuring out the puzzles. It is a setting not often used, and between effects, monsters and the tile set it will appeal to anyone looking for a Bioshock dungeon crawl; if this were marketed as an official spinoff game, I would believe it. Recordings and letters do most of the story telling, as the main character has, of course, lost his memories but is convinced he’s seen all this before, something I myself completely sympathize with.
I recommend this to those who want a simplistic grid steampunk dungeon crawl. If that is what you’re looking for, this is a solid, well executed game with no alternatives. For those looking for a challenge, the higher difficulties definitely provide that as well. Outside of that niche though, the game feels like it has limited appeal even if it is good, and the control scheme and lack of customization for playstyle are negatives that stand out too much, bringing the overall experience to a decent, better that average score.