- Solid Puzzles.
- Great atmosphere.
- Terrible plot, characters and abominable writing.
- Heavily Pixelated Environments.
- No item descriptions.
I bought Dracula: Resurrection and Dracula: The Last Sanctuary as part of the Dracula Trilogy, a bundle of games sold on GoG.com. I bought them because they were adventure games and based on Dracula, which might be my favorite novel, and also the first one I read willingly and not as part of a school assignment. So, I may be a tad harsher than usual in this review…
I really should’ve done a bit more research on them before buying them, because only when I started Resurrection did I notice they’re first person point & clickers, those like Myst, where even your movement is bound to your cursor. Let me be completely frank here: I hate these games. I dislike my movement to be constrained, to depend on clicking the exact point in the screen that’ll take me to the next location. It breaks immersion almost entirely for me.
Having said that, my love for Dracula won out in the end and I played through these 2 games in a matter of days, the first one I finished quite quickly, since it’s so short; and the second because I wanted to be done with it as soon as possible.
Dracula: Resurrection and The Last Sanctuary, released in 2000, and developed by Index+, France Telecom Multimedia and Canal+, serve as a sequel to the novel. The games star Jonathan Harker as he travels to Transylvania to rescue Mina, who’s fallen under Dracula’s spell once more in Resurrection; and battles Dracula and his minions in The Last Sanctuary.
The games’ interface is extremely simple, and is in fact one of my main issues with them. Like many of its kind, you move through flat screenshot environments by clicking when the cursor turns into an arrow. You interact with objects when your cursor turns into a cog, you take a closer look at them when the cursor is a magnifying glass and you pick them up when it’s a hand. By clicking the right mouse button or pressing Tab, you access your inventory. It’s all standard fare, but there are a few issues, the greatest one of all being the inventory itself and the lack of names or descriptions for each item, either written or spoken, and while a few are simple items like cranes, telescopes and keys, there are a few more obscure ones that’ll have you scratching your head on how to use them, and can, in turn, make all puzzles a simple task of using all items in your inventory on something in case one of the stranger items works with it.
Graphically speaking, the game’s made up of different screenshot set-pieces that at their best mimic a 3D environment extremely well, but at their worst are too dark and pixelated, making interactions with items and picking things up a frustrating, ulcer-inducing pixel-hunt. Even considering the game is fixed at 640×480 resolution, some of the set pieces look extremely pixelated, and more than once, I was stuck because I couldn’t find a key item or a hotspot among those pixels. This doesn’t happen that much in Resurrection, because most locations are brightly lit, which made it easier; but TLS on the other hand has plenty of dark environments that are a pain to both explore and solve puzzles in, the sewers being the worst. Cinematics look extremely dated, even by that generation’s standards; you can find better ones in games like Soul Reaver, released in 1999. Characters are stiff and unnatural in the cinematics, looking like bad marionettes.
Speaking of puzzles, they’re the strongest point of the game, with a few head-scratchers and having a very good level in general. Their greatest weakness is the aforementioned lack of item descriptions, making the game devolve into a matter of using all items on everything to see if it works, instead of logic. It’s not the general rule however, there are items you can figure out how to use, but there are some you’ll be surprised to see work in a particular situation, the clearest example being in The Last Sanctuary, involving the Cemetery, a compass and a pocket watch for a puzzle that left me asking “really?” when I used them together.
Despite the problems I had with the overly simplistic UI and graphics, it’s worth noting The Last Sanctuary is the strongest of both titles, with some very ingenious and complex puzzles, including a few code-breaking ones that really had me thinking. The Last Sanctuary also includes certain combinable items, kept in a separate row in your inventory and a few of them working with several items, such as the “formula”, which can be combined with your weapons.
Sadly, it also adds timed death-scenarios, which really become annoying as the game progresses.
Accompanying the visuals is a fantastic atmosphere thanks to some very well placed and effectively used sound effects. There’s almost no music in the games, instead relying in creaking and shuffling and screeching to get your tingling. It works the best in Resurrection, because you’re new to the whole experience, but falls a bit short with The Last Sanctuary, since you’ll already be used to this particular brand of scares.
Resurrection opens up with a letter from Mina mentioning she’s going to Dracula’s castle and begging Jonathan not to go, which he of course ignores and follows after her, going through an inn somewhere close to the castle and making his way there to rescue Mina. I’m sorry to spoil the fact he manages to rescue her and escape, not that it’s much of a surprise. The Last Sanctuary picks up 6 months afterwards, with Harker & Seward working together on finding a cure for Mina and a way to finally destroy Dracula…not that any explanation is ever given on how he came back in the first place, especially with the game opening up with Jonathan and Quincey Jones stabbing and slashing Dracula’s throat and leaving him burning in the sun.
Plot-wise, both games are a mess and actually manage to do a massive disservice to their source material (so much they make Emerald City Confidential a work of art), especially in characterization, and most notably in Dracula’s case, who seems to have shifted from a calculating and cunning villain, to a B-list bad guy that lets the hero escape over and over again, even having him in front of him at one point…and unconscious at another. He is also too passive and dependant on his laughable human minions.
To further explain how characterization is iffy, Mina’s too weak willed, conflicting with her personality from the book. Jonathan, on the other hand, is an almost silent protagonist, only speaking during cinematics, but not uttering a word otherwise. He doesn’t say anything during all of Resurrection, not even the typical “I can’t use that” you find in many adventure games; and The Last Sanctuary features maybe a couple of instances where he speaks during gameplay. The switch between chatty and mute is jarring and is a wasted opportunity with such a strong Point of View character, especially since he’s on a very personal mission. Hearing him more often, and knowing what’s going on through his head would’ve enhanced not only the immersion but also the atmosphere of dread and despair they were clearly going for.
And as I’ve mentioned before, Dracula’s portrayal in the game is abominable.
Hand in hand with the terrible plot is some atrocious writing, it’s so bad I can’t fault the voice actors this time, because there’s no way to deliver these lines and not come off completely hammy. Dracula, Mina and Jonathan are the worst of them all, having the most lines. Johnny and Mina’s “Love can overcome all” speech in the end was especially bad, nauseatingly so. Seward is the least painful of the bunch, but mostly because he doesn’t do or say as much as the rest. Dorko the witch is a terrible character, completely flat and her motivations and allegiances are never in doubt. Hopkins, this game’s Renfield, is almost forgivable.
Beyond that however is the lack of continuity with the novel. The game starts 7 years after the novel’s ending, and by this time, Quincey Harker has already been born, but no mention is ever made of him in any of the games. You’d think Jonathan or Mina would mention their son at some point. It’s the same with Van Helsing and Arthur Holmwood, both absent from the games, even considering Jonathan writes Seward at the end of Resurrection, telling him to gather allies for their battle.
If you’re a Dracula fan, and are hoping to find a worthy sequel, you’ll be terribly disappointed. The characters, plot and writing are enough to make your cringe until you end up as wrinkled as the game’s Dracula. But, on the other hand, if you’re looking for a game with solid puzzles and a fantastic atmosphere, and you can put up with the play-style, you’ll have a hell of a time with Dracula 1 & 2.
The Mental Attic Score: Wait for a Sale: The games are already part of a 3-game bundle, so they’re already as cheap as they can be, so if you want the puzzle-experience, consider picking it up. The bundle also includes Dracula 3, which as far as I’ve gotten is superior to these two, by far.
If you’re into Dracula, however, stay the hell away.