Regular readers of Quandary will know that I cannot resist a vampire tale, so when I spotted this game in a second hand bin I had to have it. Not even its DOS-ness put me off.
Getting it started though was at first a battle. The game plays entirely from the CD but try as I might I could not get the DOS play command to recognise the CD-ROM. After a bit of a hunt round the internet, I found a patch which solved everything. More than that, all that was needed to get the game to play was to click the downloaded exe file from within Windows Explorer, and no further DOS fiddling was required. The game configured itself, and away I went.
The game starts at a graveyard after a rendition of the well known 'O Fortuna' by Carl Orff, so a suitably spooky tone is established up front. It is 10 years after the events told by Bram Stoker. You are Alexander Morris, an American come to London in 1899 to uncover the truth behind the death of your brother Quincy. But murder most horrid is afoot; headless corpses drained of blood have been found. Then the father of your beloved, Anisette, dies what seems an unnatural death. A parcel containing a knife from Father Janos in Romania simply adds to the mystery.
Your first day in London will be full to say the least. At its end, you may well be dead. I was, and it took some trying to ultimately see the next day. There are 4 days in all.
Time is a key factor in this game. It will pass as you move about the city, and if you don't keep track of it you might miss a critical appointment and death will be your fate. Not for simply missing the appointment, but the progression of the game in a non-fatal manner is most definitely related to what you do (or don't do) and when you do it. Failure to visit the right places at the right time will almost certainly result in death before sunrise.
This aspect of the game will dissuade many players. The time factor is rather unforgiving, and on many occasions it was impossible to rescue my situation. If I wasn't somewhere I was supposed to be at the right time, I missed a critical interaction and no amount of playing could overcome it. Death inevitably followed. I soon learned that saving often was crucial in order to allow a different path through the day to be attempted. At times, I had to go back several days to overcome a missed event.
Whilst there are clues to what you should do next, at times it seemed simply a matter of luck as to whether or not my next visit was correct. Visit too many wrong places, and the time will have passed to visit the right place. A map will tell you the travel times between destinations, so judicious planning of your route will help maximise your time, but some trial and error is inevitable. At least it was for me.
You can fast forward time in 15 minute increments if you dare, but other than to pass the time between waking at 4am and anybody else being awake, I left this pretty much alone.
As well, you will gather items as you go, which you can place in your hand in the inventory. Some triggers require you to have the right object in your hand when entering a scene in order to achieve the right outcome. It can get very complicated.
In one instance, I was killed by a (now) vampire whilst wandering the streets at night. In a much earlier scene I had interacted with that person. If I had had a particular object in my hand during that interaction, I would have given it to the character and not been bitten that night. But not only did I not have it in my hand, I didn't even possess it. However, I had already missed my opportunity to acquire it, and no amount of playing would result in my obtaining it. The only option was to restart from an earlier time period. This time I did acquire the necessary item, but not in time to then interact with the person to whom I had to give it to in order not to be bitten. Several replays eventually got things to occur in their right order, but it was only with the benefit of several failures that I could see the necessary path, and move through the day in the most time efficient manner.
These complex interactions of time and events mean dead ends (literally) are probably inevitable. Whilst you can go many places as you see fit, and do some things that are not necessary, there is a very definite correct path through the game. Signposts help point the way, but not nearly as overtly as I suspect is necessary to make this game appealing to most gamers.
Which is a shame, because the game is not without its attractions.
Time passes as you travel from place to place by a horse drawn coach. When you arrive at each particular destination you "enter" the location (usually a building) and a full motion video scene is played. The video may result in the story advancing, a clue being obtained, or simply the maid telling you there is no one home. It is through the video scenes that the plot will unfold.
The videos and the tale they tell are reminiscent of a "good" B-grade Hammer Horror vampire escapade. Sometimes gruesome, occasionally funny, always cheesy. If you enjoy old fashioned horror movies, you will not be disappointed in this one.
You can watch each video scene as many times as you like until you leave that destination. You can also jot down notes in a journal into which you can paste clippings from newspapers. When finished, its back in your coach, pick another location, and the same basic pattern is repeated. Or you can revisit the same location, to see if you can get a different result.
It can be somewhat repetitious, particularly if the destination you choose isn't one of any significance. Too many maids telling you to go away can be a pain.
Each location is a single screen, with no movement or action. All the motion is in the video clips. You also don't hunt for inventory items - other characters simply give them too you.
You have to manage not only time but your inventory as well. I have mentioned the need to put things in your hand, and this is important not just to trigger events but to enable certain interactions to occur (eg if you want someone to look at something you need it in your hand).
You can send telegrams, to which you may or may not receive a response delivered to your home. You must also remember to sleep. Your dreams can in fact be the best clues you get.
The video screen occupies about one third of the computer, the rest consisting of a wallpaper-like background as well as your inventory and assorted other buttons. The quality of the video is reasonable, a bit blotchy as well as blocky round the edges. There is some ambient sound, most noticeably the hoof beats of your horse, but again most sound is within the videos. The music is suitably gothic. There are no subtitles.
Some familiar characters are present - Jonathon Harker, Drs Seward and Van Helsing, Mina Harker and poor Lucy - plus some not so familiar ones, including the Bloofer Lady.
I like full motion video games, and I have already said I like vampires, so I was predisposed to like this game. However the unforgiving time factor did its utmost to change my mind, so perhaps this stakeout is one only for similar minded players.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002.
All rights reserved.
386SX 20 MHz, DOS 5.0 or later, CD ROM with 150K/second transfer rate, 4 MB RAM, 16 bit SVGA with 512K RAM or 8 bit VGA, Soundblaster compatible soundcard
Dracula Unleashed was released last year on dvd by Infinite Ventures for the X Box and PS2.