DreamCatcher Interactive and French developer Index teamed up to release Dracula Resurrection last June. The 3D adventure was "inspired from" and tried to be a sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but it played a little fast and loose with the details of the novel, and it didn't provide much of a follow-up story. Basically, it was all about spooky, atmospheric graphics and excellent cinematics -- and, oh yeah, there were some puzzles thrown in as well.
Now DreamCatcher and Index have joined forces again to bring forth Dracula: The Last Sanctuary (Dracula TLS for short), a sequel to Dracula Resurrection. Dracula TLS uses the exact same Phoenix VR engine as Dracula Resurrection, and its story picks up right where Dracula Resurrection's left off. If you're not overly familiar with Bram Stoker's novel or the first game in the series, then suffice it to say that Mina Harker and Count Dracula shared some blood, Mina's husband Jonathan and a few close friends tracked down Dracula and killed him, Dracula miraculously and inexplicably came back to life, Mina went to Transylvania to seek him out, and Jonathan followed and rescued her. Now you (as Jonathan) get to track down Dracula (again) and kill him (again).
That's pretty much the story -- find Dracula and kill Dracula -- and the finding part isn't too difficult. Dracula will do dumb things like return to live in Carfax (one of the places he owned in the novel), and he'll show up on screen every so often to stick out his tongue and make "nyah-nyah" noises at you (paraphrased). Index tried to add to the plot by giving Dracula a half brother named Radu and sticking in a witch named Dorko (whose name, I assume, isn't as funny in France), but it's basically window dressing. Dracula TLS is a search-and-destroy mission, plain and simple.
Adventure games don't really need to have great stories, and it's not like Bram Stoker's novel was filled with lots of intriguing plot points. So the simple plot of Dracula TLS didn't bother me much. What did bother me was all the science fiction junk Index decided to throw in. You'll find and use things like vampire vision glasses, an anti-undead radio wave emitter, vampire-destroying serum, and killer robots. You'll even run into aliens eventually. I wouldn't have minded if Index had put in one unusual thing and then relied on old favorites such as stakes and crosses and holy water for the bulk of the work, but turning a Dracula story into a B science fiction movie is just bad and bizarre.
What makes or breaks an adventure, though, is its puzzles, and Dracula TLS has some problems here as well. Most of the puzzles involve shuffling inventory items around, and if you were given a list of all the items and all of the things you can use them on, then matching the items to their uses would range from straightforward to trivial. Index, perhaps realizing this, changed the emphasis of the inventory puzzles from "How do I use the object?" to "Where the heck do I find the object?" That's right, you'll likely spend much more time endlessly scanning rooms to find objects (and things you can use objects on) than you will on thinking about how to use the objects. And although Dracula TLS has some nice looking rooms, searching through them after, say, the second time gets really frustrating, especially since many items are deliberately placed in shadowy areas where you wouldn't expect to find them. Index has more success with their gadget puzzles, which are largely interesting and inventive, but even here they shoot themselves in the foot by either providing none-too-subtle clues for the puzzles or by giving pictures showing exactly how the levers (or whatnot) should be placed. There's a vast difference in satisfaction between solving a puzzle because you work out how to do it and solving one because, gee, there's a picture explaining it.
The strong point for Dracula TLS -- and Dracula Resurrection and The Messenger and presumably any other adventure using the Phoenix VR engine -- is the graphics. The locations are all detailed and appropriately creepy, and you'll get to visit several places from the novel like Carfax, Seward's insane asylum, and Dracula's Castle. Other places, like Highgate Cemetery and Dracula's theater, also look good. The only real problem with the locations is that some of them are overly dark. Sure, darkness adds atmosphere, but a few places are so dark it's hard to move around (like in the sewers), and in others it's hard to see any details (like the statue to St. George on the top of Dracula's castle). Also, not necessarily a problem but certainly of note is that Index lifts quite a few locations straight from Dracula Resurrection, especially once you get to Transylvania in the second act.
Staying with the graphics, the character animations are all excellent. They're the same good quality as in Dracula Resurrection, and they're even better than the animations from The Messenger. The faces all move realistically, the skin textures are good, and even the eye coloring is detailed (Seward's eyes look especially real). The only downside here is that there aren't nearly as many conversations in Dracula TLS as there were in Dracula Resurrection, so you don't get to see the character animations as much, and the cinematics aren't as good. Dracula Resurrection was all about cinematics, and it had three excellent sequences along with several other merely good ones. Dracula TLS, meanwhile, tries to focus more on puzzles. It only has one really good cinematic (the ending sequence), and it even re-uses some of Dracula Resurrection's cinematics (the first half of the opening sequence being the primary example).
The sound in Dracula TLS is fine. There isn't any music to speak of -- or listen to, ha ha -- but the ambient noises are respectable and the voice acting is professional if not electrifying. With The Messenger I sometimes had trouble picking up what people were saying, but with Dracula TLS the conversations are clear and understandable. There still isn't an option for subtitles, but Index got around that problem a little by allowing some conversations to be repeated (without resorting to reloads), and by providing a good chuck of information through notebooks and papers rather than conversations.
The interface for Dracula TLS has a few problems, and they can be categorized as either basic or subtle. I talked about two of the basic problems in my review of The Messenger: the interface can be sluggish because of frequent CD reads, and the interface often ignores mouse clicks. Another basic problem is that you can't start the game from the second CD. It's a minor hassle that just means you have to do some extra CD swapping, but it's a minor hassle that definitely should have been corrected.
The subtle interface problems have to do with how easy they make the adventure to solve. The game engine doesn't support "look" or "examine" commands (not to be confused with the magnifying glass cursor that allows you to zoom in your view), and so the only objects in the game the interface recognizes are those you can pick up and those you can manipulate. Other adventures have objects you can pick up and those you can look at and possibly manipulate. Do you see the difference? Other adventures have a plethora of objects that can act as red herrings, and Dracula TLS has exactly zero. That means any time you find an object that can be manipulated, you know that eventually some object from your inventory will work on it, and so you barely have to understand how the puzzles work; simple trial and error will get you through most things.
Another subtle interface problem is how the inventory screen divides objects into those you can combine with other inventory objects and those you can't. It's just another case where the interface reduces the number of things you need try out. For example, if you're holding ten objects and you want to know if any of them combine together, there are 90 possibilities to try, and chances are you won't try them all. Instead you'll probably wait and see if a puzzle dictates that things might go together, or examine the objects and see if any are likely matches. But if you have ten objects and the interface tells you that only one can be combined with your others, then there are only nine possibilities to try. That is just so few that you might as well do it and see what happens. It seems like an odd thing to say, but the interface for the Phoenix VR engine is just too friendly.
In conclusion, Dracula Resurrection had a playing time of, gee, maybe 5-10 hours, and it was about as straightforward as an adventure game can get. Dracula TLS tried to add more puzzle elements, and it easily doubled the playing time of its predecessor, but it also added lots of frustration and took away lots of cinematics. I'm one who usually prefers gameplay over graphics, but in this case I liked Dracula Resurrection the best of the two.
[ 34/50 ] Gameplay
[ 09/10 ] Graphics
[ 07/10 ] Sound
[ 04/10 ] Storyline
[ 06/10 ] Interface
[ 06/10 ] Fun Factor