Game: A Vampyre Story
Developer: Autumn Moon Entertainment
Publisher: Crimson Cow
Game Version: Started unpatched, installed Patch 1 after a couple of hours.
A Vampyre Story was one of the most eagerly anticipated adventure game releases in years, due mostly to one fact. It was being created by Bill Tiller, the man responsible for the brilliant artwork in Curse of Monkey Island. Anything remotely related to Monkey Island is likely to grab the attention of the adventure gaming community, and it certainly made me take notice. And while it’s certainly not a bad game, it’s unfortunately not the return to the heyday of the classic Lucasarts adventures.
A Vampyre Story is a comic adventure, and it will come as no surprise to anyone with a brain that it involves vampires. Or vampyres. Whatever. The protagonist is Mona De Lafitte, a newly created vampire in denial about her condition. Previously, she was an opera singer from Paris, although I haven’t a clue what accent she’s trying to do. She was kidnapped by a vampire, (and amateur Peter Lorre impersonator by the sounds of it), called Shroudy. He took her to his castle and vampirified her. (I don’t care if vampirified is a real word. I like it.) The game opens with the death of Shroudy at the hands of vampire hunters, and follows Mona’s attempts to escape the castle.
That’s where we come in, in typical point and click adventure game style. The interface resembles the one from Curse of Monkey Island. Holding down the mouse button over something brings up a circular menu with four options. There’s the standard look, take/use and speak actions, plus a turn into a bat option specific to this game. Because one of Guybrush’s main flaws was his inability to turn into a bat. Thanks to the talk action, Mona does seem to have a strange fondness for starting up conversations with inanimate objects. Right clicking brings up the coffin shaped inventory screen. Clicking on the screen will cause Mona to walk to that point, in one of the most tortuously slow walking animations in the history of gaming. Thankfully, you can hit the spacebar and she’ll automatically jump to where you clicked, if you don’t feel like waiting half an hour for her to cross the screen. So for most of the game I just saw Mona teleport around the screen. You can only turn into a bat in certain situations, and any others just leads to a response that she’d rather walk, but I couldn’t help but wish she’d just fly. It’s got to be quicker than that. When you move over an exit point, your mouse cursor turns into a big red arrow, and clicking that will cause Mona to walk to the next screen. Right clicking it is a shortcut to go straight to the next screen, which is helpful for cutting down the walking time again. Unfortunately, it’s also a problem due to the fact that the right mouse button is also the inventory button, meaning that at times I tried to bring up my inventory only to warp straight to the next room.
Unfortunately, the puzzle design is where the game falls down a bit. Lacking the cleverness of the best adventure game puzzles, too often the solutions seem to rely on randomness. Some of the puzzles make a certain kind of warped sense when you’ve solved them, but others are just inexplicable. To pick one of the most egregious examples, (and I’ll give a small spoiler warning here just in case anyone cares), there’s a sequence where you have to mix certain coloured liquids, and you conveniently find three cans of drink, cherry, blueberry and lemon. The three primary colours, just right for mixing the ones needed. But for some reason the red one doesn’t work. It turns out that it’s because it’s a can of diet sugar free cherry, and so I needed to add sugar to it before I could use it. Why? I didn’t find a single clue in the game to suggest that was what was needed. Why should the lack of sugar in the drink affect its use for mixing colours? That’s a rather extreme example, and there isn’t much else that bad, but there’s a few instances where the solutions just don’t seem even slightly logical, not even following any consistent internal logic.
Worst of all is that often you might try something else that you think should work and it won’t. Which would be fine if it gave a good reason why it doesn’t work, or gave a clue towards where you’re going wrong, but it usually doesn’t. You just get a generic response that it won’t work, implying that you’re idiotically trying random things when it’s quite likely that your solution makes more sense than the proper one.
The writing is also of mixed quality. Mona wanders around the environments with a wisecracking bat called Froderick (Young Frankenstein reference?) on her shoulder. He sounds quite a lot like Max from Sam and Max, but is rather less sociopathic. Mona is played as rather ditzy and self occupied, and to start with her voice is the most annoyingly high pitched whine imaginable. I’m not quite sure how, but after a short while, I actually grew used to it, and actually started to quite like the characters. At its best, the game can be funny and entertaining, and it even has some quite clever ideas. I particularly liked the fact that Mona was unable to enter the graveyard at first because she was repelled by all the crosses. On the other hand, far too often the jokes feel forced. It’s like they feel a need to come up with a funny comment about everything and they end up trying too hard.
There are some nice touches to the game. The inventory system for instance. Mona doesn’t pick up and carry everything she finds around with her. She’ll pick up some of the smaller items, but for everything else, when you try to pick it up, she just says she’ll remember where it is for later. Then a ghost image of the item shows up in your inventory. When you need to use it, you just perform the action and Mona will go and fetch it automatically. It’s not revolutionary and doesn’t change how the game works, but it’s a welcome idea. It certainly avoids the ludicrous idea of someone walking around with a coffin shoved down their trousers like you’d get with the traditional inventory. It also includes a feature where you can press the TAB key to show all the hotspots in the current location. This is a welcome inclusion that’s thankfully becoming more common in recent adventure games. It avoids any unnecessary pixel hunts. The challenge is supposed to be in solving the puzzles, after all, not in finding obscurely hidden items.
There are some bugs in the game too. The TAB key is practically essential to find a perfume refill bottle in the bedroom, since it doesn’t appear to actually show up on the screen. I’m not sure if this was a bug, since the hotspot for it was under the bed, but to have to pick up an object that you can’t even see is effectively a bug, even if it was intentional. The perfume was also the cause of the games most serious bug. At one point I emptied the perfume bottle and then refilled it from the previously mentioned impossibly hidden item. The trouble was, I later needed the bottle empty, and the game wouldn’t let me empty it again. It puts the game into an unwinnable situation. Thankfully I was able to salvage my game by editing a file so that it didn’t think I’d emptied the bottle before, but it’s a dreadful bug. Thankfully, it has been fixed in the patch, so as long as you play with the patched version it should be ok. At another point in the game, I tried an action which froze the game up completely. Mona said her line of dialogue, and then the mouse arrow never came back and I had to shut down the game and reload it.
Then there’s the matter of the ending. Or lack of one. Mona and Froderick escape the castle, gather together the required things for their journey back to Paris. They set off and…. the end. And a promise of a Chapter Two. I don’t doubt that the sequel will be made, but there was no indication of this being an incomplete story. No Chapter One or Episode One on the box. It’s not very satisfying to be playing a game and for it to come to an abrupt halt, only to tell you to wait several months or who knows how long before you can carry on playing it. The game does last about 12 hours, which isn’t too short by modern standards, but it’s still quite an annoying way to end.
A Vampyre Story isn’t a bad adventure game. I mostly enjoyed playing it and it was funny at times. But you can’t help but wonder what the likes of Ron Gilbert (the original Monkey Island) or Tim Schafer (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango) could have made with the game's concepts. The artwork is certainly up to the task, but the game really needed some proper writing and puzzle designing talent involved to really make the game as good as it had the potential to be. If you’re a fan of classic adventure games, then you’ll probably find this worth a play. I liked it enough to play the sequel when it comes out. I just hope that they iron out a few of the flaws next time.
2013 update: I mentioned just above about the lack of an ending and that I didn't doubt that there would be a sequel. Well, I should have stuck to my usual cynicism because it's over 4 years on and there's been no sequel and the last news of it was years ago. Looks like this is just an incomplete game now.
Save System Review: Save anywhere.
Graphics: The backgrounds are very good hand-drawn pictures reminiscent of the style of Monkey Island. The characters are in stylised cartoonish 3D and actually work fairly well, to give the game a rather unusual feel.
Sound: Voice acting is generally pretty good and the soundtrack isn’t bad.
Bugs: I won’t go into detail about them again, as I mentioned them in the main review, but there are some minor problems even after the patch.
Gameplay: The puzzles are too random too often, despite some interesting ideas.
Storyline: The storyline is nothing complex, but then you don’t expect it to be in a comedy game like this. The humour is funny at times, forced at others, and it does have quite a lot of puns in it. Although I like puns. I’m strange.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Is the game good enough to hold your interest or do you prefer your games to be... well... finished? Comment in the forums!