A Vampyre Story
Developer: Autumn Moon Entertainment
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: 12/02/2008
ABOUT. FREAKING. TIME. Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for this game to be released? YEARS! Years, I tell you! But all the delays are over. All those minute little pushbacks playing on the cracks in my sanity are no more. A Vampyre Story is finally out.
If you’d like some back history about this game, the delays and how AVS was made by the last remnants of Lucasarts’ once amazing Adventure game dev team, you can check out My interview with Bill Tiller. Needless to say though, adventure gamer fans have been foaming at the mouth for this game’s release. The art style, the promised return to high comedy in gaming, and most of all high quality intellectually stimulating (and yet hilarious) puzzles. All these are things fans of the ol’ point n’ click genre have been waiting for.
Now did we get it? That’s the question. I won’t deny this has been the game I have been waiting for over all others in 2008. Just from the trailer, clips, and the demo I was SURE this was going to be my GAME OF THE YEAR. So it may surprise you to learn that although I found it to be the funniest and wittiest video game I think I’ve ever played, it is neither my GOTY nor even my GOTY for the adventure genre. That goes to The Lost Crown followed shortly by the ugly but brilliant Theresia. So what happened to make me the bastion of, “Games need to stop being so serious. Gamers need to stop taking themselves and their entertainment so seriously” prefer two very dark and ominous games over an obvious tribute to the greatest era in adventure gaming history? Read on my intrepid companions, read on…
Welcome to Draxsylvania, circa 1895. Meet Mona de Lafitte, no relation to a certain pirate. It seems Mona has been kidnapped and turned into a vampire against her will by the insidious (and stupid) Baron Shrowdy von Kiefer. Of course Mona refuses to accept she is a vampire, but hey, that’s denial for you. All Mona wants is to return to Paris and become an Opera singer. Alas, she’s dominated by Shrowdy and locked away in Castle Warg. Until one night when Shrowdy is out looking for a late night snack and gets the sharp end of a stake into his heart. Thus freed from Shrowdy’s control, Mona tries to escape the castle and return home to her real life, or as much of a real life as a vampire can have.
There is a wonderful cast of characters. Mona is utterly charming and you can’t help caring about her plight while also wondering how she could possibly be this clueless as to her state of undeath. Froderick is the token smart mouth comic relief character and he’s a great little sidekick that adds a lot of flavor to the game. The rest of the cast are merely supporting characters, but each one stands out. You have a troupe of Brooklyn rats, a Fraiser Craine wanna-be gargoyle, your token gypsy, Inspector Otto who is the only character speaking with an Eastern European accent in the entire game, and many others. The cast and characterization of A Vampire Story is reason enough to adore this game.
I have never played a funnier, wittier or more pop culture savvy game. NEVER. This game is riddled with references that include The Rat Pack, Ferris Bueller, Dungeons and Dragons, and many more. I laughed my ass off through most of the game. The writing is just so sharp and clever, and when it is on, it is easily the best written video game I’ve ever played.
Of course, that’s when it is on. Otherwise, the game just drags. There is so much thrown in just to pad the plot and thus the game itself. For example, there’s a very long cut scene with Mona, Froderick and a gypsy woman that is not only about 10 minutes to long but the cut scenes repeated not once, not twice, but THREE different times what you need to do next. I just wanted them to get on with it because the exposition was poorly written and repetitive to the point of condescending.
Then you have the lengthy quest. Half the game was just trying to get out of Castle Warg and it boiled down to one gigantic fetch quest with things thrown in to make the quest even longer and more cumbersome. I can’t tell you how bi-polar I felt playing this game. One second I was laughing at the dialogue, but the next I was rolling my eyes and looking towards the heavens just wanting to finish getting to the boat which involved getting making a golem which involved getting bones from a banshee which involved making an acid to melt wooden boards blocking a platform. And that’s one a small step of what amounted to one giant fetch quest. The sheer enormity of the one puzzle bored the hell out of me which really saddened me. I was expecting logic puzzles or brain ticklers or things really outside the box. Short little puzzles of different varieties to test my mettle and wits. Instead everything boiled down to so much verbal intercourse than it watered down the amazing bits of the story that made me fall in love with these characters – even Shrowdy.
Finally there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but it left me very unsatisfied. Two words: Soul Reaver. This really ticked me off if only because after years of paying attention to this game I understand what real happened as to why we get this ending. Grrr.
So thus we have a problem. I’ve never enjoyed a video game’s plot more, but the story padding nearly broke me at times. I would have preferred AVS to be a more streamlined affair like the Strong Badgames put out by Telltale or the puzzles to have been more diverse and unique ala Dracula: Origin or The Sinking Island. Instead we have the actual game itself weighing down a plot that could damn well win an Academy Award for best animated motion picture – if only Ben Tiller was willing to go that route. With this in mind I can’t give the story our highest marks, because the puzzles and padding weigh things down, and the horrible abrupt ending showing they decided to break the game in two instead of properly finishing it. Still, the core story is so funny I will continue to advise buying this game in spite of the flaws this game possesses.
Story Rating: Good
A Vampyre Story is a very stylish game. All of the backgrounds are hand drawn and the artwork is both reminiscent of the Monkey Island games and Edward Gorey. I love almost all of the character designs, with the exceptions being Edgar the raven (awesome name joke though) and the lady of well…low moral fiber. Characters designs like Mona and Rufus are so unique and yet familiar that there is no doubt these characters will stand the test of time similar to other classic adventure game characters like Weird Ed or Guybrush Threepwood. Autumn Moon has already announced a sequel, so with luck the cast of AVS will be this generations Adventure franchise of choice.
I fell in love with the backgrounds. There is something about hand drawn artwork in adventure games that makes the overall package feel complete. Granted this means the backgrounds are almost entirely static, but the beauty of the art overshadows the lack of animation. All the “set designs,” as that is the most appropriate description are cute in their ghastliness, memorably macabre and outright hilarious. When you see a torture device simply for “groin crushing,” you know you’re not playing your run o’ the mill angst ridden RPG.
There are a few hiccups related to the graphics, but these are minor items. The first is that due to the computer graphic characters interacting with hand drawn backgrounds, there can sometimes be a haze around the characters that appears to be a strange form of pixilation. You’ll see this most often with close ups of characters during conversations or anytime you see Pyewacket the cat. It’s a bit odd and slightly takes you out of the game, but it’s nothing truly awful. The second issue is the loading times. For an Adventure game, these are quite long and considering the game is stylish but nothing that taxes a computer’s graphics card. Be warned.
A final note here. Make sure when you download the game or boot it up from the DVD-Rom that you choose the correct graphics card option for your computer. If you don’t do this. The game will crash every time you try to start it and in the end, you’ll have to remove and re-install, this time checking the correct option. I myself made this mistake as I’m so used to just running through the pre-install instructions that I missed this one tidbit of doom.
A Vampire Story is visually striking and contains some of the best cartoony character designs I’ve seen in a long time. This game is a visual feast for your eyes, containing some highly amusing and well animated moments.
Graphics Rating: Great
I really loved the voice ensemble but there is one noticeable problem you’ll encounter – none of them were able to keep up their accents for long and there are noticeable cracks or shifts in their voices. Take Rebecca Schweitzer who is otherwise excellent as Mona. But her accent changes from bad faux French to Brooklyn to Carol Kane ala The Princess Bride or Transylvania 6-5000. Every actor in the game is guilty of dropping the accent at time, which seems somewhat unprofessional at first. Then you remember the staggering amount of dialogue in the game and it makes sense. Those “15 hours of gameplay” promised on the box? Try around six to seven in my experience, but then I stopped clicking on every clickable thing in the game and thus realized half the game play was just listened to a copious amount of side commentary. With that in mind, it’s no wonder the voices fell sometimes, and for the most part, the actors did an incredible job.
The sound effects in the game are very well done. In the course of the game you’ll hear everything from a anthropomorphic raven pooping to a coffin being rowed across a loch. Yes, I realize that it’s impossible for a coffin to double as a nautical craft, but it’s just a video game people!
The music of AVS is nicely done, but you so rarely pay attention to it. With all the sound effects and the hours upon hours of recorded dialogue, you miss nearly all of the music unless you are actively listening for it. It’s nice filler and the score fits the comical yet dark nature of this game , yet it is neither overpowering nor memorable, which is perfect for this type of game. I mean I LOVED Missing, but I can’t remember a single piece of music from that game.
I’m happy with the overall auditory output for this game. There are some noticeable flaws with the voice acting, but the good far outweighs the bad and I would hate to see any of these actors replaced in the second game.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
A Vampire Story definitely tried something new instead of the age old point and click controls scheme. While I admire the attempt at innovation, I found myself disliking particulars of the layout. Normally you would just click on an item, character or surround to interact with it. Here if you simply press the left mouse button, multiple options pop up, but only for a second. Instead you have to hold down the button, drag your cursor to the option and click it again. I’m not really a fan of this. I would have preferred the options to stay up with just a click rather than holding it down as that’s how long time adventure fans have had their brains wired for the past three decades. So this took a bit of time to get used to. It’s not hard or a deal breaker. It’s just a minor annoyance I’m sure they’ll fix with the upcoming sequel.
Mona moves exceptionally slow. Because of this Autumn Moon put in the ability to cut away from the animated walking and move to your specific location by hitting the space bar. You can also use the space bar to cut through talking if need be. I will warn you though that the space bar advancing only works about two-thirds of the time. There were many times when I hit the bar only to watch mouths continues to move or Mona walk sloooooooowly across the screen.
AVS also includes one of my favorite inventions over the past few years. Hit the tab button and every object you can interact with gets a little icon. This is great because the click detection on some objects isn’t exactly where you would expect it to be. Sometimes it is off the object entirely. What the heck? I love this but I want to warn you in advance that you’re in for a shock when you see just how many things get an icon. Autumn Moon really went overboard which may throw off the casual adventurer gamer, but it’s sure to delight the more ardent fan of this genre.
As you can see AVS really mixes it up from traditional point and click gameplay. There are a few flaws in the overall process and I’d have liked to have seen the crucifix interface in which you choose talk, examine, fly to, or use work a little bit better, but like all Adventure games, the control scheme is very solid and easy to pick up.
I do have issues with the loading times and the game’s potential for crashing. As well, the game will not work if you are on Vista and have your User Account Control on. Make sure you turn this off. Yes, Vista will whine like a little bitch until you turn it back on, but it’s the only way to play AVS. This has been a big problem with TAC published titles as of late, with the biggest of note being Murder in the Abbey. Keep this in mind and hopefully TAC will keep this pretty big issue from popping up with their published titles in 2009.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Like all Adventure games, you can’t really replay this unless you want the same exact experience unfolding in the same exact way. Because AVS only features dialogue or “use X on Y” puzzles, there’s no randomization or any intellectual stimulation. It’s just rote memorization and thus there’s even less replay value than other games from this genre. Not to mention the fact you don’t even get an ending to the game. It just freakin’ cuts out and rolls the credits right where “Act 3” is supposed to occur. Arrrgh!
Still, there’s the exceptional story and fans of quality humour may want to replay this game in the same way we’ve all replayed the Monkey Island or Sam & Max titles. Other than that, this is a one time playthrough. A Hump n’ Dump if you will.
Replayability Rating: Bad
A Vampyre Story lacks any real challenge. As I said earlier, I beat this game about six to seven hours. This is with going through most of the dialogue options and clicking on practically every item. Most of the puzzles are straight forward and pretty obvious as long as you pay attention to verbal and visual clues. The hardest puzzles are just the exceptionally long ones that never seem to end ala the blood testing puzzle in Dracula 3
All you have to do if you are stuck is just talk to people, select every choice or just pick objects to interact with things. Sometimes things get a bit convoluted. Hot stew on ice is the obvious answer to one puzzle, but you have to wrap the stew cauldron in a blanket first to keep the stew from freezing. Okay, this makes no sense, but whatever. Every puzzle though is pretty much common sense. I just hope you like backtracking. Lots and lots of backtracking. There’s more walking across 5-6 locations to get an item and then walking back in this game than a Tomb Raider title on the PSX. The game even makes fun of you for this. To which I say, “Most Adventure games have a map function to let you move along faster. Where the hell is yours?”
Exceptionally easy and yet excruciatingly long to wade through, the puzzles in A Vampyre Story actually bring down the game’s quality immensely. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the plot, I’d be treating this game like one of those awful Kheops made point and clickers.
Balance Rating: Bad
There’s a lot of innovation here in terms of game mechanics and engine use, but at the same time the game also go back to the days when Adventure games only had verbal or light item use puzzles ala Shadowgate. Don’t get me wrong; I adore Shadowgate, but in 2008, I like my puzzles more complex. This didn’t feel retro – it just felt shallow and uninspired. This is telling, as it’s apparent that the story and art received 95% of the attention from developers while the gameplay and puzzles were wedged in almost as an afterthought.
The story is great, the characters are great, and it’s nice to see a humourous game about vampires on the market. The game does feel fresh and original save for the puzzles. I really hope this is one aspect that will be dramatically improved upon in the next game, but seeing as AVS2 is just going to be the second half of this game that they didn’t finish in time – I doubt it.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Had I known there would be issues with the ending, I probably wouldn’t have been as glued to the game as much I was. Five hours on Tuesday night and an hour and a half on Wednesday. Grrr. Knowing that the game lacks an ending would have sucked the wind from my sails and probably yours too as you read this.
Still, I loved the characters and story and wanted to find out more. It was funny and adorable. Hell, I loved the story enough to keep playing even though the puzzles were boring and never seemed to end. I was willing to be a masochist for Mona and Froderick and in the end it kicked me in the ass.
You’ll get sucked in by AVS; there’s no doubt in that. It’s just a matter of how fulfilled you feel when the credits roll.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Man, this is a hard one. I was one of those zealots waiting years for this game and I’m deeply disappointed by the end result. I really feel screwed over by the final product. I have a feeling I’m not alone. This was really an attempt to recapture the feel and love of the old Lucasarts adventure games, but instead, it falls short in every way save visuals and story. There are a LOT of Lucasarts point and click fans out there, and I’m sure a lot of them will be happy to have even the slightest homage out there. So they’ll at least be happy. And of course people were outraged at Soul Reaver for pulling this as well, but you know, people kept buying those damn Legacy of Kain games like idiots after that stunt, so I’m sure we’ll all be in line for AVS2.
The story and visuals will help to make AVC more appealing to casual gamers than the usual Adventure game, but it’s still not going to set the world on fire sales-wise. It’s a pity because if Autumn Moon had put out A FINISHED GAME, it probably would have been a sleeper hit bringing several gamers back to the Adventure fold. Alas, it is not to be.
AVS starts off more appealing to Joe Gamer than most other Adventure games, but the puzzles and lack of an ending might make them swear off this genre entirely. That worries me greatly. Especially after I have been talking about this game for YEARS with my friends that prefer the ol’ FPS or 3-D games with horrible camera angles.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Thumbs in the middle here. I loved the story. I hated the puzzles. I loved the art. I hated that the game ends with no ending and you can tell they left out the third act for whatever reason, even though it had been promised for some time. I don’t know if it was a “cop-out for money” or simply a decision that the game needed to be released after all these delays, but it leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach. There was so much potential for this to be a high quality game reminding us all of the golden age of Adventure gaming. Instead, due to the many issues I have with the game, if someone asked me for a good comedy game, I’m more likely to point them to the Strong Bad series or Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law I’m a cross between disappointed and pissed here.
I can’t reiterate enough how much I loved the story and STYLE of AVS. It was so well done. It’s just, in the end, A Vampyre Story would have been better as an animated feature film or an cartoon mini series, and it probably would have made more money that way too… As an Adventure game, it’s too weak, too banal and lacking that sense of closure we all want from our point n’ clicks. I want to recommend this for the story, but I also want to warn you about the install issues and the lack of an ending. If you’re still interested, than by all means play on!
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
If A Vampyre Story had been a finished game, it would have been one of the best Adventure games of the year. Instead, due to either money or time issues, the third act of the game was excised and will be sold as a “sequel” at a later date. As such the game ends abruptly and leaves the gamer angry and without a sense of closure. If you can get by this, you will find a game with one of the best stories and character you will ever encounter along with some sharp stylish visuals along with some tedious and uninspired puzzles. Let’s hope that AVS2 more than makes up for this disappointment.