A Vampyre Story PC Review
Set in Draxsylvania at the end of the nineteenth century, A Vampyre Story (AVS) tells the tale of Mona, an opera singer captured and turned into a vampire by the evil Shrowdy von Kiefer. Imprisoned within Shrowdy’s his castle in the middle of Lake Warg, your first task is to escape with the aim of returning to Paris. You are accompanied on this adventure by Froderick, your talkative bat sidekick.
As is customary in point and click adventure games, you can interact with items with a click. Doing so displays a cross with four possibilities: talk, fly to, examine and pick up. Items of note can be added to your inventory or if larger in nature can be kept in mind for later. Puzzles are solved by using an item in your inventory with an in-game element, sometimes after combining a couple of items from your inventory together.
The game is fairly dark in nature yet cartoony in appearance, featuring basic 3D characters overlaid upon wonderful 2D backdrops. Bill Tiller, the game’s creator, was responsible for the art in The Curse of Monkey Island, and the artistic style is very similar. I would go as far as saying the painted backdrops are some of the best 2D video game art I’ve seen. The soundtrack also impresses and conjures much of the atmosphere.
It’s just a shame that the rest of the game detracts from the overall experience.
An adventure game lives and dies by the standard of its writing. Many games today are uninspiring in this regard, yet Autumn Moon have gone to some lengths to entertain. It partially succeeds, but despite an intent to be lively and fun, the largely humour based dialogue in AVS can feel too forced – the outcome not as relaxed and natural as it could have been.
The characters are relatively few in number but are all fully voice acted. This is some achievement, but many of the voices sound too overdone and quite annoying. The ‘French’ voice of Mona and New Yorker sounding Froderick are both quite easy to dislike vocally, but given time they can be quite charming.
After you leave the castle you will find the standard of the characters you meet deteriorates the further you progress. The 3D face to face dialogue sequences are quite ugly, clunky, slow to appear and lacking in charm. The writing is at its weakest here and coming face to face with a character feels like a tedious interrogation rather than an entertaining exchange. The only chemistry is between Mona and Froderick, the other characters are quite weak and likely to irritate.
The problem solving elements are very hit and miss. Some puzzles are fine, but others are a complete nightmare as you battle both the game’s obscure logic and the clunky interface. You can pretty much solve a particular sequence, but there’s often an esoteric part that prevents you from progressing. Monkey Island had some obscure puzzles, but having figured them out you always felt it was fair and the logic made sense. The same cannot be said for AVS and makes you wonder if it was fully play-tested prior to release. I doubt anyone will enjoy the part where you have to make a potion.
I’m always against using walkthroughs, but on a couple of occasions had no other option as there’s little in the way of hints to use as a starting point for problem solving. Generally speaking the puzzles are manageable given time, but it can be frustrating to get stuck knowing you must wander each room over and over before you can work out which item interaction you must do before you can continue the story. In times gone by this kind of behaviour was acceptable, but intelligent and subtle hints would be better than having to refer to a guide; something you feel driven towards by a game that makes no attempt to point you in the right direction.
The space bar will be your biggest friend when playing AVS. It skips the current animation so you don’t have to wait ages for Mona to tiptoe across the room as you explore. You can also right click on an exit to leave immediately. Both of these will get heavy use when revisiting locations and conversations, and without either the infuriation factor would have been much higher. Unfortunately the space bar doesn’t always skip a conversation completely, with some animations continuing without sound for a few seconds. There are also problems with the animations going wrong and unresponsive moments.
Intent on hitting yet another nail into what would otherwise be a very nice looking coffin, there is no means to customise the default 1024×768 resolution. If you’re on a widescreen monitor it will stretch but have an annoying line of white pixels at the top and left sides. This is compounded by the movie sequences that appear overly low res.
Another aspect that bothered me throughout is that this masquerades as a child friendly game, to the point some older players may feel inclined to stop playing after seeing the intro. Yet it is actually quite dark in places and it wouldn’t be something I’d recommend to play with youngsters. There is an unsettling combination of childish and adult dialogue, to the point that the 7+ age recommendation on the box is quite remarkable given some of the lines that slipped into the game.
The game ends abruptly with the promise of a sequel. In its current state it’s a segment of an adventure and certainly no epic; much of the longevity comes down to the difficulty in solving the puzzles. There is talk of a trilogy, but given the long development I wonder if this will happen. If you shop around you can find AVS for £14.99, so you’re just about getting value for money.
As you can see from the screenshots, some of the locations are wonderfully presented and if you can overlook a string of annoyances there is some fun to be had. The game certainly has its moments and some of the puzzles wouldn’t feel out of place in a LucasArts classic. But as soon as things are looking up you get out of step with the game’s rigid logic, wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what to do next. Reflecting on the story as a whole, the basic premise is excellent, but not enough thought has been put into developing the details that make for a truly great adventure.
Point and click adventure games have given me some great memories and I firmly believe they have a future. Naturally I really wanted to enjoy AVS but having reached the end I was left with very mixed feelings. Despite having been in development for approximately six years, it does not feel like a game that has been fully tested and refined. Nor does AVS try to evolve adventure gameplay mechanics, making it all the more irritating that it’s not as polished as it should be. It’s worth a look but the quality is too variable to score higher.