Dracula: Origin (PC) review
"Torchlight flickers ominously, shifting the shadows cast by ghostly slivers of light invading the darkness through a network of cracks in the ancient ceiling. A silver tomb sits surrounded by a slew of human remains; bared ribcages, chewed femurs, a shattered skull. An unholy groan emits from the coffin and, from an exposed hole in the corner snakes a rotting arm, longingly reaching for you. If a hungry immortal was not enough, behind the undead monster floats a malevolent green fog, one completely impassable without knowing the rite of passage. These events may not have come from Stokerís pen, but may as well have."
Van Helsing's hunt for the bloodthirsty Count leads him to the sun-kissed deserts of Egypt and to the home of an entombed cultic leader. Readers of Bram Stoker's book will not be familiar with his earlier encounters with a wizened Christian priest and their ongoing quest to cure some poisoned camels, and will have raised an eyebrow at the thought of an immortal creature vulnerable only to sunlight travelling to a spot with nothing but floods of harmful UV rays, but the setting looks and feels authentic. The tomb is full of sin; bleached skeletons represent the victims of actions taken long ago while the bloodless corpse of a young girl suggests a newer surge. A tomb raider lays impaled on a bed of spikes, strange hieroglyphics tell tales of the macabre and the occult. A bizarre metal door blocks your progress into the heart of the Tomb. It will not budge an inch.
Undeterred, Van Helsing builds an improvised pick-axe to dig his way to freedom and, after gathering information from both the priest and an overworked clerk at the Egyptian History Museum, returns with both knowledge and possessions. The puzzle locking the door is solved and the hunter enters a spacious room under ruin. Bloody shrines run red with fresh liquid while a swirling vortex of water takes centre stage. Using painstakingly translated text pilfered from an agent of Dracula, Helsing slowly unravels the mystery of the room, each puzzleís answer presenting a new problem to solve. Eventualy, with a triumphant click, a panel of the heavy stone wall slides aside and a long-forgotten corridor creaks open.
Torchlight flickers ominously, shifting the shadows cast by ghostly slivers of light invading the darkness through a network of cracks in the ancient ceiling. A silver tomb sits surrounded by a slew of human remains; bared ribcages, chewed femurs, a shattered skull. An unholy groan emits from the coffin and, from an exposed hole in the corner snakes a rotting arm, longingly reaching for you. If a hungry immortal was not enough, behind the undead monster floats a malevolent green fog, one completely impassable without knowing the rite of passage. These events may not have come from Stokerís pen, but may as well have.
Then the illusion is shattered. There are also crocodiles, reptilian beasts not well known for their relationship to vampires or their habits of hanging around in forever-sealed desert tombs.
Right away, the macabre settings that surround me fall to ash as I ponder the existence of these crocodiles. What do they eat if the rare interlopers feed the tainted vampire a few feet from them? And why does said monster not snack on croc, seeing as its meals are clearly separated by decades at a time? The big answer is that they exist only to be the catalyst of a new puzzle (that being how to cross a moat now filled with crocodiles) but I can already think of several more fitting ways to interject the same puzzle without throwing in random danger.
This sense of jarring unfamiliarity crops up a few times throughout the adventure, almost punishing the targeted fanbase for daring to already know the subject matter at hand. Established characters are often far removed from what you expect (or completely absent. Or represented only in a few letters strewn about the game) and pre-existing locations are nudged aside to build original ones. I applaud the effort most of the time: a straight retelling of Stoker's novel would have seen me retread a plot many of us are already very familiar with, and the ambience of Origin is undeniably in keeping. But there always seems to be one puzzling inclusion that raises questions.
Delve into a Venice monastery and find the still-bleeding corpses of students from the university next door strung up on meat hooks, ragged gashes slicing their chests wide open to reveal pearly white ribs. Progress through the tainted temple and youíll eventually be discovered by a demonic monk. Van Helsing cries out in surprise and panic, labelling his discoverer as a minion of Satan (though it just looks like a standard monk in a blue robe). This Demon, this apparition of Darkness and Evil will then earn its slew of capitalisations by standing in the exact same spot and swiping at the air around him. Two steps forward and youíll find yourself being clawed in an overly camp fashion, but this murderer of infants will stand, unmoving, in the exact spot you need should you wish to spring an impromptu trap and reduce him to ash.
I remember when games like Clocktower gave you mere seconds to save your skin by formulating a plan once the psycho with the oversized scissors found you. Here, youíre against hordes of the undead and nothing you ever do will prompt a game over, letting you traverse genuinely scary locations without a hint of any real fear. Let the possessed monk give the air five inches in front of him the thrashing of a lifetime; you just patiently search around and think up a way to kill him before hand cramp sets in.
In putting the monk out of his misery, youíll find where the game truly shines in how the puzzles, both inventory-fed and the various logic based, are particularly strong while never being the wrong side of overly hard. Youíll have to arrange sliders to pick locks, translate ancient texts and build the usual collection of world-saving tools from old bits of wood and rubber braces. Find the Countís London hideout by collecting press cuttings and tracking his routes on a large-scale map of the area; purify tainted water with only a few cast-offs from the local museum and knick-knacks from a tatty market and decode a professorís encrypted safe by solving a puzzle that has you aligning chemical formula with music notes. Itís easy to get lost in the brilliant mind of Van Helsing, and easier still to lose your way in a fantastically gothic world.
And then the crocodiles come, and you stop to spend a few minutes looking them up on wiki to see if theyíre even indigenous to Egypt.
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