Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock
Developer: Alwar Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Genre: Adventure/Hidden Object
Release Date: 07/10/2011
When our PR Manager, D.J. Tatsujin was offered a review copy of Vampire Saga by Alwar Games, he knew exactly who would review it. I do tend to be the guy to go to for either adventure games or titles involving vampires in some way. As this game combined both, it was pretty much a shoo-in that I’d take it.
Welcome to Hell Lock is actually the second game in the Vampire Saga series. Unfortunately I’ve never played the first game, Pandora’s Box, so I have no idea if the two games connect in any way. Welcome to Hell Lock does play like a stand-alone title, so you don’t have to feel like you are missing out on anything. It also helps that Welcome to Hell Lock is only $9.99 ($6.99 for Big Fish Games members) giving adventure game fans yet another budget horror point and click title for the PC. Of course, price isn’t everything. It’s all about the quality of the game after all. So is Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock quality?
Welcome to Hell Lock begins with your (for the time being) nameless amnesiac protagonist awakening from a motorcycle spill outside the town of Hill Lock. Hill Lock has long since been abandoned due to a massive coal fire that broke out there fifty years ago, and that underneath the earth, the fire still rages to this day. This is much like the true story of Centralia, PA. Unfortunately, Hill Lock seems to be plagued with ghosts and vampires, something Centralia doesn’t have. Because your character has no idea who he is, or what has happened to him, he wanders around the town somewhat aimlessly, hoping that his memory will return.
If this doesn’t sound that interesting to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone. There really isn’t much of a story here and what is here is almost nonsensical. Your character gets a call partway through the game from someone who says they are owed money by the main character and they are coming to get them. This character is never seen nor heard from again. Your character is told by the tutorial to take pictures and collect rubies whenever you are allowed to, but there is never an in-game reason why your character would do this until the very end of the game and it still is never actually explained story-wise. You occasionally see a Count Orlock style vampire throughout the game. It even attacks your girlfriend and drags her into his coffin-altar thingie. However, when you open it, he’s a statue. How was he doing all this since he’s been imprisoned all this time? He couldn’t have because it’s just that poorly written and thought out.
I will say there is a very nice swerve towards the end of the game, but that’s the only really good piece of writing in the game. Welcome to Hell Lock ends extremely abruptly with a very bad ending. Even worse, after the credits run, you get a epilogue that actually makes things worse thanks to “YOUR CHARACTER HAS AMNESIA AGAIN.” Oh my god, that drove me nuts. I get that the makers of the game were going for a Silent Hill riff, but man was this not the way to do it. Simply bad writing, plot progression and storytelling from beginning to end.
Story Rating: Bad
Most adventure games primary use static image backgrounds. There isn’t any real animation save for cut scenes – if the game has those. Welcome to Hell Lock is different. There tends to be animation on each of the locations, even if it is something minor like a snake scuttling across the ground or a rat popping out. As well, there are approximately SIXTY locations to check out, which is pretty impressive for an adventure games -especially a budget one. All the locations have a lot of detail to them and it’s a lot of fun to see all the different areas of Hill Lock. Even the character models look pretty good, especially your unnamed “girlfriend.” The graphics really do help to make a creepy atmosphere, which really saves the game from his crappy plot. The only real complaint I have about the visuals are that cut scenes are done as black and white comic book panels, which I’ve never really liked.
Sure Welcome to Hell Lock isn’t as visually impressive as a high budget blockbuster for the PC, but what’s here is quite enjoyable and adventure game fans will enjoy the visuals.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
There isn’t any voice acting in Welcome to Hell Lock, but that’s okay but for 95% of the game, it would just be your protagonist talking to himself anyway. That leaves only music and sound effects to talk about. The score is nice for background music, but nothing impressive. It’s just kind of there, setting a bit of creepy atmosphere.
Sound effects are pretty decent too. There’s nothing here that will blow you away, but everything sounds nice, whether it’s exploding TNT or the crackling of flames. It’s basically what you would expect from a typical budget point and click adventure game. Again, fans of the genre will be happy with what’s here, and that’s what counts.
Sound Rating: Decent
4. Control and Gameplay
Like all adventure games, you use your mouse for everything in the game. Click on an arrow or in your photo album to move to a new location, click on an item to interact with it, or click on an item in your inventory to use it. Things like that. It’s all very standard. Also like any adventure game, there are some things Welcome to Hell Lock does right, and some things it does wrong.
Let’s start with what the game does right. Instead of forcing you to do a ton of backtracking like most hidden object oriented games, you have a “photo album” of all the locations in the game. You can just click on one of these and instantly move to that location instead of walking always the way back. This saves a LOT of time, especially as some bits have you go from the very first location to the last. This is a very welcome design choice. The other really nice thing is that in hidden object scenes, the names of items that you are looking for will start to glow with a green hue the closer you are to them. This is a wonderful design choice for casual gamers or people who like hidden object games, but aren’t very good at them. Now don’t think this makes things incredibly easy. The glowing doesn’t occur until you are practically on top of it and you still have to find the thing.
The bad bits of the game have to do with its unresponsiveness. Sometimes arrows that you would use to walk to another location don’t show up so you HAVE to use the photo album to advance or backtrack. If the photo album option didn’t exist, you’d basically be trapped and be unable to progress through the game. That’s not good. The game also features some pretty severe detection issues with the hidden object screen. The clickable pixels for items are quite small in number and sometimes you will be right on an item clicking on it several times over and the game just won’t respond.
So the game introduces some really nice elements to gameplay, but then has issues with the actual playing of the game. A lot of hidden object oriented games suffer from the same issues that plague Welcome to Hell Lock, but they don’t have the new features that I found to be fantastic. As such, it’s above average here, but it could easily use a tweaking here and there.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
Like all adventure games, Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lockis a “one and done” game. There’s no real reason to replay this once you’ve beaten it. At least Hell Lock is slightly less linear than a lot of other adventure games, but the horrible story and the writing within kind of balance that out. No, Hell Lock is a game you’ll play once and never really think about again. You’ll get your money’s worth out of it – don’t get me wrong, but there’s just no replay value to these types of games unless you really love the story. Sadly Welcome to Hell Lock only has atmosphere without any substance.
Replayability Rating: Bad
Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock kind of falls apart here. None of the game’s puzzles require any real thought or skill. There’s one where you have to paint by numbers correctly and that’s the hardest puzzle in the game. Which is to say, it is not hard at all. The very last true puzzle in the game involves matching up symbols on a crypt. It’s the type of puzzle that has been done countless times in other adventure games and this version is already done for you. You just have to switch a measly two symbols. Another example of a puzzle in the game is developing negatives. Here you just click on the part of the negative that is developed to make the next part appear. Repeat until the picture is done. Repeat this a whopping twelve times to finish the puzzle. Oh my god. This is like an adventure game for the very young or mentally impaired. There’s absolutely no challenge and because of this, there’s no sense of accomplishment. Even the hidden object challenges have items right out in the open for you. Combine that with the glowing of names when you are close and the ability to use hints that show you exactly where an item is and you could train a monkey to play this.
Everything in the game is hand fed to you. You’re told where to go and what to do and so it’s more like you are playing an interactive novel rather than a full on video game. There just wasn’t any a single time in the game where I felt like I had to think. Instead it was all done for me. That’s not very fun. Maybe for people who don’t play these things regularly, but most adventure fans or hidden object gamers will be really let down by how easy this is.
Balance Rating: Poor
Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock brings a few new things to the table, like the photo album, taking pictures to find hidden blood rubies, and the hidden object detector bits, but everything else is pretty much “been there, done that.” Fictionalizing Centralia is always cool, but it’s been done to death. None of the puzzles in the game are original, the hidden object scenes repeat (including items in the same exact spot) and the story is very similar to what I played a few months ago in Raincliff – just more supernatural and not as well done.
I’ll be kind and cal it a thumb’s in the middle as the new gameplay additions are things that are so obvious and so brilliant but also things I’ve never seen before. That helps balance out the fact the rest of the game is pretty much rehashed from other adventure games.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
I generally play adventure games for the stories and the puzzles. Unfortunately, I didn’t like either in Welcome to Hell Lock. The story was trite and the puzzles were far easier versions of ones I have seen many times before. It didn’t matter if I tried the game on normal or casual difficulty, the game played exactly the same and the puzzles were just as easy. Now I beat the game, but there were times I was more than a little bored with it. I had wanted something a little more substantive or challenging. The initial hook of the game was interesting and creepy, but it wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. There are a lot of vampire oriented hidden object/adventure games out there and something like Blood and Ruby does a far better job than this game. This one just didn’t resonate with me for several reasons.
Addictiveness Rating: Below Average
9. Appeal Factor
Adventure games and hidden object titles have made a comeback in recent years, being championed by what we tend to label as “casual gamers.” These days, the audience that plays these games tend to look for horror oriented settings and originality. Well, Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock has both and it’s selling pretty well over at BigFishGames.com, so it’s definitely found itself an audience, even if I am not one of them. Good for it, as we need for indie game developers, especially in the point and click area.
If you’re an adventure game fan, it’s at least worth TRYING Welcome to Hell Lock, as it’s cheap, pretty and has some neat mechanics. However, like myself a good portion of adventure game fans will be disappointed by the overall package while still happy with specific aspects of the game. People who are not ardent adventure game fans probably shouldn’t pick this up at all simply because this game won’t change your mind on the genre – that’s for sure.
Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre
For less than ten bucks, you are getting a decently made game that does some things right and some things wrong. The story isn’t very good, but the graphics and sheer number of locations are nice. The gameplay has some click detection issues, but it also keeps you from having to backtrack and the “metal detector” style of hidden object finding is a nice change of pace. The puzzles are way too easy, especially for longtime fans of the genre, but for seven to ten dollars, you’re getting an okay budget game that does what it needs to. You can spend an afternoon or three on this and once you are done, you’ll feel that you got your money’s worth and you’ll also never feel the need to play it again. That’s about all one can really ask for.
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock is a one of those games that you have to refer to as a “thumbs in the middle” title because, for every one thing they do really well, they do something else kind of poorly. The story is pretty insipid from beginning to end, except for the initial hook of turning Centralia into a ghost and vampire filled wasteland. The game’s visuals are quite nice and it offers a lot more locations than most budget adventure games. There are some click detection issues in hidden object scenes and with movements between locations, but the game also has some neat gameplay elements, the best of which prevents you from having to do constant backtracking like you do in 99% of adventure games. I’ve definitely played numerous adventure games that I liked better, but for a budget game with a price tag of under ten dollars I can honestly say you’ll at least get your money’s worth out of the latest Vampire Saga title.