Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon
Developer: Kheops Studio
Release Date: 8/12/2008
Ah Dracula, my old namesake. We have a lot of history together, especially with gaming. It was the first game in this series, Dracula: Resurrection that reintroduced me to Adventure gaming back in the summer of 2000. Dracula: Resurrection was by far the most visually stunning game I had ever seen up to that point, and the puzzles, characters, and plot were amongst the best I encountered in gaming that year. I had such a great experience with it, that Dracula: Resurrection made #19 on my Top 30 Spooky Games Countdown. Just looking at the screenshots I took for that Nyogtha column makes me love the game even more as it’s easily OS3/360 quality and it’s EIGHT YEARS OLD.
The sequel Dracula: The Final Sanctuary was a disappointment. It had some great visuals and a nice plot, but the puzzles and gameplay were a huge step down in quality. Alas this was to be Canal+ Multimedia’s (Also known as France Telecom Multimedia) last game as it was broken down and the company’s titles were picked up by Microids.
Fast forward to 2008. First comes Riddle of the Tomb, which is a game I unfortunately had to review for DHGF in March. It was a truly awful panoramic point and click which was also made by the creators of the mediocre Safecracker and Return to Mysterious Island. Of course, this is the same team that Microids picked to make Dracula 3. Insert sad face here.
A few months later, Dreamcatcher published Dracula: Origin. Although Dreamcatcher was the US publisher of the first two Dracula games, Dracula: Origin had nothing to do with the now owned by Microids series. Although the story degenerated from awesome into a weird Cthulhu crossover complete with Cthulhu worshipping cannibals, it boasted some of the best and most unique puzzles I’ve ever seen in an adventure game and it turned out to be one of the best games I’ve played all year.
So now we’re here with Dracula 3 and it’s legacy of one really good game, one mediocre game, one development company I really liked, and one that makes me cry tears of blood when I see they’ve put something new out. So how was Dracula 3? Did Kheops finally make a quality game, or have they managed to destroy the last remnants of a once popular franchise?
This is kind of an odd game to put into the Dracula series. First of all, it establishes that Stoker’s story and characters are fiction, effectively putting the first two games into that category as well, meaning D3 has nothing to do with the previous games in the series. Okay then. Next is the fact you only encounter Dracula at the very end of the game, making his name in the title a bit of a bait and switch. Finally the game’s story is borderline plagiarism of The Club Dumas or The Ninth Gate for those of you more familiar with the movie version. At times I was amused by the blatant rip-off, but most of the time I was just shaking my head and saying, “Typical Kheops.” I will admit although the story lacked originality, it certainly made up for it with interesting characters and a nice progression through the tale. It was solid and had firm continuity where Dracula: Origin went into some crazy form of fan service.
You play as Father Arno Moriani who is investigating a possible candidate for sainthood in the Romania town of Vladoviste. While there, Arno learns that the candidate Maria Calugarul not only believed in vampires, but tried to prevent them from preying on townspeople while also trying to decipher the “path of the dragon.” The path is a mystical and psychological journey mixing metaphor and reality into a progression that turns one into a vampire, or a great being filled with evil power.
This belief and study of occultism gets Ms. Calugarul knocked out of Sainthood contention but also forces Arno on a new path – proof for the Vatican that vampires don’t exist. Well, that turns out not to work so well as Arno is not only convinced that vampires exist, but that he too must walk the path of the dragon. Not to become a vampire however, but to destroy the source of their power.
That too doesn’t work out so well, but it leaves you with a memorable and fun story with a rather abrupt and dull ending intersected with some of the worst adventure game puzzles I have ever had the misfortune of playing.
Although the game’s story is really lacking in originality and focuses way too much of secret societies and a lot of betrayal and plot twists for the sake of padding out the game, it is a fun romp through a more classic Universal horror film then a more modern blood, guts and gore tale. It’s definitely the best story ever put into a Kheops developed game, but considering they stuck pretty close to an amazingly well written source material, it’s not a surprise.
Story Rating: Above Average
Visually, Dracula 3 is quite nice. Although character designs are a bit more cartoony then in the previous two games, and a bit of a step down in quality, the characters are quite nice for what they are. The models are a bit lopsided most of the time, and Dracula himself is hilarious awful in design and appearance, but characters like Arno and Hans and nicely done.
The backgrounds in the game are impressive, with Vladoviste looking like a real city and the mountains of Turkey you briefly run around it are quite ominous. The settings are all very dull in colour and design, but it is appropriate due to the game being set at the end of the Great War.
There are a nice amount of cut scenes, all of which are watchable after you unlock them, but they have some frame rate issues and the quality is about that of an early PS2 or high quality late PS1 game like Koudelka.
The game is dramatically weaker graphically that Microids’ other recent release The Sinking Island. But then it’s weaker then TSI is every other way as well, so no surprise there. The visuals are fine for what they are. It’s a huge step up from Riddle of the Tomb, but it’s still nowhere as good as the original Dracula game that was released eight years ago.
Graphics Rating: Above Average
This is one of those cases where the voice acting is quite good, but the music is awful. At one point there was a string piece that made me wince it was so bad on my ears. It was screechy and jarring, which I am pretty sure was not the intending effect. Most of the music was mediocre at best to awful at worst. The score just did not jibe with the game’s flow or content and so the music at times made terse situations laughable.
Speaking of laughable, we once again have to go back to Dracula. In the first two games, Dracula was based on the Gary Oldman elderly Dracula form and it was brilliantly done. Here Dracula is dressed like a colonial revolutionary war officer with beady eyes and a mouth covered in gore. Hilariously awful. His voice was even worse. It sounded like someone gargling sulfuric acid. Worst. Vampire. Ever. And I’m talking games like Countdown Vampires.
The rest of the cast was excellent. Only one character, Dr. Kruger had a proper accent for the reason, but all of the cast did a superb job. Father Arno was especially good, and Hans was by far the best in being able to portray a calm, cool and totally psychotic antagonist. This is one area Kheops games are always strong in, and it was great to see a strong vocal cast.
Sound effects were a mixed bag. There’re a lot of the same noises over and over such as the creaking of a cemetery door or the typing on a decoding machine , but this is because a lot of the puzzles are very long and monotonous, thus ensuring a limited range of effects that you hear frequently. This isn’t really my cup of tea, especially when the puzzles themselves are kind of well, abysmal.
Dracula 3 bears a superb voice acting ensemble, but the overall aural quality is dragged down by some bad music and grating sound effects.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
Like most adventure games, you’ll be using your mouse for all controls. The left click is pretty much everything from walking and talking to interacting with objects and doing puzzles. The right button brings up your various menu options such as objectives, your inventory of items, a collection of documents and so on. It’s pretty standard fare for an adventure game.
Dracula 3 is also a panoramic adventure game, meaning you are playing the game form a first person perspective and there a full 360 degree interaction horizontally and a 180 degree interaction vertically. It means that there is a lot more to see then in a third person game, but might give some people motion sickness.
Besides these two areas, the rest of the game doesn’t play that well. Kheops has brought back it’s exceptionally annoying way of storing and sorting items which infuriates me every time I encounter it. Unlike most adventure games where any item you pick up is automatically stored, Dracula 3 keeps all of your items on top of each other in a little box in your inventory until you hit a button marked “Auto” to bring them into the compartments they would otherwise be in with normal adventure games. You also have the option of slowly moving them one by one. God only knows why they like this when it’s a step games have been able to circumvent since the dawn of the genre. Bad, bad planning.
A lot of the puzzles are simply awful as well. They are either easy but go on forever with monotonous motions that make you bored before you’re even a fourth done, or they feature awful controls like the drawing of various symbols with your mouse. Have you ever tried to draw a perfect inverted pentagram with a mouse? Well you’ll have plenty of practice here. I drew it at least six times before the game recognized it as such and let me pass. Of course, the puzzle right before it involved me clicking on a spot and it automatically drew itself while I had to just keep up with the line, which took a while to understand as well. At first I thought I was just watching a visual effect, not taking part in a puzzle.
The puzzles in Dracula 3 are highly original, but they are also insanely convoluted, utterly boring, and require a great deal of note keeping so you remember minute details that were only is passing a few hours ago in real time that are then needed at this one specific moment in the game. Like Riddle of the Tomb, Dracula 3 boasts some of the worst puzzles I have ever had to play through. Between giving myself a tourniquet, spending nearly an hour doing freaking blood samples at two different points in the game, and dealing with the worst and most anal retentive end puzzle I have ever encountered in this genre, I feel the need to warn people to NOT play this game unless they are a HUGE Adventure game buff or are exceptionally OCD.
Standard controls, but gameplay that made me want to poke my eyes out and die long before Dracula was even brought up in the game.
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Like most adventure games, Dracula 3 is pretty linear and the plot and events will unfold in the exact same way every time. However, the game has provided a few odd mini games that can only be selected at certain points like a game of dice, a discus version of shuffleboard and a card game. If these were accessible any time, and if people found them fun, it would help to shake that negative stigma Adventure games have in this area. Alas, it is not to be.
As well, the cut scenes are unlocked forever once you get one, so after you beat the game, you can just watch all the movies and get the basic plot of the game without having to suffer through the little puzzles and games provided. I know that sounds awful, but I LOVE adventure games and I’m saying the puzzle aspects here sucks!
The game does also provide you with a few optional puzzles that you can do for the umm…fun of it, I guess. However they are in obscure places like in a set of keenings buried in your document folders. So I guess it’s a reward for scouring every little thing in the game, but considering how much I hated every puzzle in this game, it wasn’t really a turn-on for me.
Slightly better in terms of replayability then the average adventure game, which is nil, but I wouldn’t recommend playing the game once, much less multiple times.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Wow. To be honest, this is probably the least balanced game I have ever played. That’s not to say this is the worst game I’ve ever played. It’s playable – it’s just so poorly designed I have no idea what Microids was thinking letting this game go public.
As I’ve mentioned before, almost all the puzzles are long and grueling, but they are also very easy. This means you are doing the same repetitive action for 10-15 minutes and thus are really bored. On the flip side, there are a few puzzles that can ONLY be solved by taking careful notes on scratch paper about minute details so that when you have to bring them up at the VERY end of the game. This is what I mean by an utter lack of balance. The game is so amazingly boring that I FELL ASLEEP doing one of the puzzles due to its length and monotony.
Really, do I need to do a blood sample test of six different people at two different points in the game? BORING. Did I need to have the same cut scene play every time I entered the village outskirts or the cemetery? EVERY TIME?
Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles were pretty original, which is always a good thing in theory, but they were so poorly done in the context of the game that I grew to hate Dracula 3 with a passion by the end. So few of the puzzles actually added to the plot or the mood of the game. They were just thrown in to pad the game with MANY hours of repetition. I don’t want a lock puzzle based on the colours of a flag on a monument you look at once in a game. I don’t want an insane boring puzzle based on looking for books where the bookshelf I need is indicated by cross referencing the third letter of a word written in blood with the last letter of the name on the shelf. You have to wonder who thought these puzzles would be A) fun or b) enticing to anyone. Adventure games are a niche genre to begin with, and these puzzles are so convoluted and painstaking that I can’t imagine how anyone can have FUN with them.
Good job on ruining the Dracula franchise Kheops.
Balance Rating: Worthless
As I said earlier, the puzzles in Dracula 3 are pretty original and innovative – they just suck to actually play through. Storywise, as I’ve mentioned, the game is a complete plagiarism of The Club Dumas right down to the alternative pieces of art work, one set depicting the correct path while the other are meant to lead people astray. Hell The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows even shows up in the game briefly, which tells you Kheops knew how badly they were ripping off Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
The actual controls of the game are what you would expect from a generic run of the mill adventure game minus that awful way of storing items. There’s no real innovation or creativity in terms of how you play the game. It’s just a nice bastardization of a classic Spanish novel with vampires and puzzles meant to make you question the existence of a kind and benevolent god thrown in.
Originality Rating: Poor
Okay, I’ve been really mean to this game. I also can’t deny I would have stopped two hours into it if I hadn’t agreed to review Dracula 3. It’s better than Riddle of the Tomb, I’ll grant the game that, and I enjoyed the storyline even though I recognized it instantly as a copy. But those damned puzzles. Those awful puzzles that went on for far too long and either required obscure bits of knowledge or were blatantly obvious and took forever (I’m talking to you tile flipping spawn of evil!). I loathed every time I turned on my computer knowing I had to wade through this thing. At least Riddle of the Tomb was shorter.
I have played worse games this year, but either nostalgia (Bangai-O Spirits) or unlocking nifty things Hellboy: Science of Evil) made them more fun to play. Dracula 3 was simply not fun to play and that’s a pretty dubious accomplishment right there.
Addictiveness Rating: Worthless
9. Appeal Factor
This game is so utterly different from the previous Dracula games that it is more likely to repel fans of the genre then make them happy the series is back after a half decade of hiatus. This game is awful is every way the original game was great and it intensifies the things everyone hated about The Last Sanctuary. The only people I can see having fun with this game are psychotically rabid Adventure fans who delight in slow plodding puzzles the same way I delight in bullet hell games, which would make them my mortal enemies. Vampire fans will hate this since there really aren’t any vampires. Adventure fans will hate the slowness of the puzzles. Casual gamers will hate everything about it. Let’s be honest: Dracula 3 is a hard game to love.
Appeal Factor: Worthless
Okay, you have thirty dollars. Do you buy Dracula 3 or Dracula: Origin. The answer that should be obviously to everyone is: Dracula: Origin. It keeps somewhat to the characters of Stoker’s novel. Its plot is a bit out there, but it’s still fun. The graphics and sound are superior . The puzzles are just even more original and innovative, and they’re fun. The game even has funny moments to show it doesn’t take itself as seriously as Dracula 3 which is so full of itself it made me ill. I can’t think of a single reason that would make anyone buy Dracula 3 over Dracula: Origin, thus making this game not only redundant and inferior, but the final stake in the coffin for the Dracula series, which should have been left to rest in peace back in 2002.
Highly disappointed here kids.
Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: Pretty Poor
Short Attention Span Summary
Dracula 3 is a game that should have never been made. Instead what is easily my least favorite Adventure game developer has taken a franchise that contains one of my favorite Adventure games of all time, and given it a sequel that ranks amongst the worst of all time. I am highly disappointed in Microids for allowing this game to see the light of day as it’s a huge kick to the genitals of the corpse of Canal+/France Telecom Multimedia. You should have let the dead rest. Now they have awakened and they’re not out for our blood – they just want thirty bucks and to rob us of ten hours that could have been spent playing far better games. Seriously people, if garlic and a crucifix could repel this game, I’d send you each one.