Dracula Unleashed Review

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Publisher: Infinite Ventures
Developer: Infinite Ventures

Platform: Any DVD-enabled device (DVD Player, PC or DVD-capable console)
Reviewed on DVD Player

Official Site: draculaunleashed.com

At the close of the 19th century, Alexander Morris leaves Texas to follow his brother Quincy's footsteps, investigating evils that stalk the Earth and took Quincy's life. Alexander's greatest challenge is to avoid following his brother's fate – a cold grave. Father Janos, a Romanian priest, recommended that Alexander investigate the mysterious circumstances of Quincy's death. All the while, the London papers are filled with tales of grisly murder, livestock with punctured throats and a pale woman wandering late at night. This leaves Alexander in mortal peril as he explores London in the winter of 1899.

Kyle Ackerman

Computer games can be surprisingly difficult for the novice to pick up and play. While it seems that there should be some form of interactive entertainment for every person, it takes time and effort to learn the user interfaces and conventions of games. Wouldn't it be nice if the next time a relative or friend asked about "those computer games" you could show them a fun, easy-to-play adventure game that could work on their DVD player? While that would be glorious, Dracula Unleashed is not that title.

Dracula Needs a Lesson in GUI (Graphical User Interfaces – Not Gore)

Dracula Unleashed is an update and reissue of a game released in 1993 – the era when interactive movies seemed like an exciting frontier in video gaming and using taped footage of live actors was the craze of the moment. Dracula Unleashed takes over ninety minutes of video from more than one hundred and fifty scenes, adds some text and illustrations, and ties it all together into a supernatural adventure that puts you in the shoes of Alexander Morris as he stalks Dracula. The game is operated by selecting icons that appear at the bottom of the screen using your DVD remote. While experienced adventure games will figure out the controls quickly, the average new player has difficulty figuring out what to do, even with the help of the instruction sheet and an in-character orientation from Dr. Van Helsing (accessed by selecting his portrait).

Once you've learned to navigate Alexander's London, it's a matter of visiting precisely the correct locations at exactly the right time, sometimes with a specific item in hand. The game's scenes, newspaper clips and objects are supposed to impel you into visiting the series of live-action scenes in the correct order. There is some tolerance for visiting areas in slightly different orders, but while there should be multiple ways to complete the story successfully, there are infinitely more ways to get stuck and die a horrible and gruesome death. Good adventure games never put you into a place where you can't advance, and give you feedback to help you understand what you've done wrong. Dracula Unleashed will kill you early and often with little explanation. Also, because every scene had to be recorded with live actors and there is finite space on a DVD, there is limited feedback on your failures. You will often find yourself befuddled and irritated when you discover that you have, once again, died, and you have no idea why. The official site warns you to save early and often, but this game is like the earliest console titles, so saving requires copying a sequence of pictograms onto a notepad, and entering them exactly in order when you want to restart.

Vampires Leave No Room for Error

What makes this particularly difficult for novice and expert alike is that reaching certain scenes (that are critical to advancing the plot) requires fulfilling a trigger event. For example, you might need to be holding a card or a knife as you enter an area (which means you must learn how to hold an object when entering a building), or you might have to read a clip in the newspaper. If you have to restart, while you may already know what's written in the newspaper, you still may need to check out the articles each time you play. Many scenes are also only available during very specific windows of game time. In fact, some events must be visited during windows as short as an hour (in game), and it can take much of that to travel from location to location, so you need to know exactly where to be. Especially late in the game, entering a scene unprepared (or just not sleeping at the right time) will bring about Alexander's untimely death.

The difficulty of the game and the lack of feedback upon failure turn Dracula Unleashed into an extensive trial-and-error effort. If you do end up with a copy of Dracula Unleashed, the official site has a substantial hint guide that will ease your progress forward. If you don't take advantage of that (or another) guide, be prepared to watch the early scenes in the game dozens of times as you try to guess at your next step (or just give up). There's nothing to tell you which decision, out of the many that got you this far, was the wrong one. It may have been the most recent, or it may have been much farther back. There is no way to tell, and thus no way for an inexperienced gamer to get into the game. If you do somehow navigate the game's mysterious hoops, you see what should be the main pleasure of Dracula Unleashed – watching the scenes of the interactive movie play out. Regrettably, acting performances range from mediocre to exceptionally poor. You may never encounter a more effete evil character than Mr. Horner in the bookstore, and the paperboy at the newsstand "'as one uf de werst accents evar." You are treated to clever dialog such as Dr. Van Helsing's statement: "I need a stake... so big [as he gestures]... and pointy!"

Dracula Unleashed would feel more like an enthralling interactive movie if you received better feedback concerning your mistakes and if your actions were more intuitive (perhaps less limited by time). Assuming that you stick it out long enough to reach the conclusion, you'll be less surprised by events than disappointed that it was so hard to get there. The best that can be said about Dracula Unleashed is that it needs the accompaniment of a meal to transform it into bad dinner theater.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 25, 2003 10:43 AM.

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