Brainy and Brooding
It seems you just can’t keep a good unholy prince of darkness down. Despite supposedly being slain repeatedly, Dracula has been featured in a fair share of adventure games over the years. Hell, he’s seen two more titles launch within the past few months.
Just when you thought there were no more angles left to explore in the classic vampire mythology for yet another point-and-click adventure title, a new journey has surfaced. Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon is steeped in religion, mythology, scientific tests, and voluminous research – a formula that sadly leaves little room for thrills and chills. Many years have passed since Jonathan Harker found himself trapped in an adventure game nightmare seeking to reclaim his beloved Mina from the clutches of his bloodsucking nemesis in Dracula: Resurrection and then once again in Dracula: The Last Sanctuary. Though Kheops Studios’ addition to the series stays in line with the creepy source material, Dracula 3 plays more like a Vlad Tepes research project than an exciting vampire hunting escapade.
Sent by the Vatican to investigate the recently deceased Dr. Martha Calugarul as a candidate for canonization, Father Arno Moriani finds himself drawn to the small town of Vladoviste where he uncovers tales of vampirism among the villagers there. At the request of the Catholic Church, Moriani turns his attention to learning more about these bizarre instances in order to dispel them as myth, only he becomes drawn in by the dark powers at work. He must put his humanity at risk and walk the Path of the Dragon to seek out and attempt to strike at the heart of the evil affecting the region. The story is on the dry side, as far as adventure games go, but it does eventually pick up toward the mid-point. It stays true to the gothic universe created by author Bram Stoker, while providing a different twist for players who’ve already bogged through other Dracula series interpretations.
Gameplay utilizes a stationary, first-person perspective that allows use of the mouse to look around in 360 degrees to explore each area. This is combined with traditional point-and-click hotspot interaction and item-sensitive puzzle-solving. There’s nothing remotely new or fresh about this aspect of the game. Instead of walking around freely from one location to another, you’ll click a forward arrow to jump instantly to the next area frame. This form of navigation is initially awkward, especially when compared to third-person adventure games or even newer genre entries featuring first-person shooter style movement. Almost all the controls are mapped to the mouse button – except for the spacebar, which is used to skip through dialogue. Lack of innovation aside, the mechanics are solid and it should be familiar to the experienced adventure game fans this title is designed for.
Like much of the game, Dracula 3’s puzzles are too deeply rooted in academia. The amount of time that went into developing the work and integrating some amazingly challenging and clever puzzles is impressive, but often they end up overcomplicated, dull, and inaccessible as a result. Many puzzles require you to decipher obscure clues often in the form of Latin words or numerals culled from reading pages upon pages of collected documents. In more than one occasion, you’ll find yourself pulling randomly from hundreds of books located on voluminous shelves of bound tomes in search of a few key titles or clippings needed to proceed. The process can be expedited if you can make sense of their archival method or pick up on subtle clues leading to specific dates, but it quickly becomes tiresome and feels unnecessarily complicated. Other challenges involve a mixture of complex rituals, logic puzzles, science-based medical experiments, and even some standard item-base fare.
That said, there are certainly some unusual and interesting moments to be found. For example, in several instances – squeamish players beware – you’ll have to assemble medical instruments to draw your own blood for a sample. This is a meticulously detailed process, right down to inserting the needle properly into your own vein and pulling the plunger to get the vital liquid flowing.
Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ends in the procedure, as subsequent steps further along in the game require you to run a battery of tedious, unintuitive, and lengthy scientific tests to determine various blood types and viral infection for a number of subjects and actually complete paperwork tracking the results. All this might sound like adventure veteran’s forte, and it certainly is, but it all too often borders on dull and irksome. It takes things a bit further than most players will have the patience for, even those who take delight in high-caliber brainy challenges. One interesting thing of note: complete versions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Holy Bible are included among the many texts and documents to be pored through in the inventory system. It provides some varied reading, if you’re up for it.
The war-torn Romanian village where Moriani spends a substantial portion of his investigation features a strikingly gloomy and unsettling landscape strewn with buildings crumbling into rubble, barbwire adorned fields of crosses marking the resting places of fallen soldiers, and eerie forests containing ancient ruins. The land’s many dark recesses are filled with ominous energy, and regular cutscene transitions give you the constant feeling of being watched. Other areas open to exploration offer a similarly moody atmosphere. In this instance, the soundtrack does an excellent job of assisting the uneasy vibe. It builds at intense moments and ebbs at calmer ones. It sometimes closely resembles a horror movie soundtrack, complete with jarring sound effects and repetitive noises of ill-omen. There are a few outright scary moments in the game, though the tension and eeriness builds slowly throughout the adventure.
Dracula 3 is by no means cutting edge in the graphics department. In some areas, the visuals are slightly dated-looking, yet they’re functional and even pretty at other times. However, the odd people you’ll run across and interact with suffer from poor design. Characters are reasonably detailed, yet they seem off – especially the young boy who looks more like an old man and the gravedigger who closely resembles a giant gnome, to name a few. Animations for all the character interactions are stiff and sluggish, and it’s hard to really connect with them as a result. In contrast, the voice work is strong.
Everything about Dracula 3 feels antiquated. This may be fine for adventure buffs who get bleary eyed and nostalgic over classic gameplay mined from the hits of years long past, but it’s hard to see non-hardcore players finding the patience to stick with it for long. The game is not intrinsically awful; it’s a severely acquired taste rooted a little too heavily in tradition for its own good.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
Interesting and creepily detailed locations make up for hit-or-miss character design. 2.8 Control
Dated and cumbersome navigation and inventory management is functional but could use a lot of work. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and voice acting is very strong here. The soundtrack adds tension and enhances the eerie atmosphere. 3.0 Play Value
Some extremely tough puzzles extend the gameplay through tedious over-complication. A combination of dull and exciting moments makes it a mixed bag overall. Worth checking out if you’ve got a saint-like patience and interest in academic minutia. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.