Bram Stoker's Dracula

About a year and a half ago two games, one commercial and one shareware, burst onto the PC games market and brought the overused term "virtual reality" to store shelves.  Those two games, Ultima Underworld and Wolfenstein 3D, immediately became big hits, allowing the player first-person perspective and unequaled freedom of movement.  Naturally, copycat games were sure to follow, and it is this trend that the new Psygnosis game (Bram Stoker's) Dracula falls into dead-center.

Dracula is a Wolfenstein/Underworld knock-off, pure and simple; it's a hybrid that never tries to hide its similarities to its parents.  The fact that it uses the title, logo, and cover art of Francis Ford Coppola's hit movie has more to do with gimmick than gameplay.  You are Harker; your goal is to destroy Dracula; the game's three levels take place in a cemetery, Carfax Abbey, and Dracula's castle.  Apart from that, there is no similarity between this game and its namesake movie.

Lack of originality does not necessarily make a bad game.  The elements that Dracula borrows are good elements that had a lot to do with the success of Wolfenstein and Underworld.  The interface is mouse-driven and is very reminiscent of Underworld.  Moving your cursor to the appropriate spots on the screen and pressing the left mouse button causes your character to move and turn.  Pressing the right mouse button shoots your pistol at whatever the mouse button is resting on.  The right mouse button is also used for picking up and using objects, and for opening doors.

The goal of the game is closer in relation to Wolfenstein.  The primary goal is to destroy all of Dracula's coffins and defeat him in three forms (once at the end of each of the three levels).  Along the way, numerous undead baddies must be dispatched by means of your trusty pistol or, when ammunition is scarce, a knife.  Like Wolfenstein, the supplies you need (ammo, food to increase your health, holy wafers to destroy coffins, keys) are scattered around the playing area.

Graphically, Dracula is good but nothing really special.  When viewed from a distance objects are smooth and fairly well-detailed, but fall victim to gross pixelization as you approach.  One graphic touch Dracula uses well is the use of light levels.  Far away objects appear shrouded in gloom, and become clearer and easier to see as you draw near them.  This effect adds a good deal of atmosphere to the game, especially in dungeon levels where a darkened corner can easily hide a violent ghoul.  Sound effects are generally good.  You hear Harker's footfalls as you walk around; the pistol gives off a good crack when fired; clicking latches and creaky doors are reproduced very well here.  Even the music is nice, an eerily haunting melody that plays quietly in the background.  My only problem with the sound effects occurs when you shoot a creature.  Instead of a gunshot or an anguished death cry, all you hear is a cute little chime to let you know that a monster has been successfully dispatched.  I dislike this, as I feel it ruins the tone that the graphics and other sounds try to establish.

Like Underworld, there is more of a puzzle element to Dracula than is present in Wolfenstein.  Traps, mazes, puzzles, pressure pads and the like are included here to make each of the three huge levels a little more diabolical.  Don't expect to just run around blindly hacking at everything you see.  While this can be done, you won't get very far in the game.  Some areas must be thought out.

While Dracula has a good number of positive aspects, it has its fair share of detractors as well.  One of the problems I had with this game was with the mouse interface itself.  The right mouse button is used for firing the pistol, as well as manipulating objects and opening doors.  Unlike Ultima Underworld, there are no icons for toggling between mouse modes.  To pick up an item, you must be very close to it, and if you aren't quite close enough you're going to waste a little of your precious ammunition; the same irritation holds true when opening doors.  This problem could have been fixed easily, either by adding a "shoot/use" icon to toggle modes, or by using the left button to deal with items and doors.  (It would irritate me much less to move a little bit when I tried to open a door from too far away than to waste a bullet).

The other major problem I had with Dracula, and this is the one that really spoiled the game for me, is the very obvious omission of a pretty standard piece of equipment:  the automap.  Wolfenstein 3D didn't need an automap, because its levels were fairly small and were easy to navigate in.  (If you didn't see a bunch of bloody Aryan corpses, you knew you were in new territory.)  Dracula only has three stages, but they are huge multi-level areas.  Also, due to the puzzle game element, they are not the easiest things to find your way around in.  A perfect example is the cemetery you start off in.  It doesn't take long to realize that the trees, impaled bodies, and monuments form a crude maze.  There is an area of the cemetery that I can't seem to get to, even though I can see a coffin and undead guards from between the trees.  If I had access to an overhead view, I could probably figure out how to make my way to this area's entrance, but I'm at a loss with the forced first-person perspective.  It's too bad, because that area must have an important key or two, since I quickly found myself at the mercy of locked doors in the below-ground dungeon.  Some people may enjoy trying to figure out a maze from a first-person view, but it's not my idea of fun, and I have now given up on this game.

Dracula is not an original game by any stretch of the imagination, but this is not to say that it is a bad game.  If you enjoyed the play mechanics of Ultima Underworld and Wolfenstein 3D, Dracula may well satisfy you until the release of Underworld 3 or Id Software's long-awaited Doom.  Fans of Wolfenstein will also have to enjoy a fair amount of puzzle solving to get anything out of this game, but if they do, they should have a good time.  As for me, I found that trying to cross an arcade game with an adventure game was a good idea, but it didn't quite work out for me.