Review: Dracula: Origin (PC)

Dracula: Origin
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Frogwares
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 06/02/2008


I’ve really been looking forward to Dracula: Origin for some time now. I’ve done two different previews of the game, including a hands on preview of the playable demo TAC sent me in early May. It was only an hour or so long, but it featured amazing graphics, voice acting and some of the most original puzzle games I’ve played in a long time. Until that demo I didn’t think The Lost Crown had any compeition this year in either the Adventure or Survival-Horror genres.

Frogwares also impressed me around this time last year with their Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu game The Awakened. However their next crossover title of Holmes vs. Lupin aka Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis didn’t fare so well.

So how was Dracula: Origin? Did the rest of the game live up to the demo, or was it all downhill from there?

Let’s Review

1. Story

If you’re looking for a straight adaptation of Stoker’s famous novel. Run away now. This game features some characters from the novel, but it is a completely alternate reality that has little to nothing to do with the novel that inspired this game. Just a warning.

The game starts off with Van Helsing in his laboratory doing vampire related experiments when he receives a letter from his employee, John Harker. John had been tracking the elusive Count Dracula and was undercover when he was caught and captured. From there Dracula discovers Mina Harker, John’s wife is the reincarnation of the bride of Dracula’s brother and has set off to England to make her a creature of the night. As you can see it’s SOMEWHAT similar to the actual book, but not much. In fact, Dracula in this game is much closer to Strahd Von Zarovich from the Dungeons and Dragons expansion, Ravenloft. They have the same origin, goals, and personalities, right down to murdering their brother for his wife. Odd.

The first 2 or so hours of the game puts you in England trying to track down Dracula’s new residence. From there Dracula bites Mina and you end up traveling to Egypt where you encounter Nyarlathotep aka the Crawling Chaos of Lovecraft’s Outer Gods. Yeah, I know. That was both unexpected and weird. Then it is off to Vienna where you fight some cannibal demonic monks who worship Cthulhu and finally to Transylvania where you tame Nightmares and eventually hunt down Dracula and all his vampiric allies including John Harker who is now undead himself. Yes. Van Helsing (re)kills Harker. That will get some purists pissed off.

The longer the game went on, the more bizarre and silly the story became. It seems to me Frogware likes to do crossovers for the sake of crossovers, even though they don’t seem to get either of the source materials correct. I think Lovecraft fans will be more irritated with the renaming the Necronomicon “Demonomicon” and the claim that is Arabic instead of the correct Kitab-Al-Azif. Same with the characterization of what is supposed to the Nyarlathotep itself. It’s very randomly shoved into the game and I’m sure Frogwares meant it to be cute or fan service, but it comes off as poorly as Dark Corners of the Earth did.

It’s very hard to make a quality vampire game story. In fact, the only one I have EVER played is Dracula: Resurrection. Even the Castlevania games are pretty awful story wise. That being said, even with the weirdness and abject crossovers thrown in, Dracula: Origin is one of the better laid out vampire stories in gaming. Hardcore purists of the Cthulhu Mythos and Dracula will no doubt be annoyed, or even offended, but the average gamer will probably like how different it is from the novel, so as to keep the gamer unaware of what will exactly happen next.

The plot is okay, but just be prepared for a huge drop in story quality and sanity as you journey out of England.

Story Rating: Above Average

2. Graphics

This is a pretty graphically intensive game for a point N’ click title. Even with mostly static backgrounds, the game is visually brilliant. The locations, set design, character models, and cut scenes are all stunning and the game is easily the best thing Frogwares has done graphically. It’s one of the more impressive titles TAC has released in the past few years as well.

One of my favorite character designs in the game is Brother Alberto. It’s amazing how well rendered this character is, even though he appears only for about five minutes of the game. You can tell that he has been tortured and maimed most gruesomely. Even with more action based spooky games. I’ve never seen a character who has had his eyeballs scooped out and left with infected rotting sockets and dessicated from malnutrition. Nicely done here!

On the other side, the character design I absolutely LOATHE is Dracula. He looks like Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Lestat, but with dark hair. Everything about the character clashes with the rest of the game, from his more modern open shirt poofy goth pirate outfit to his strange cro magnon like facial features. I was very disappointed with the Count.

Other than Dracula himself, I have absolutely no complaints about the graphics in Dracula: Origin, but plenty of praise. This is a beautifully rendered title and if you are looking for some gaming eye candy, I’d be hard pressed to recommend another title released this year over this one.

Graphics Rating: Unparalelled

3. Sound

Odd Note: the voice acting from the demo is noticeably different from the voice acting in the final game. I’m not sure if they got different voice actors or if there was some sort of change in the coding, but Van Helsing and the Cockney gravedigger sound very different. Although good enough in the final version of the game, the demo versions sound better to me as the accents sound filler, and well, like the characters are actually from their appropriate areas.

The voice acting throughout the game is solid, although sometimes monotone. Mustapha is probably my favorite character in the game, if only for the comedic bits he and Van Helsing have together. The worst voice acting award in the game goes to the strange grunting demonic monk you set fire to in Vienna. Is he supposed to be Frankenstein’s Monster?

The musical score of the game is brilliant. It sets a somber and harrowing mood, yet manages to be fast paced in tempo. I will say that the musical piece are very short and so ther eis a lot of looping. As good as the tracts are, they get old and annoying quickly.

A good bag of sound effects, acting, and music keeps Dracula: Origin as a fun almost kitschy romp through this different look at the story of the world’s most famous vampire.

Sound Rating: Good

4.Control and Gameplay

God bless Frogwares for copying Secret Files: Tunguska‘s point and click layout. If at any time you are unsure what to click or where you can move around to, just hit the space bar and for a few seconds, everything that one can interact with gets a icon above it. The icon depends on if you can look at it, talk to it, or touch it. This is a godsend, because Dracula: Origin is pretty precise on exactly where you have to click to get a reaction from the game. The interaction areas on the screen are quite small, so without this bar, there will be times you are a millimeter off from correctly clicking and you might not realize it. Next time, hopefully Frogwares will increase the game’s detection sensitivity.

Playing the game, like most Adventure games, is fairly easy and extremely solid. You’ll use your mouth to interact with things on the screen via the left button. The right button will bring up your items, documents, transcripts of previous conversations and other notes you might have,

The entire game is running around, collecting objects and solving puzzles. All of the puzzles in the game are HIGHLY original and innovative, which is something this genre really needed, although some of the solutions are not readily obvious, such as using a hallowed out dead beaver to remove wine from a cask. Seriously dudes, that is screwed up.

I did have the game crash on me twice, one of which was during the final cutscene. The other was in setting a Wile E. Coyote like trap for Igor the hunchback, who is the Road Runner in this analogy. Take this as a warning to save frequently. The game does have the occasional slowdown issue, which is odd for an Adventure game. It also doesn’t always respond properly to a double left click when Van Helsing. A single click should have Van Helsing walk to the new locale, but a double click should automatically bring him there. That worked out only about half the time, so the game got frustrating at these points.

One last little complaint. A human being can not fit an entire moving staircase in their jacket pocket. Just a heads up that this little incident in Vienna completely broke my suspension of disbelief.

Although the game did implement my favorite little addition to the P&C genre, Dracula: Origin does suffer from sever slight gameplay flaws that bring the overall quality of the experience down. It’s still a good game playwise, but it could have easily been a great one.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

Always the Achilles Heel of the Adventure Genre, Dracula: Origin is no exception to this malady. The game is utterly linear, allowing no room for deviation or variety. If you’ve played the game once, it will play exactly the same way each time. Thankfully for the game, the puzzles are so original and unique, that it will probably keep a gamer coming back for a second or third playthrough (although months or years down the road). I can see most people that pick up Dracula: Origin coming back to it after playing several other standard fare Adventure games if only to remind themselves of how nifty the puzzles in this title are.

Even with the low rate of return for Adventure games, Dracula: Origin is still an amazing budget title, with its MSRP of only $19.99

Replayability Rating: Below Average

6. Balance

For the most part, the puzzles in Dracula: Origin are straightforward as they are original. Several of the puzzles are scavenger hunt based games, while others are the usual “Put multiple items together to form a new item” based puzzle. However there are two puzzles that are not as obvious and as such, will cause the average gamer some consternation. The first puzzle is solving the lock on Dracula’s diary. This is only hard because there is no real instruction to the puzzle and so it’s just monkeying around until you figure out what the end goal is, then resetting the puzzle and starting over with the end in mind. This same issue holds true for the lighting of a star puzzle later on in the game. Both puzzles would be a lot easier if you knew what the goal was, and as such the only real difficulty comes from a complete and utter ignorance on your objective.

There are a few easy to follow puzzles that just take too bloody long as well. The first that comes to mind is the musical chemistry puzzle you have to do in Vienna. The problem here is again a lack of clarity in what one is supposed to do. I Thought for the longest time I needed to use a single litmus strip for all the chemicals which of course proved to be incorrect. However the game did not state this and as such there was much confusion on my part. Another puzzle of lengthy annoyance is the lock on the Egyptian Renfield’s door. Here the goal was obvious and the puzzle was easy enough – it was just exceedingly long and boring. Finally there is the Dracula picture puzzle in Castle Dracula (Note: I instinctively wrote Castlevania here at first. Oops). Again, this is an easy puzzle – it just takes so long you become bored with it.

So while all the puzzles are highly original and innovative, the degree of enjoyment ranges wildly. As well, a gamer has to be willing to go into a few puzzles completely blind towards the goal and be fine with that or risk some severe frustration.

The best puzzles remain the ones in England, but as that is the first fourth of the game, one might be a little let down by all the collecting, backtracking, and assembling puzzles that await you as you travel East.

Balance Rating: Above Average

7. Originality

Huge props here. Almost all the puzzles are ones I have never encountered before and I like to think of myself as an Adventure game aficionado. My favorite puzzles involved the multiple graves in England, where certain Martyr Angel marked stones contained some excellent puzzles. Best of all, these puzzles fit the motif and time period of the game, revolving around measuring the weight of one’s sins or looking at a relief and seeing who is a sinner and who is holy. These were a lot of fun, and it is just too bad the rest of the game didn’t stay like this.

Egypt’s puzzles were mostly the scavenger hunt and lock opening puzzles, but the game also threw in a lovely little translation game which I enjoyed, even though one or two of the clues made little to no sense.

Vienna had the musical chemistry puzzle which was highly original, even if I found it boring, and also some interesting “Van Helsing kills a bunch of satanic cannibal monk” puzzles. I also enjoyed the “Angels and Demons” puzzle within the university library.

Sadly, Transylvania is where the game falls apart with the usual generic object collecting and assembling puzzles. Even then the game still manages to be out there with puzzles like making a key out of pretzels and teeth. It is true that the last fourth of the game is the most boring in both story and puzzles, but the game still manages to breathe new life into the genre where before there was far too much stale blandness and a lack of creativity for my liking.

Great job here by Frogwares in giving us some innovating puzzles and a truly bizarre plot.

Originality Rating: Great

8. Addictiveness

Whilst in England, I was really hooked on the game’s gripping story and excellent puzzles. When I got to Egypt, I was bemused by the Cthulhu Mythos crossover, a little shocked at the comedic but still oft-kilter racism towards 19th century Middle Eastern Culture, and wondering what, if anything, this portion of the game had to do with Dracula.

Vienna was interesting, but contained my least favorite puzzles in the game. I thought the cannibal satanist monks were stupid at first, but then I decided the entire game was more 1960’s Batman kitsch than it was meant to be a serious horror title. In Transylvania, I ended up finding myself more and more amused by the sequences in Castle Dracula and the characterization of the vampires that dwelt within. By the end of the game, I was glad I had played it, but I was also glad to be done with it.

I was drawn in by the very unique puzzles and kept playing for those even when amused where I probably shouldn’t have been by the plot. Even then, the story kept growing more and more insane that I kept playing just to see what antics would befall Van Helsing next.

I ended up beating the game in three sittings, each about 3 hours long, give or take. I have a feeling most Adventure gamers will enjoy the overall contents of the game, just as I did. It’s one of those titles that even when it’s being a train wreck, you want to keep playing.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Horror/Suspense adventure games have always had more crossover appeal than other games of this genre. It’s probably because the adventure game genre can present a classic terrifying story better than a more action based video game. For example Resident Evil 4 was the best made game in the series, but it surprisingly didn’t sell that well, nor was it anything close to frightening. In comparison look at 7th Guest which is considered one of the best horror titles ever made and it is also one of the best selling video games of all time. It just happens to be an Adventure genre game.

Hardcore Dracula and Cthulhu purists will no doubt slag the title, but if you’re looking for a nice puzzle game that uses vampires and Victorian style graphics as window dressings, then you’ll probably enjoy this title. Still, a lot of US based gamers poo-poo the genre due to its inherent slowness and lack of action. Pity on them.

Although I strongly preferred The Lost Crown to Dracula: Origin, I’d recommend this title to non adventurer gamers due to the characters and the more fantastical nature of D:O

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

I’m still shocked at how bloody cheap this game is. You’re paying about 1.50-2 dollars per hour of entertainment with Dracula: Origin, and it is well worth the investment. Just the fact you are getting full price level graphics in a budget title makes the game worth recommending. Then you throw in some of the best puzzles I’ve seen in this genre in YEARS, and it just keeps getting better. The plot is hit or miss, depending on how whether you try to take it serious or treat it as camp, but the overall end product is a must buy for anyone with a PC that can handle the game’s requirements. This is too good of a deal to pass up, and I’m really happy to see Frogwares back on track after Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis

My only complaint is that as a developer, Frogwares is dangerously close to milking it’s wacky Victorian crossovers dry and it’s on the fine line of being cute and being exceptionally lame. Just a head’s up.

If you’re looking for a well done spooky title without the usual aggravation you find from console gaming’s camera angles, go on and give Dracula: Origin a try.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Unparalelled
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Although Dracula: Origin is neither the best Horror Adventure title released this year (The Lost Crown, nor even the best Vampire based Adventure title (A Vampyre Story), it is still a remarkably solid title that is worthy picking up. I had a lot of fun with it and it’s amazing how a nice cheap budget title can put a lot of the fifty-sixty dollar big name releases to shame. Unless you absolutely loathe Adventure games, I can’t imagine anyone not finding Dracula: Origin a worthy purchase.

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