The legend of the vampire is one that has persisted in human society for as long as anyone can really remember. Most famously, the story of one particular vampire, Count Dracula a.k.a Vlad Tepes a.k.a Vlad the Impaler, is one of the most well-recognized of these dark creatures. The legend of Dracula, however, has permeated many other forms of media besides Stoker’s seminal novel, as there have been movies-both made for TV and big budget Hollywood films/animes and also video games all of which deal with the Undead Count or those like him. Today, however, we’re going to be talking about a game that attempts to shed some light on the story of this most notorious of the Children of the Night via the medium of The Adventure Company’s and Frogwares’ Dracula: Origin for the PC.
First, and the name of the game’s publisher should be an indication of this, Dracula: Origin is a point and click adventure game in the style of such other games as Return to Mysterious Island, Syberia, Dreamfall, and a numerous others both in and out of The Adventure Company’s product line. In Dracula: Origin, you take on the serious countenance of Abraham Van Helsing, Professor of Kicking Vampire Ass. The story somewhat parallels the plot of Stoker’s Dracula and mentions many of the characters from that book such as Johnathan Harker, the man who assisted Dracula in making his way to England, Harker’s fiancée Mina, who becomes an object of lust for the Count, Dr. John Seward, and even a minor character gets a nod in Goldaming Manor, one of the areas you’ll visit in the game; Lord Goldaming is a minor character who was engaged to the best friend of Harker’s wife in the book.
Any adventure game player knows that the crux of the game often rests on two distinct points: item management and puzzle solving. Often times, these can be quite problematic. In the first case, there is often quite a lot of pixel hunting to do be done before you find the item you require, and in the other, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth as you try to puzzle your way through one confusing conundrum after another. Fortunately, and thankfully, Frogwares has learned the lessons of the past and has made sure that there is as little head scratching going on as possible. In the case of item finding, for instance, your task is greatly assisted as you are able to hit the space bar and for a few seconds see the location of every object that can be examined, picked up, or otherwise interacted with.
The in-game inventory is accessed by right clicking to open up Professor Van Helsing’s briefcase to reveal the items themselves, which are arrayed in a grid formation that is a standard of adventure games. Some items can be used just as they are, such as using a pen knife to cut open a package, but others have to be combined to get access to other areas of the game. Some of these combinations can range from the ordinary (tying two lengths of cloth together to make a rope) to the downright surreal (using a glue like substance, two squares of a shiny aluminum-like material, and two stale pretzels to make a fake key) so this is often where your capacity for unconventional thinking will be tested to its utmost. As with the other puzzles, however, what you need is often right in front of you; you just have to tune in to the mindset behind the puzzle to do it. Therein lies the rub.
This dovetails neatly into the problem of puzzle solving, which can often be the most frustrating part of games. Here again, fortune smiles on us as many of the puzzles in Dracula: Origin can be solved by simply thinking about the clues you’ve gathered that relate to the puzzle. It must be said, however, that as the game goes on there are some puzzles that possess a logic that can be hard to come to grips with. Who knew that being a vampire hunter required a lifetime spent being taught the piano? By and large, however, the solution to puzzles can easily found with time, patience, some nonlinear thinking, and the use of clues you find in game. Dracula: Origin also makes sure that you have all you need before continuing; if you try to leave an area before finishing, your character will tell you that he thinks he hasn’t examined everything yet or some other vocal objection. Thanks, Abby.
One thing that really makes this game shine is the graphics: the environments are some of the best looking I’ve ever seen in an adventure game as they have an almost photo-realistic look. Even the little details look amazingly good, such as the delicate filigree on the walls of one of the NPC’s houses or the way the candlelight flickers on the walls of Dracula’s bedroom. The backgrounds look so good, however, that they tend to outshine the characters who, while not looking bad, tend to be not as well-rounded as the backgrounds they inhabit. Sometimes their mouths move out of synch with what they say, or don’t move at all, and when picking an item up, tend to reach out to pick it up while still standing up even if the item is several feet below them. Odd. Despite this minor problems, however, Dracula: Origin is still a very well-crafted graphical experience.
The voice talent was chosen well and even if the characters do come off as being somewhat stereotypical (such as the over amenable and somewhat duplicitous Egyptian hotel owner), they seem to work due to the fact that Van Helsing himself is on the flipside from those characters, with his stiff manner of speaking and dour attitude. He is a straight man making his way through a sea of comic relief characters. The more serious characters do, for the limited lines given to them, play their parts well and give the game the strength it needs to climb us past the silliness that is to be seen in the game.
Time-wise, the game is rather short. It took no more then two or three days to get from beginning to end, but if you’re fan of adventure games and have the patience to sit down and work out the solutions to a variety of puzzles (some of which will take your breath away with their subtlety), Dracula: Origin is a game that you will be able up all the night with. Whether or not you will be unchanged in the morning is another point entirely however. Better keep some garlic out. Just in case.