Game: Dracula: Origin
Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Year: 2008
Reviewed: 2009
Platform: PC
Genre: Adventure
Game Version: Unpatched
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Well, after reviewing A Vampyre Story it’s time for another vampiric adventure. But will it suck? (groan)

Dracula Origin Coffin Room
Who would live in a house like this? Van Helsing, it’s over to you.

Dracula: Origin is the latest game from Frogwares, best known for their numerous Sherlock Holmes games. The game tells a variation on the classic Dracula story, with you taking on the role of Van Helsing, famous for his puzzle solving skills. I mean, vampire hunting skills. He’s probably pretty useless at solving puzzles, since I had to solve them all for him. He might be a good vampire hunter, but he doesn’t use his brain much. The majority of the game is spent tracking down Dracula after he bites the neck of Mina Harker. It’s loosely based on the original novel and has the same characters, but it goes its own way.

The gameplay follows the standard point and click control method of most adventure games. Clicking on an item will either look at it, use it or pick it up, depending on what the item is. In typical adventure game style, you’ll get an inventory of everything that isn’t nailed down. Or rather, an inventory of everything that they’ve implemented a hotspot for, since this is in the modern tradition of only letting you do anything with useful items and leaving everything else in the background. He even manages to carry an entire rolling staircase around with him when in the library. As well as being like the TARDIS, his coat also appears to be fireproof, since at one point in the game he clearly pulls a burning torch from it, uses it, and then actually places it back! I’m now on a quest to hunt down one of those coats for myself.

Dracula Origin Siesta
“This must be an excuse to not have to include lots of people in the scene.”

Van Helsing, of course, would rather hunt down Dracula. After all, he already has the coat, so what else is left to do. It’s a journey that will take him to several locations around the world, and to many, many puzzles. There seems to be a fairly even split between inventory puzzles and logic puzzles. For a change, the logic puzzles are mostly integrated quite well into the environments, but there are still occasions when they seem a bit out of place. Most of the puzzles are actually rather good though.

Let’s get a few of the negatives out of the way early on for a change. Dracula: Origin is certainly not a perfect game, and it does have quite a few flaws. The implementation of some of the puzzles does leave something to be desired. For instance, (and this is a minor spoiler), at one point you have to clear the dirt away from a gravestone in order to read what is written on it, to use that information somewhere else. It didn’t take long to clear it enough to make it readable, at which point I went off to try and use the information. But the game wouldn’t let me. I had to go back and scratch a tiny bit more dirt away, in an area that wasn’t even near the writing, in order for Van Helsing to comment that he can now read it and the game would let me finish the puzzle. Little details like this do have a negative impact on the game, and they would be so easy to fix.

There’s also a puzzle used to open Dracula’s journal that just ends up being trial and error, with the one book page that looks like it was supposed to be a clue being completely useless. One puzzle requires the ability to know the musical notes on a piano in order to solve it, but doesn’t supply this information in the game, meaning that if you don’t already know it you would have to quit the game to actually learn it. It almost feels like they didn’t quite finish some of these puzzles, or just didn’t get enough testing.

Dracula Origin Crypt
OK, you’re just making that up.

I’m getting those out of the way now, since despite these flaws, I still enjoyed the game. Those puzzles might not quite work, but there were plenty more that were fun to solve and a lot more interesting. The game starts with a puzzle involving plotting routes on a map after investigating newspaper reports, and soon you’re solving a sequence of puzzles in a graveyard that are very well designed and are enjoyable without being frustrating. Also helping to avoid frustration is the fact that the game is split into smaller segments. You usually don’t have too many different locations available at the same time, so you don’t have the problem of wandering around without a clue where to go next. It keeps the game focused on what you’re supposed to be doing.

Inventory puzzles are again a mixed bag. Van Helsing is a true adventure game hero, and is willing to pick up any old rubbish knowing that it will inexplicably become useful later on. He’s perfectly happy to just pick up items in a market stall and walk off with them without paying. The stall holder must have been too scared to say anything. The puzzles usually make sense, although there were times when I had to resort to the old trick of using everything on everything else to stumble across the weird combination it wanted from me. There were also occasional instances where reasonable ideas were just rejected without any explanation as to why. For example, if there’s a snake blocking my path and I’m carrying an axe with me, why can’t I use it?

Dracula Origin Gandalf?
I never realised that Gandalf was in Dracula.

The voice acting for the game mostly isn’t bad. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step above the rubbish we get in many games. Van Helsing does sound a bit French for a Dutchman, but then, I don’t know much about the Dutch accent, so maybe that’s right. The music is quite good, although a little repetitive, but it stays mostly in the background rather than becoming annoying. I did notice an occurrence of the weird translation error that I’ve seen in many adventure games that were originally foreign where characters will say “closed” when they actually mean “locked”. Unless the characters are just complete morons and don’t realise that they can open something if it’s closed.

It’s easier (and more fun) to rant about the bad points, but the game is a solid adventure game. The only really disappointing thing is the rather anti-climactic ending where Van Helsing goes about disposing of Dracula very easily without any assistance from the player at all. I’d recommend it to people looking for a more serious adventure game, as long as they’re willing to look past the occasional flaws of the game. Even though they can be a pain in the neck. (more groans)

Save System Review: Save anywhere.
Graphics: The background graphics are gorgeous, as usual for a Frogwares adventure. The character graphics are still not quite up to the same level, but they’re not too bad.
Sound: Decent voice acting, decent music, decent all around but nothing spectacular.
Bugs: There’s the occasional problems with the puzzles mentioned earlier, and one instance where you have to click on the exact right pixel. They’re really just flaws though, and there’s not much that can be called bugs. Other than the scuttling kind, courtesy of Renfield.
Gameplay: The occasional problem puzzle and a few weird inventory puzzles aside, this is mostly a very enjoyable adventure game, with appropriate puzzles that are fun to solve.
Storyline: Only connected to the Dracula novel in a tenuous way, the plot works quite well, but the ending is rather anti-climactic, including the sequel set-up bit tagged on to the end.

Arbitrary Final Score: 3 stars

If you like this, you might also like: The Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games, the old Dracula adventure games, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (well, it’s vampire related and I’ll recommend it every chance I get)

Does the gameplay lack bite or can you Count on it to entertain? Flap over to the forums!