Inside Pulse Review: Dracula Unleashed

Dracula Unleashed
Developer: Viacom New Media
Publisher: Infinite Ventures
Genre: Adventure
Compatible with all DVD players

There are a lot of things Mr. Alex Lucard and I agree on. We both think that the industry is in a sad state lacking in originality, we both enjoy a good dance game every once in a while, and we both gravitate to cute things like orphans to Brangelina (hurrah for references that’ll be dated in a year or so). Still, we don’t see eye to eye on many things. I love slasher films while Alex abhors them. Alex is an animal person while I’m not. Oh, and don’t get me started on that flaming pile of crap that is Pokemon Channel.

Alex sent me a copy of Dracula Unleashed, a port of a relatively obscure Sega CD title, to review. Then again, what Sega CD title besides Sonic would the average gamer know today? Regardless, Alex recently ranked Dracula Unleashed #20 on his horror game countdown which had me all a twitter with excitement over this game. How was this straight to DVD game? Well… a bit of a mixed bag.

1. Story

The strength of Dracula Unleashed is certainly in its story. You play as Alexander Morris, brother to the man who tried to kill Dracula ten years early, Quincy Morris. Alexander is summoned to London because of the urging of a Romanian priest. In addition to trying to out the truth behind Quincy’s death, Alexander must fight that great evil, the blood sucking Count Dracula. Apparently there are a series of murders occurring in London and it’s your job to try and figure out what’s going on.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this game is how closely the original text of Dracula is followed. Dracula Unleashed is, for all intensive purposes, a direct sequel to the original Stoker novel. It is painstakingly researched so a student of Dracula will feel like they’ve walked into some sort of classic literature fanfiction convention (without any of the ugly Hellsing/Renfield pairings). Dracula Unleashed is not just a lovingly made piece of fiction, it is intelligent and witty.

Since this is an adventure game, it’s tough to talk about the story without giving away too much. There’s over ninety minutes of video in this game of real actors that tells the story along with fully voiced static menus to move things along. This all played out in over 150 scenes throughout the game (obviously not all in the same sitting). The story is fleshed out with new characters and old favorites from Dracula.

That might just end up being the largest problem with this game. If you haven’t read Dracula or aren’t relatively familiar with the closer adaptations of the Stoker novel, you’ll miss out on a ton of the material the story is offering. Characters that have a role in the Stoker novel aren’t given much of an introduction even if they’re fleshed out later in the story. Granted, there isn’t going to be much appeal of this game to the people who went out and loved every moment of Van Hellsing (remember, adventure games have reading in them), but the game’s denseness of material makes it a bit harder to pick up on. By no means is this a flaw of the story. In reality, it creates a much deeper experience for those who have read Dracula. It’s a layered story that rewards those who, you know, read the classics. Still, it’s much harder for a newbie to the whole Dracula lore to follow.

Score: 8 out of 10

2. Graphics

There’s nothing fancy here, but Dracula Unleashed does do two things right. They clean up all of the older video from the Sega CD while completely remaking the menus so it’s much more presentable. The actors and actresses are as clear as they possibly have been with a new re-mastered version of the game.

The biggest flaw with the look of this game comes with how nicely cleaned up Dracula Unleashed now is. The sets, costumes, and props all look like they’ve been ripped straight out of your local community playhouse. For example, the Holmwood House looks like it’s been made out of plywood. The Bookstore has about twenty books total in it. Sure, this game comes from the day and age where 100 thousand dollars was an astronomical budget for a game, but there could have been a few decisions made to make the game look a little more realistic. I mean honestly, Quincy’s grave looks like the haunted house at the elementary school decided it needed something a tad more realistic and the makers of this game went dumpster diving for it. Now that the jaggies of the Sega CD are gone, it’s a bit easier to see. Having said all of this, this is not the type of game to play for the graphics.

The remade menus have a sort of old journal feel to them that fits very well within the game. The in game menus are very clean looking and have a distinct art style that blends photos of actors and locations with deep blues and reds giving them a dream like feel. The game has a real distinctive look and style in its interactive parts that are almost undercut by the scenery within the game. Most of the game’s text is very easy to read, and the documents are well presented. The game’s text starts to look a little funky on a tube based television though. Stick to playing this game on a relatively decent television or your computer.

Score: 7 out of 10

3. Sound

Oy. The voice over work for this game is pretty rough to say the least. Let’s start with the good though. The actor who plays Alexander Morris does an excellent job voicing the game’s menus. Also his performance throughout the game is pretty easy to listen to. Granted, he stays pretty mellow even when he’s getting eaten by vampires, but it’s still a pretty decent performance that makes the game playable.

The rest though…double oy. This is just one bad mix of Americans trying to sound pompous or pull off a cockney accent. The acting is bad, really bad. The story though is good so it’s kind of tough to penalize the story for having bad actors. It’d be like saying Shakespeare isn’t lyrical when you have Steven Segal do a reading of Twelfth Night. Sure, it’s a fun awful performance, but the bad performances take away almost all of the fear that this game possibly could have induced. The other real negative to this game’s sound is the music. It is brutal my friends. A nice mix of spooky synthesizer music along with equally silly howling wind will ravage your ears and belief that music is well made.

There are much worse games in terms of music and voice acting. There is something endearing about the bad performances here that you really miss out on with some contemporary games that are equally haphazard in the construction of it. Without a doubt, the performances here are from the heart and really meant to be strong, moving, and not unintentionally silly like they are. It’s just that…well… they aren’t any good. It’s sad to rip on a bunch of actors and actresses for their performances, but whatever charm they bring to the table is outweighed by what this game ultimately loses due to the bad acting, hokey music, and powerless performances. This is easily the most disappointing part of the game.

Score: 3 out of 10

4. Control

This is a DVD game. DVD games almost always have to be based on some sort of menu based navigation. The question is, how tolerable are the load times? Well it depends on what DVD player you’re playing with. I used three separate DVD players to play out this game.

1. The home theater DVD player
2. The piece of junk portable DVD player
3. The DVD player inside my computer

I’m not going to bother to look up the brand of each of these due to absolute and bone crushing laziness that most of the staff knows about at this point. How’d they play? Well it varies.

The slower your DVD player runs, the sloppier this game controls. On my computer with an 8x drive, the game moved quite smoothly and didn’t jump once. On the portable DVD player, the damn thing wouldn’t even start the game. It was somewhat slow on the home theater DVD player. It didn’t have trouble navigating or changing menus, but the game suffered a bit of slowdown when loading a cut scene.

Dracula Unleashed invites a double edged sword with its almost universal playability. As much as the appeal of the game is helped by the fact that it plays on the DVD format, the game has a blow struck against it as poorer quality DVD players have literal heart attacks when this game is inserted. At its best, Dracula Unleashed is intuitive in its controls and simple enough that the entire family can gather around to have a go at slaying the Prince of Darkness. At its worst, you’ll be gawking at a frozen screen of some middle aged man doing his damndest to sell you on the fact that smoking jackets and frock coats will never go out of fashion. The controls depend solely on the equipment you’re running the game on. Of course, it is rather unfair to penalize Dracula Unleashed for the lack of a decent DVD player in the hands of the gamer.

Score: 8 out of 10

5. Balance

This is a somewhat difficult beast to crack. Dracula Unleashed is a challenging game from start to finish, but it never really changes its difficulty. It stays at a constant 8 or so in terms of how challenging it is to your wit and luck. The problem with this is that it’s not really the best game to introduce to gamers to the adventure genre. Dracula Unleashed is difficult to play through and get a good ending without having a strong knowledge of Stoker’s characters or without taking notes.

This game refuses to hold your hand at all which many adventure gamers will see as a strength. The casual gamer will end up being put off by the challenge of Dracula Unleashed, and the game does very little to draw them back in. Once you get the hang of Dracula Unleashed, it can be a pretty enjoyable experience that will rack your brain the deeper you go. Still, Dracula Unleashed starts out too hard and expects the gamer to catch up to it without making life any easier along the way.

Score: 5 out of 10

6. Replay Value

There are hundreds of different ways to play this game. The question becomes how many ways you can play this game that aren’t just slight variations. Well the simple fact of the matter is that this game is difficult to get it right the first couple hundred times through. Once you do get everything right though, there isn’t that much reason to return to it. In many ways, Dracula Unleashed is like a book of mad libs. Once you’ve filled it up, you’re probably not going to want to go back and re-read whatever it is you wrote no matter how funny it was at the time.

Score: 3 out of 10

7. Originality

Dracula Unleashed is an artifact of a time long past. Not only is it an adventure game, but it is also an adventure game that features full motion video. Infinite Ventures is one of the few companies that even makes these types of games. Furthermore, the implementation of this game on to the DVD format rather then a PC game is very different then what the rest of the game market has been.

The only mark against this game’s originality is the fact that it is a remake with the video cleaned up and the graphics spruced up. This game really is the loan duck in the pond of alligators (hah, I can make up clichÃÆ’©s all I want). It’s tough to fault this game for being like anything else on this market, PC games included.

Score: 9 out of 10

8. Addictiveness

Dracula Unleashed really ended up being a chore for me. It has the fundamentals of a good game down, but unless you’re really, really into adventure games or vampire fanfiction then you’ll most likely play this once or twice for the novelty of it, look up the ending online, and let it collect dust on your shelf.

The one strength of this game comes from the fact that it really works well in a group setting. It’s pretty simple to turn Dracula Unleashed into a drinking game. Even if you don’t participate in those type of lewd activities, group decision making in Dracula Unleashed is a great and very different way to play this game. Still, the difficulty of the game mixed with the expansive design makes it tough to hold even the artiest of gamers’ wine cooler parties.

It can be addictive to a certain type of gamer, but that type is pretty limited. There’s not much of a market these days for adventure games and it’s cut significantly when you introduce a straight horror theme into it. The game has enough depth that if you do enjoy it initially, you’ll continue to enjoy it. The converse is also true though. If Dracula Unleashed doesn’t grab you immediately, you’ll be hard pressed to putting the type of energy that will make this game a satisfying experience.

Addictiveness: 4 out of 10

9. Appeal Factor

Dracula Unleashed is a game that will grab a certain type of gamer and keep them coming back to it again and again. The difficulty and variety of paths that can be taken offer a lot to gamers. Still, the depth of an adventure game mixed with a somewhat campy (not intentionally and not humorous) horror game makes this game a tough sell. There are better horror games out there and better adventure games out there.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any appeal in this game. Classic gothic literature fans will enjoy this as will a fan of horror who can appreciate something played a little slower as opposed to something that needs to be soaked in gore to be appreciated. This game is also different enough from a number of adventure games on the market to capture the attention of someone who wants to play something that isn’t Mystish. Dracula Unleashed will also appeal to fans of Sega looking to relive their days on the Sega CD. It has several niche markets that it could very easily take hold in, it’s just that Dracula Unleashed is grasping at rather different markets. The fact that this game is on DVD allows Infinite Ventures to allow a much larger market to try and get ahold of this game.

Score: 6 out of 10

10. Miscellaneous

Let me level with you guys for a second. I really didn’t like this game. There are people that will enjoy it, but I am not one of them. There are very few RPGs that I enjoy and even less adventure games. Dracula Unleashed straightforward melodrama just doesn’t resonate when taking into to consideration the relatively low production values of the sets, costumes, and acting. Dracula Unleashed’s Transylvania just doesn’t draw me in the way a world like the one composed in Syberia or the Monkey Island series.

I can’t emphasize this enough. This game has a very, very, very limited appeal. In addition, Dracula Unleashed isn’t endearing or engrossing enough or to transcend it’s appeal. I feel kind of bad reviewing this because it’s a game that will really reverberate with some gamer out there who enjoys these types of games. Furthermore, it’d be a disservice to the tremendous job that Infinite Venture did in bringing this game out. If someone else writes this review, I have no doubt it turns out much different because they either pass it off as a boring adventure game with shitty acting or flip over how deep and well composed it is while becoming nostalgic for those great FMV games that came out back in the day. It’s just nice to see someone give a relatively obscure game such care, even if I ended up disliking this game almost entirely.

Score: 7 out of 10

The Scores
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 3/10
Control: 7/10
Balance: 5/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Originality: 9/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Total Score: 59/100
Final Score: 6 out of 10 (Above Average)

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