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A Vampyre Story (PC) artwork

A Vampyre Story (PC) review

"A Vampyre Story has the overflowing charm of the Lucas Arts classics, it's voiced properly and it's completely stable. It's fabulously drawn and suitably silly, with puzzles that follow at least the classic adventure school of logic. It has some of the best cinematic sequences I've seen in a long time. It has characters I actually wanted to speak to, instead of just stabbing them repeatedly in the face with a spork. But sometimes, just sometimes... it's a bit boring."

Oh, A Vampyre Story. Let me love you. Why won't you let me love you?

A tricky one, this. In parts, it's one of my favourite adventure games of recent years; in others it's a nasty disappointment. It alternates between being side-splittingly hilarious and decidedly bland. It looks marvellous until the main character clips straight through the scenery. And, despite its wonderful intentions, it spoils it all with poor, poor lies.

One of A Vampyre Story's main faults lies in unfulfilled promises. The game box talks of lead character, aspiring French singer-come-vampire Mona De Lafitte, escaping the spooky castle where sheís been kept captive, and embarking on an incredible journey to follow her dream of singing opera professionally. It all sounds wonderful, silly, epic and tantalising Ė and it is. Until you realise the 'embarking' part is literally all there is to it.

Ten hours in, I still hadn't escaped the bloody castle. Eventually, after all manner of ridiculous escapades within its walls and immediate surroundings, I was on my way. After a lengthy introduction, I had finally been released from the haunted confines of Castle Warg, and out into the open to pursue my destiny. A few hours later, it just... stopped.

Of course, the more astute of you may have noted in the pre-release ramblings that this is in fact the first in a planned series of releases, with the story spanning over all the titles. I like this 'episodic gaming' idea, but A Vampyre Story sits awkwardly between this and a full game in itself. It just doesn't work. The narrative builds excitingly, albeit far too slowly, but there's very little reward upon completion. Thereís no mention anywhere in the game's literature that the vast majority of the game comprises just the escape, and it's frustrating to learn this way. Once outside the confines of the dirty stone walls, the pace starts to pick up, but upon reaching the finale there's no real climax, and no real conclusion. It simply ends - to be continued, at an unspecified point in the future.

It's not even that A Vampyre Story is too short. Quite to the contrary, there's so little actual content here that a snappy, straight-to-the-point release would have made infinitely more sense, and provided for a significantly more enjoyable experience. The puzzles are generally well-conceived, but there was one occasion when I spent nearly an hour trying to make some levers work, got bored and gave up, and only realised after referring to a guide that you're not supposed to tackle that bit until later in the game. In addition to this, there are far too many pointless 'fetch' tasks, and way too many occasions that involve wandering repeatedly between the same locations and characters in order to initiate the next sequence. Its longevity cheats. All considered, it's an awful lot of time spent not doing an awful lot.

What's so frustrating is that, at its best, A Vampyre Story is wonderful. It makes no bones about being a classical, backwards-thinking take on the genre, which comes as a refreshing surprise given the historical nonsense and ludicrous complexity of many modern adventure games. But then, this is created by Bill Tiller, formerly of Lucas Arts and a main player in the creation of the Monkey Island series. A Vampyre Story takes the Monkey Island formula and adds dashes of Tim Burton and Pixar in equal measures. When it works, it looks great, plays satisfyingly and reads entertainingly. It's such a shame that's only half the story.

What strikes me is that A Vampyre Story should have been all about the characters. Within the first hour, we're introduced to a fantastic cast of well-voiced, well-written and frankly absurd NPCs, each with an entertaining story, all with witty banter and intriguing tasks to set. There's the literal rat-pack. The overly excitable torture device. The Ozzy Osbourne gargoyle, and the decidedly working-class raven. And then no one else significant is introduced until maybe four hours from the end. The game degenerates into repetitive puzzle-solving, with much of the enjoyment factor completely drained from the experience. By half way through, it feels as though all the blood has been sucked out of it.

It also feels like half the game has been written by a comedy genius, while the other half was penned by someone who simply didn't have a clue. The early stages generally raised a smile on my cynical little face - which, to be honest, is more than I've come to expect from modern adventure games - but it also served to lull me into a false sense of security, so that when the really brilliant jokes cropped up out of nowhere from time to time, it left me in an embarrassingly incapacitated state of giggle-fitting. But, in doing that, A Vampyre Story sets the bar a little too high for itself and, after reaching a given comedic climax, it's generally an hour or two until there are any more palatable jokes at all.

The writing and the ideas behind it are good in general, but there are a few perplexing aspects that simply don't seem to make much sense. Like why it's okay to repeatedly swear in a game marked suitable for seven-year-olds, as long as you only swear in French. Or like, well, the entire first ten hours of the game. Mona's escape from the castle is reasonably entertaining at times, and a lot of it is explained rather nicely, but it would work a whole lot better if we didn't already know that the silly bint could fly. As it is, the whole farce of getting from an open balcony, through some spooky corridors, out onto a bridge, through a door, through some more doors and eventually across a lake degenerates into the sort of badly-planned nonsense that belongs in a far inferior title.

Because, really, this isn't a bad game.

It has the overflowing charm of the Lucas Arts classics, it's voiced properly and it's completely stable. It's fabulously drawn and suitably silly, with puzzles that follow at least the classic adventure school of logic. It has some of the best cinematic sequences I've seen in a long time. It has characters I actually wanted to speak to, instead of just stabbing them repeatedly in the face with a spork.

But sometimes, just sometimes... it's a bit boring.

Take out the middle section and A Vampyre Story would be brilliant, so it seems like a real shame to mark it down accordingly. As a shorter game, without the unnecessary and gratuitous backtracking, it would emerge in a completely different light. But the depressing fact is that we're talking about the majority of the game here. This is a fifteen-hour romp that would have been far superior as a five-hour budget release with all the extraneous factors removed. While they're still there, they plague A Vampyre Story something rotten. It becomes distinctly average.

Then I remember the rat pack, smile, and throw a couple of marks back onto the score.


Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (December 10, 2008)

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wolfqueen001 posted December 11, 2008:

This is a good review, Lewis. You leave me both wanting to play it to see what you're talking about and wanting to avoid it because it seems too tedious and boring. And despite your efforts to reassure me that the game really is brilliant in places and might be worth a go if I had the patience for it, I still feel mostly negative-to-neutral about it. I guess it's just one of those things that you have to experience to get at the real meaning of what you're talking about. Though I will admit to feeling pretty positive about the game after reading the articles and hearing EmP's enthusiasm for it.

I think he really wanted to play this, too...

Anyway, do they really swear in French? Haha. That's hilarious. If so, is it anything "serious" like "fuck" or "shit"? or just the milder ones? I don't know why that amuses me.

Oh, and if you want a good example of brilliant episodic releases, you should play Sam & Max. I've only played one so far (it's all I had time for really), but it was freaking hilarious. EmP's played them all, though, and I don't think he rated a single one below 8. (Read his reviews! =D)
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Lewis posted December 11, 2008:

I enjoyed the recent Sam & Max iterations but they weren't a patch on the originals. Maybe my standards are too high. I can't think of a comedy adventure game I've truly loved since Grim Fandango. Except maybe Broken Sword 3 (ouch at the five-year-old Resolution-mark-one review), but that was fucking horrible to control, sapping much of the fun. Too many crates too.

Regarding the swearing, there's nothing too heavy. It's odd. There are frequent "what the heck?"-s, but the game basically says "bitch" once ("Controlled by a witch, then controlled by a bit-" "AHEM!"), and McFrenchy shouts "Merde!" on two or three occasions.

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