Despite sounding like an 8-bit shooter, Microids put out a catalogue of adventure games with engrossing and unusual storylines and detailed characters, and I'm pleased to report that Dracula 3 is no exception.
I have to confess that the title worried me at first. There aren't many movies (or games, for that matter) that can really survive three incarnations and still seem original and interesting. In a 'kind-of-break' from the first two games, the action departs from the characters of Bram Stoker's famous novel and sets a story in a world where Bram Stoker was inspired to write his novel based on events that really occurred – with a few twists.
The story is set in the 1920's, but whereas most games just use this as an excuse for villains to wear monocles, Dracula 3 takes the setting very seriously. The aftermath of the Great War, not to mention the foreshadowing of another World War are central themes. The hero is a priest sent from the Vatican in the role of 'Devil's Advocate' – an agent whose job it is to gather information on a prospective candidate for canonization. This is not your usual two-fisted videogame hero – he can be firm when he wants to be, but a few strong words tempered with compassion for the entire human race are your main weapon for the majority of the game.
This is a thinking man's game. If you get bored easily in libraries and have never heard of Fibonacci, you'd better have an online walkthrough bookmarked. However, if the idea of poring over old books, comparing paintings and antique works of art under a magnifying glass and solving elaborate number and logic puzzles sounds appealing, this is a great place to look.
The interface is unusual but intuitive. Moving through the game world is more or less identical to moving around the map on Google Street View. Only with more vampires, naturally. As is customary in adventure games, the interface changes when needed – for example, when you're trying to solve a puzzle or break a code. Each screen is beautifully detailed and full of atmosphere, which is good because you'll find yourself looking at a few of them over and over. The play area is relatively small and the puzzles are absolutely fiendish. By the time you're done you'll be able to count in Roman numerals and ... well, I don't want to give too much away. There's a fairly even spread between traditional “Use the x with the y, give the z to the... er... vampire” style of adventure gamery and actual puzzles whereby you need to solve some kind of code, or press a certain combination of buttons based on something you read in an ancient manuscript.
There's not much in the way of replay value; not really. The plot's not going to change, and the puzzles are more or less the same every time, however the story is so complex and twisty that it's unlikely you'll really tumble to exactly what's going on during your first time through. A fresh perspective might help with properly understanding it all. The characters are all well thought-out, with no exceptions, and the settings are all beautifully drawn, with masses of extraneous detail that helps you feel immersed in the world without being too distracting.
This is one of the best games I've played in a while. It's slow-paced and thoughtful, and does exactly what it sets out to achieve. For fans of Lovecraftian or gothic horror, there's a lot to get stuck into. It's paced more like reading a novel than playing a game – A.D.D. sufferers won't find much here to recommend. Personally, I had been looking for something thought-provoking and intellectually challenging for a while, which is why I have awarded it such a high mark.
As befits a game with such a highbrow approach, there are reams of important documents to examine and refer back to during the story, including the full texts of both the Bible and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Obviously, it's unlikely that anyone's going to sit at their computer and read either text, but the attention to detail is remarkable and worthy of mention.
I approached Dracula 3 completely devoid of expectations, and what I found was an unexpected gem. The feeling of mystery and the solid characters drive the mystery plot toward an exciting climax. It takes itself seriously but that's okay, because it treats the player like an adult. Beware, though – the puzzles really are tough, and if you insist on keeping your nose out of a walkthrough, you may be frustrated unless you're really, really clever. Please, take that as a challenge.
Oh, and yes – there is a character with a monocle.