You know, there was a time when “dungeon crawl” felt like something bad and boring for me. Probably more due to disposable boring dungeon quests in RPGs, bad Diablo clones and grindy Japanese action RPGs. I actually didn’t play a lot of classic dungeon crawlers, like Ultima Underworld or even newer titles influenced by it like Arx Fatalis and didn’t get to understand the good bits of this subgenre of action RPGs until Legend of Grimrock 5 years ago. But since Grimrock, I was highly interested. And there haven’t been that many good follow ups to that game, apart from its fantastic sequel. Games usually focus too much on combat, or too much on puzzles, or too much on something else, never really feeling as balanced and as engrossing as Legend of Grimrock games were. Vaporum is one of the better examples so far.
Game does some things differently on a very basic level. It ditches a lot of mechanics and ideas to boil everything down to the core ideas. So you have just one character to control, “magic” is just a set of abilities tied to keys/icons, you don’t rest/eat and there are no save crystals, the dungeon is mostly one layer only and secrets and puzzles are usually not that obscure. But at the same time, it attempts to keep all the beauty of exploration, the thrills of encountering enemies and “dancing” around them, the simple joys of skills and leveling up. And it does it surprisingly well.
There are occasional hiccups, which probably will vary depending on how you level up the character (remember to specialize, not spread across everything), but overall game progression in terms of combat and exploration is pretty well paced with just enough challenge to actually feel how powerful you can become by the end, just enough puzzles and secrets to feel smart about figuring them out and just enough variety in levels, that you will probably not get bored. The start can be pretty slow and I feel like some things should’ve been introduced and spiced up earlier then they do in the game, but when things get going, they never really stop.
Where the game does disappoint is in how… plain and derivative it feels in the rest of things. The plot and story are very heavy influenced by BioShock games, but, more importantly, are just boring and rather badly acted, never even trying to be creative or strange, something that both Grimrock games did really well. The music is “fine”. Visually and technologically, the game feels a bit cheap and poorly optimized, a bit too close to the “stock Unity experience” than the style and the setting deserved to have. I mean, there are really beautifully set up scenes and locations, they just could look so much better (and run so much smoother).
But overall, Vaporum is good doze of dungeon crawling that will keep you wanting to play more of it, to explore just one more room, clear out just one more floor. It could’ve been much better, as Grimrock games show perfectly, but it is still worth a play and I hope the developers get to evolve their craft with whatever next projects they might have.
P.S. Game is also a good example of a modern release, where updates can add major features, changing how the game feels. In the middle of my playthrough an, effectively, turn-based mode was added and more changes and updates may follow.