- Developer: Frogwares
- Publisher: Ascaron
I'm a fan of Frogwares'. This is partly because its adventure games are almost always drawn from late 19th and early 20th century detective and horror fiction, and that puts them right in my fanboy arena. Mostly it's because there's clearly a passion for detail and a keen understanding of how to craft a fiendish puzzle at work in its games. For all their rough edges, Frogwares is not just making adventure games out of some slavish devotion to the genre's past.
It was somewhat inevitable, then, that it would eventually turn its attention to Bram Stoker's lurid Victorian vampire soft-porn saga. The result bears all the hallmarks of previous games, for both good and ill, but still manages to serve up a decent adventure over its rather short lifespan.
You play as Van Helsing, portrayed here as a stiff and impossibly dull prude. This is certainly in keeping with the original text, but doesn't exactly make for a compelling hero to follow through the game. Dracula, meanwhile, is pretty much the opposite of Stoker's description. Rather than a pointy-eared, bushy-haired, moustachioed monster man, we get yet another effete Anne Rice knock-off, all lace shirt collars and swooning on a chaise longue with the interminable ennui of the undead. Yawn. There are echoes of Stoker's story in the game, but it's mostly a case of familiar characters in a different story. Van Helsing certainly never jaunted over to Egypt before.
The voice acting is, well, let's call it "enthusiastic". I'm not sure what regional English accents are being attempted, but the resulting speech is often laugh-out-loud hilarious. It adds a certain cheesy Hammer Horror air to the proceedings, though, so it's not much of a problem. The make-or-break point for Dracula Origin, apart from its truncated length, is the reliance on puzzles. Now, yes, it's a bit odd to call attention to too many puzzles in an adventure game, so allow me to clarify. I mentioned in the Rhodan review that there are two types of adventure gamers - those who play for puzzles, those who play for plot. This is absolutely aimed at the former group.
The puzzles are frequent and complex, and it seems that there isn't a single door in Victorian London that doesn't require the solution of some complex riddle, which is etched into a nearby painting/statue/small dog. Even a drunken gravedigger's hut is sealed with a combination that must be worked out by doing sums with dates on headstones. Don't get me wrong - these are very good puzzles. They're not the usual random inventory combination problems, but genuine brainteasers that require observation and lateral thinking to get past. These challenges are thrown at the player with such frequency that the plot inches forwards, and it becomes more like a puzzle game that happens to have some story bits thrown in.
Personally, it feels a little unbalanced to me. I like adventure games because of the "adventure" aspect, the blend of a compelling story, immersive dialogue and logical deduction. This game favours the last element at the expense of the first two, and therefore left me somewhat unsatisfied. Your mileage may vary, and Dracula Origin's Brain Training meets Hammer Horror construction may sound like the greatest thing ever. It's as handsomely presented as any of Frogwares' previous efforts, so provided you approach it prepared for more riddling than exploring you'll be well served.