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Dracula: Origin

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Frogwares
Media: CD/3
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Dracula: Origin, by Frogwares (a company that recently released several great Sherlock Holmes games), does a great job of portraying the time and feel of 19th century London and really sells the Bram Stoker-esque style.

Everywhere from Cairo to Vienna and, of course, Transylvania comes through gorgeously in their pre-rendered 2D landscapes. Each location has its own unique visual feel and bright London looks very different from gloomy Transylvania. The characters also come through looking great. While you can't say for sure that they are modeled after the actors from Bram Stoker's Dracula, there are enough similarities to make you wonder.

The game's audio is another high point. The background music is very fitting in each location. In London, you get the sense of high-class with piano tunes filling your ears, while more exotic instruments are used in the Egyptian locations. One thing that did bother me though, was Van Helsing's somewhat limited vocabulary when doing the various standard adventure tasks like trying to click on non-existent objects or using inventory items in strange new ways.


Gameplay:

While inspired by Bram Stoker's original book, Dracula: Origin isn't a telling of that story in game; instead, it is an alternate version of that book's events. Where the book has the main characters not even meeting Van Helsing until Dracula has moved into London and, in fact, hardly anyone is aware of vampires, this game starts things off a bit differently. Mina, Johnathan, Van Helsing and the others are all friends and are actually aware of the vampiric threat that the world faces. When Van Helsing learns of Dracula's new base of operation in London, he decides to hunt him. Those plans are quickly changed though when Mina is seduced by Dracula and turned. Now Van Helsing's goal is to find a cure to the disease, but both his new goal and his old one could be one and the same.

What I really love about this game is that you are actually playing as one of the main characters, Van Helsing, and not just some no-name crony that the developers have added in. I can't say how many times I've played an adventure game that has some historical or mythical figure's name on it, only to play as someone completely different, or not even a part of the original story (I'm talking to you Cleopatra and Jack the Ripper ).

As far as adventure titles are concerned, the game has a good mix of puzzle styles. The inventory-based puzzles seemed to be about even with the obstacles that have you manipulating objects in the environment directly (like overly-complicated locking devices that have to be set just right). While the inventory puzzles weren't all that original, I found the other half of the obstacles to be worthwhile and, for the most part, enjoyable.


Difficulty:

Dracula: Origin has a pretty balanced mix when it comes to its difficulty. Most of the inventory puzzles are simple, and if worst comes to worst involve going through everything at hand in order to get past the obstacle. Where the game's challenge ramps up unexpectedly is in a few of the puzzles that involve opening complex locks. While other games will give you some sort of hint as to what you need to do in order to open them, Origin just throws you at the puzzles and forces you to do it via trial and error. I have to say, these were some of the more frustrating parts of the game, and yes, I did have to consult a walkthrough a couple of times in order to progress.

Game Mechanics:

Helping to ease the typical stresses found in adventure titles, Dracula: Origin offers a few systems to help the user. One of these additions to the standard adventure fare is the ability to press the Spacebar in order to have all of the items that you can pick up be highlighted. Meaning, you can be assured that no matter how well an item blends in with the background, you can leave the room with everything you can pick up. Granted this is both good and bad, and I'm sure adventure gamers world-wide will appear on both sides of the fence. While a good portion of these games is trying to figure out what you need and where to get it, being able to not pixel hunt means you can get to the core puzzles that much faster and further the story.

The other difference I found in Dracula: Origin is how the game locks you down to specific area(s) until you solve the problem at hand. This was interesting because it really helps you focus and insures you that you have everything you need in front of you. While these techniques aren't original to this game, they are always a pleasure to see and when done properly really help keep the player from getting frustrated.

Dracula: Origin doesn't really break any new ground, but what it has is solid point-and-click adventure fun. This is definitely a good game for most adventure gamers, and maybe even people looking to start in the genre since it has a few features that could be considered "hand-holding" by the more hardcore gamer. And, of course, if you love the Dracula myth, and want to see those classic characters in a new light, then this game is noteworthy.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP SP2/Vista, 1.5 GHz Pentium 4/Athlon ZP 1500+ CPU, 512 MB RAM, 2.5 GB Disk Space, 128 MB DirectX 9 Compatible Video Card, DirectX 9 Compatible Sound Card, 4x CD-ROM
 

Test System:



Alienware Aurora m9700 Laptop, Windows XP Professional, AMD Turion 64 Mobile 2.41 GHz, 2 GB Ram, Duel NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS 256MB Video Cards, DirectX 9.0c

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