Dracula: Origin is the latest release from Frogwares, the international developer best known for its Sherlock Holmes and Jules Verne adventures (including Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, released in North America just two months ago). Despite its name, Origin is not a prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It contains many of the same characters as the novel, including Van Helsing, Dr. Seward and Mina Harker, but it takes place in an alternative universe where the characters know each other and know about vampires, but where they haven’t yet met Count Dracula (with an emphasis on the “yet”). Instead, Origin covers the same ground as Dracula, just in a different way.
In Origin, you control Van Helsing. As the game opens up, you learn that Count Dracula has come to England for some unknown reason, but before you can do anything about it, he bites Mina Harker on the neck and sets her on the path to becoming a vampire. You then decide to abandon your pursuit of Dracula and instead focus on finding a cure for Mina, and this search takes you to places like an ancient temple in Cairo and a mysterious abbey in Vienna. Eventually, however, you discover that the only way to save Mina is to travel to Transylvania and destroy the count himself.
Origin uses a friendly point-and-click interface. Every action in the game is controlled by the mouse. You click on the ground to move Van Helsing around, you click on people to talk to them, you click on objects to pick them up, and so forth. The engine is slightly related to the engines used by Frogwares’ latest Sherlock Holmes games (you can see this mostly when dealing with inventory objects and reading documents), but whereas the Sherlock Holmes games were often confusing and obscure, Origin goes out of its way to take you by the hand and tell you what you should be doing. That makes Origin much more accessible than Frogwares’ other adventures, but it also makes it much easier. You probably won’t need to consult with a walkthrough very often when solving the game’s puzzles.
Speaking of the puzzles, for the most part they’re effective. About half of the puzzles involve inventory objects (combining them together and using them in the right spots), and the other half involve mechanical locks (turning knobs, pulling levers, and pushing buttons in the right order or way). The inventory puzzles are pretty basic and don’t involve anything not tried in countless other adventures, but the mechanical puzzles are frequently fun and inventive. Better yet, the mechanical puzzles can be solved on their own. Origin isn’t one of those adventures where you get a convoluted clue in one part of the game that tells you the exact sequence of buttons you have to press to open a door in another part. Instead, you figure out the locks by fiddling around with them and seeing what happens, which is more fun.
Other areas of the game are hit-and-miss. The story is kind of odd, since it involves characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula but doesn’t have anything to do with the novel; the graphics are nice enough, but they’re 2D and could have been a part of a game five years ago; and the music and voice acting get the job done, but they’re not memorable.
And so Dracula: Origin earns yet another mixed review score from me. It’s been a while since I played an adventure game that really inspired me one way or the other. For Origin, since it’s a little easier than the norm, and since it has modest system requirements, it might be best for players who are new to adventure games or who have aging computers. But even if you’re a veteran of the genre, there’s (just) enough meat to Origin to make it enjoyable, and you can’t beat the price.