Dracula 4: Shadow of the Dragon

Genre:   Adventure/Casual

Developer:   Koalabs & TOTM

Publisher:  Anuman Interactive

Released:  June 2013

PC Requirements:   see review below

Additional screenshots    Walkthrough

 

 

by Jenny100

  

Introduction -- the Dracula Series

Dracula 1 and 2 (Resurrection and Last Sanctuary) were recognizably part of the same series. They shared the same art style -- Dracula looked the same, other characters looked the same, even some of the locations visited in Last Sanctuary were exactly as they were in Resurrection. The games were published only a year apart, so the resemblance isn't too surprising.

Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon was another matter. Published seven years after Last Sanctuary, Path of the Dragon had a more intense, more serious storyline than the previous games (as well as the ugliest, most monstrous version of Dracula I've ever seen). A long game, drenched with oppressive atmosphere, Dracula 3 became a favorite of many horror-loving adventure game fans.

So now, five years later, Dracula 4: Shadow of the Dragon has been released. Despite some promising preview videos, there's no doubt that it's a lesser game than it's predecessor. Not only is it considerably shorter, it seems to be Part 1 of a two- (or more-) part game. The game ends suddenly, with a surprise discovery and a "to-be-continued in Dracula 5." Bah! We've heard that one before.

At first glance, Dracula 4 seems to have little to do with Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon. Most of Dracula 3 took place in the ruins of Vladoviste shortly after World War I. Dracula 4 takes place in the present day, many years later. The post-war despair of Dracula 3 is absent. None of the characters are the same -- possibly not even Dracula. But there are a few mentions of the "Path of the Dragon." And a recorded message on an old phonograph cylinder recounts a tragedy involving Ioan Hartner, his wife Luciana, and the narrator. This same story was witnessed in a ghostly dream sequence by Father Arno, the protagonist of Dracula 3.

Characters and Story

Your character in Dracula 4 is a young woman, Ellen Cross, an art expert working for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Some valuable paintings were donated to the museum by the eccentric Professor Vambery. The paintings were believed to have been lost with the sinking of the ship that was delivering them to the museum. Mysteriously, one of the paintings may have turned up on the black market in Budapest. If that painting is indeed the original, there is hope that none of the paintings were actually on the sinking ship, and they may eventually be recovered. Ellen is sent to Budapest to verify the authenticity of the black market painting, and later to Whitby, England and Istanbul, Turkey to follow up on what she discovers. Most of the game takes place in and around Professor Vambery's manor house in Whitby.

What does this have to do with Dracula? That starts to become clear as the game progresses, as Ellen discovers Professor Vambery's obsession with the Dracula legend -- something Ellen herself believes is mere folklore.

Sound

Voice acting was believable. I especially liked Ellen's voice, even though she did mispronounce Celtic and possibly "scytale." If she pronounced "scytale" correctly, then Adam did not because they pronounced it differently in the same conversation. Music did not call attention to itself, in either a good or bad way. It wasn't particularly memorable, but it wasn't intrusive either. The Options menu contains an Audio Menu with separate volume controls for sound effects, music, videos, and voice.

Graphics

Though the game had nicely rendered locations overall, there were some shortcomings. Looking out of windows was like looking at an overly "impressionistic" painting -- all blurs. And some areas seemed a little unnatural because of the lack of background animations. Maybe it's because I've become so used to background animations in games, but I noticed the lack of them a lot more in Dracula 4 than in Dracula 3. It's not that there were none at all. There was a nice animation of the ocean with fluttering butterflies at one of the locations. But overall the environments seemed strangely lifeless. Dracula 3 didn't have many animations either, but somehow the stillness seemed appropriate in the depressing war-torn environments. Dracula 4 doesn't have the same atmosphere, and the lack of animations calls attention to itself. Even casual adventures have background animations these days -- and if they don't, they get reamed for it in the Big Fish user reviews.

Navigation and Controls

Dracula 4 is a point-and-click node-based game with 360 degree panning at the nodes. In order to pan, you must hold down your left mouse button and "drag" the screen. You can look up or down at an angle, but not directly up or down.

The game allows 5 player profiles, in case more than one gamer wants to play. To change to another profile, you click the profile icon that's in the upper right of the main menu. That takes you to a screen where you can highlight a different profile icon to select a different profile to use.

There is a tutorial section, accessible from the main menu, which also serves as a prologue to the game. During the prologue, your character visits a jail in Budapest to verify that the stolen painting is the original. She also sees what has become of the man who was in possession of the stolen painting.

The Main Menu has selections for New Game, Continue, Prologue-Tutorial, Load a Game, Options, Quit the Game, and Profile. Inside the Options Menu you find Audio Settings, General Options, and Credits. The General Options Menu allows you to toggle Mode (Adventure or Casual), Subtitles, Display of the Markers, and Rotation of the View (Normal or Reversed). Display of the Markers shows inventory and interactive hotspots, and is automatically turned on when playing in Casual Mode. When "Rotation of the View is set to "Reversed," dragging the screen to the right will pan the view left, and dragging the screen upward will pan the view downward.

Once you've started playing, you can access the Main Menu again through the Inventory screen, then select Continue after making any changes.

If you start a New Game, it does not automatically include the tutorial. Instead you get a video synopsis of what happened in the prologue. The New Game starts at Professor Vambery's house in Whitby, England. You can play (or replay) the prologue/tutorial by choosing the option in the game menu.

When you start a New Game, you are asked "What kind of player are you?" and given the option of playing in either "Adventure" or "Casual" mode. Casual mode will point out inventory for you with a coin-like icon resembling an opening and closing eye. In Adventure Mode you must search the screen with your mouse, and when your cursor is over an interactive area or inventory item, an icon appears. Inventory can be tricky to see, especially in dark areas, so I spent a lot of time "scrubbing" the screen with my cursor to locate inventory and other interactive areas. If I'd been playing in Casual Mode instead of Adventure Mode (or if I'd selected "Display of the Markers" in the General Options Menu) I would not have had to search so carefully, no matter how dark the screen. Besides pointing out inventory and interactive areas, there is also a "puzzle skip" feature that you may notice if playing in Casual Mode.

Inventory that you've collected is accessed through an icon located in the lower right side of your screen.  If this interface looks familiar to you, it may be because Microids/Anuman uses the same interface in their iPod ports of PC adventure games -- even those that originally used an inventory bar at the bottom of the screen.

Clicking the inventory icon takes you to the inventory screen. The left side of this screen is a multipurpose inventory section with tabs to select regular inventory, health-related inventory, and a dosage-testing area. On the right are tabs for your diary, objectives, and a transcription of dialogues.

Ellen has more on her mind than chasing down paintings. She has a fatal blood disease which requires her to take medication when the screen starts turning red. Because the company that manufactured her medicine has discontinued it, her supply is low and she must conserve it. Fortunately she can sometimes gain health from eating food or vitamins, but she has to be careful that what she ingests doesn't make her worse. Ellen's health bar (viewable from the inventory screen) seems to slowly drain over time, but occasionally she will encounter a situation that will frighten her, causing her health to drop suddenly. When this happens, she must take time to swallow pills or eat fruit before she can proceed. Figuring out the optimum combination of pills to gain the maximum amount of health is one of the puzzles in the game.

Saving -- or rather the lack of it

Want to replay any favorite parts of the game? Miss part of a cut scene because of a phone call or family interruption? Unfortunately the game doesn't allow manual saving. It has an autosave that kicks in whenever you exit the game. Restarting the game and selecting "Continue" automatically loads the autosave and will restore you to where you left off. This autosave is overwritten every time you exit the game.

What makes the save system in Dracula 4 especially confusing is that you have a Load Save button staring at you from the Main Menu. If you can load a game, surely that means you can save a game to load later. Except it doesn't, and you can't.

The game autosaves when you reach certain points, and it is these autosaves that are accessible through the "Load Game" screen. But there is no easy way to save a favorite part of the game to replay later. and the game warns you that loading any of the saves on the "Load Game" screen will overwrite your current autosave.

It doesn't help that the game doesn't include a manual or readme. At least the download I received didn't include one. I guess the tutorial was supposed to cover most things, but it never once mentioned how games were or weren't saved.

Like many casual games, Dracula 4 has "awards" that you can get for performing certain actions. Some of these actions are necessary to complete the game and some aren't. Personally I do not like these and think they're a waste of code. I do not like the distraction of having some message pop up announcing you achieved this or that.

Casual or Adventure?

In many ways Dracula 4 resembles a casual adventure more than a "real" adventure. The "Adventure Mode" that Dracula 4 offers is no different from the "Hard Mode" or "Advanced Mode" found in most casual adventures and HOPA's (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures). The restrictive autosave is unfortunately standard for casual adventures, and not something I want to see in an adventure game. Some relatively recent adventure games include both manual and automatic saves, letting the player choose which they'd like to use. I don't know why this system wasn't used in Dracula 4. Maybe Anuman/Microids wanted their interface to match their iPad version, but wouldn't it be better to add manual saves as an option to the iPad version instead of decreasing the functionality of the PC version?

As far as game length, Dracula 4 took me about 6 hours to complete in Adventure Mode, which is similar to the length of some casual game Collector's Editions. But it's also similar to the length of many episodic adventure games. Though many of the puzzle types could be found in either casual or regular adventures, the 360 degree panning (as well as certain other features) made me feel like I was playing a real adventure (albeit a short one).

PROS

Reasonably fun gameplay

Allows the player the option of whether or not to highlight inventory

Nice clear graphics

CONS

Short, with "to be continued in Dracula 5" at the end

No manual saves -- autosave-only

Not very scary

Where's Dracula?

Lack of background animations in environments that look like they should have them.

For casual gamers, a major PRO is the 360 degree panning, which I don't remember seeing in a casual adventure.

A major CON for many casual gamers is that there is no "Hint" button to tell you which direction to go or what to do next.

Grade

Fans of Dracula 3 aren't likely to be satisfied if they're expecting a similar game. But Dracula 4 is not a bad game, and taken on its own merits it's just too short (and uses an inferior save system). As a casual game, I'd probably give it a B, but since I'm grading it as an adventure game, I only give it a C.

System Requirements

One of the ways Dracula 4 differs from the average casual adventure is in the listed system requirements. I don't know of any casual games that require a video card with 1GB of video memory. At least one person has reported that it played using a 512 MB video card, but that's still much more than casual adventure games require.

These are the listed system requirements:

OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8

CPU: 2 GHz

RAM: 2 GB

Video card with 1 GB video RAM

DirectX 9.0c/OpenGL

 

I played the game on a computer with:

 

Windows 8 Professional, 64-bit

AMD Phenom II X4 905e processor 2.51 GHz

8 GB RAM

AMD Radeon HD 7770 with 2 GB VRAM

ATI High Definition Audio Device (onboard sound)

 

 

GameBoomers Review Guidelines

July 2013

design copyrightę 2013 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index