Thursday, December 26, 2019

Game 17: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Name:Bram Stoker's Dracula
Time:14 hours

If you've ever asked yourself what would happen if you asked the man behind a Dungeon Master-clone to make an action game based on a movie, first, what's wrong with you? Second you've got this thing. Bram Stoker's Dracula for DOS is what happens when you take Dungeon Master, strip out all the RPG parts, make it slightly more 3D and then slap some shooting in. You know exactly what you're getting into with that statement and exactly what you'll get out of it. There's not some grand statement you can make about it in favor or against. So, I guess I have to explain the little things for those who neither love nor hate Dungeon Master.

Dracula commits one of the worst sins a game can commit. It starts off terribly. You start off in a ugly forest wandering around for who knows how long, sometimes killing some things, wondering what you have to do. You find a basement you can't advance. You find another door, it doesn't open. The game trains you to click on things when you're just on the edge of them. This door needs you to be very close. Then the game opens up into what will be the next 12 or so hours, depending on your ability. Why? Well, I doubt this game was very well-tested. It functions well, but there's not that little nagging voice of accessibility that so many enjoy. Its polished just enough that it won't break on you.

Beyond the elements of combat, gameplay is done between doors and keys, and puzzles involving buttons and pressure plates. This isn't the most interesting way of doing things in theory but over the course of the game there was enough variation to keep me going. I never really felt I was doing the same thing over and over again except during a chain of keys on the first level. I guess that makes this the first puzzle FPS. I guess Portal only has the companion cube and memes to it now.

You have two weapons, a knife, which hits about as well as any random person hitting a knife at a vampire does. Badly. I don't think that's intention, and even if it is, they should have mentioned it. This is a licensed game, I'm going to be assuming you aren't that clever. A gun, which shoots like some kind of John Wick* frenzy. They're ultimately not very enjoyable to use. 1/10

You basically have four enemies, two that take two stabs, one that takes three, another you always use a gun on and Dracula. They change forms between levels, but they are always the same. They function the same except for their damage capacity. Special note should be given to the holy wafers, which destroy coffins. Enemies respawn out of coffins until the coffins are destroyed. This adds some strategy to the fighting. 3/10

None. 0/10

On the surface, there are three levels. It doesn't sound impressive at first. Each level is massive, with multiple floors. Where it fails, however, is in part of the contents. Because of the wafer system, you are forced to pick and choose which enemy to kill at the moment, and leave the others for later. After you open up a level a bit it is quite difficult to figure out where you left the coffins, considering each level is a good four/five hours. More if you die. 5/10

Player Agency:
The QWEASDZXC cluster controls moving and turning, the mouse controls how you interact with things and where you point your weapon. On its surface, there's nothing wrong with how the game functions. It is essentially a RPG control scheme adapted to an action game. What is a problem is your habit of getting stuck on things. Enemies, walls, these constantly block your path even when it looks like they shouldn't. 5/10

There's honestly quite a lot of stuff to screw around with, even if you have to screw around with it in the right way in order to win a puzzle. Pressure plates, switches, buttons, doors. Half the game involves something like that and the other half still involves interacting with the environment. 7/10

Its got a nice gothic atmosphere. Not amazing or even great, but its rare enough that good is impressive. 5/10

The same wall textures throughout a level, the same floor and ceiling textures throughout the game. Oh, and I love three frames of animation. Its just wonderful. They're certainly well-made graphics, but ultimately the best graphics will become boring if you see them for fourteen hours. 3/10

Its the movie if you care about the movie and if you don't you're just shooting the undead to save Mina or whatever from Dracula's curse. Everyone knows how Dracula ends. An adaption of a film that's truer to the text isn't going to throw a twist ending at you. What is disappointing is the bland ending, just a modified version of the title. We only get text if we die. Should have been the other way around. I guess they figured no one would get that far. 1/10

The music was nice. Very moody, very synthy. A very synthy orchestral-like pieces in most places. I noticed that the main themes seem to be the same, but I didn't listen to much of the soundtrack to see if there were any other similarities. I could see myself listening to it outside of the game. 7/10

That's a total of 37. Terrible start, okay finish, but solid middle. Once you get past the early bumpiness you're in for some pretty decent action.

Meanwhile, generic users on Mobygames have rated this 2.9 out of 5 stars. They feel the strongest elements are the AI and the story, which have a 3.6 and a 3.3. Multiple people thought that a game where the enemies only walk towards you was worthy of a 4. They don't have good pathfinding. The story is also only told in the manual and by dying. Everything else is more or less a 2.9. I'm going to give these anonymous people some crap, and say that they only got as far as partially through the first level. There's basically no story or AI there too, so I have to wonder where they got that from. What exactly does it take to get a 5 or a 1 from you?

So, what did professional reviewers think of it back in the day? Dragon, a magazine known for giving every game 5 stars, gave it 2 stars. The reviewer's complaints, outside of repetitive gameplay are mostly regulated to having pathetic 3D graphics**, slow speed, inadequate interface and difficulty picking up items. The rest of his review only mentions the starting forest and that the enemies get progressively tougher. I'm guessing he gave up at the point I originally did, and his review reflects that.
Computer Gaming World on the other hand, didn't give it a rating but seems to have been written by a similarly inclined reviewer. Calling Dracula's claim to having an incredible and unique character control system neither of those. Calling it the same as Wolfenstein and Ultima Underworld. He used the mouse exclusively. I'm going to wager that nobody could beat the game using the mouse exclusively, because moving with the mouse is terrible. Left-click to move so you can interact and move at the same time. Same basic complaints, repetitive gameplay. Apparently the manual is crap though.
The rest of the reviews Mobygames lists are in languages I don't understand, and through a translator understand even less. I can pick up a few other things though, a lot of mentions of Wolfenstein and Shadowcaster. Shadowcaster is a good comparison, since Shadowcaster is this, but much better.

Finally, I have to add that there was a scoring system. I did not record my end score, but it was something like 105,000. I don't find a high score in this game to be very impressive, instead, I think a low score would be more so. Infinitely respawning enemies just tests your patience, while getting the lowest score means you killed as little enemies as necessary.

Stay tuned for a spooky know...if you're nine.

*Get it, 'cause Keanu Reeves did John Wick...and the Matrix now that I think of it. Funny now.
**I'm ultimately not sure what his problem is here. They're not good, but they're not exactly bad for a 1993 licensed title.

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