July 13, 2011

Review: Dracula: Love Kills: Collector's Edition

game format: casual hidden object adventure

puzzles: inventory | logic | hidden object | arcade

playtime: 6 hours | difficulty: moderate | size: 515 MB

publisher: Frogwares | developer: Waterlily Games | links: official site | buy this game

Dracula: Love Kills Collector's Edition
game brief: The Queen of Vampires emerges from the ashes of history, seeking to destroy the world of humans and rule over its ruins! Join the legendary vampire count and his faithful servant Igor as they join forces with Dr. Van Helsing in a horrific adventure inspired by the work of Bram Stoker. Travel the world in search of the Knights of the Order of the Dragon and attempt to thwart the terrible plans of the dark Queen! (Official site)

review: Read my review @ Adventure Gamers®.

This review is a part of the 'Casual Collection: June 2011 New Releases' article.

As the public fixation with all-things-vampire continues unabated, now we have yet another chance to schmooze with the fangtastic Count Dracula in Dracula: Love Kills. A hidden object adventure with an unusual pedigree, this is a casualised sequel to the full-fledged 2008 adventure Dracula: Origin by Frogwares' internal Waterlily Games studio. It picks the story up some time after Dracula was ingloriously knocked into his casket and stashed in his crypt by his nemesis Van Helsing. Once back on his feet, the Prince of Darkness is informed by his fiercely loyal henchman Igor that the Queen of Vampires has hijacked his domain and intends to turn the human race into vampires. Now, in addition to rescuing his beloved Mina from the Queen's clutches, Dracula must fight off the challenge to his own dark supremacy. Being a vampire interferes with his plan to kill the Queen, however, so he's forced to propose an uneasy alliance with Van Helsing, who reluctantly agrees that the threat of vampiric world domination is far more insidious than the Count's lovelorn malice.

Unlike Origin, which featured Van Helsing, Love Kills is played mainly from Dracula's perspective. The unlikely trio – including Igor, whose bickering with Van Helsing adds comic relief to the grim proceedings – flit between late 19th century Transylvania, London, Venice, Paris, Louisiana, Panama and Mont St. Michel, racing against time while the Queen's influence destroys the world, piling it with gruesome mounds of flesh and blood. A lengthy and enjoyable mix of inventory quests, hidden object searches and standalone puzzles, the game has two modes, the harder of which not only offers fewer hints but also increased difficulty for some puzzles. Dracula's vampire nature is laced into the gameplay as well: his superhuman abilities like telekinetic powers and x-ray vision require him to bolster his strength with blood – sourced either from vials hidden onscreen, or directly from the jugular veins of the Queen's racy young minions. However, indulging his insatiable thirst has consequences, which makes Love Kills a rare casual game worth replaying, as the surprising conclusion depends on the choices you make along the way.

The immense range of activities is sure to satisfy any fan of casual adventures, whatever the preference. Gathered inventory items are either used intuitively with other onscreen objects, often much later and in far-removed places, or help complete scenarios which yield new puzzles. The objects blend well into intricately designed screens, and though they sparkle occasionally, eliminating pixel hunting, seeking them all out is still pleasantly challenging. The two dozen hidden object screens are well-stocked, and each set of fifteen era-appropriate objects yields one useful item. Though these scenes are repeated once each, no objects found in the first search are included in the second round. The thirty-odd standalone puzzles and minigames cover almost every sort: jigsaws, object matching and sequencing, tile swapping, sliders, rotators, mazes, gears, checkers, and even mouse control challenges, varying widely in difficulty from easy to quite complex. Many have multiple levels to complete, though any puzzle can be skipped after a couple of minutes.

Progress isn't entirely linear, as Dracula has to juggle all available locations. Helpfully, screens where all tasks are currently done are marked as completed, though they're revisited in later chapters. A map marks active screens and specifies incomplete ones, allowing instant teleporting between them. With over a hundred meticulously drawn, subtly animated screens loaded with little flourishes, Love Kills is a visual treat that combines with the classical background score to create an immersively tense and ominous ambience. Character and event animation is smooth but limited, relying mostly on transitions of static images. There's substantial dialogue, embellished with snappy one-liners, and extensive voice acting both in-game and during cutscenes. But over-the-top renditions and hodgepodge accents, particularly the Queen's minions' hammy threats, make the production inadvertently cheesy, though Igor's oddball portrayal is weirdly charming.

There are numerous awards for achieving pre-set milestones, good and bad, including one for finishing the game under five hours, a fairly demanding ask even in the easy mode. In the Collector's Edition bonus chapter, Dracula searches the labyrinths below Notre Dame for the source of the Queen's power to keep the artifact out of the hands of other megalomaniacs. His team depends on the conclusion of the main game, as does the finale, which comes after another ninety minutes of superlative questing through several new locations, eight more repeated hidden object screens, a lengthy inventory obstacle, and a dozen-plus tricky puzzles.

With Dracula: Love Kills, Waterlily Games delivers big on genuinely high stakes. A shift from traditional to casual adventure could easily be dismissed as a downgrade for a series, but this game proves that a classic tale told with refreshing twists, diverse protagonists who play off each other's discrete personalities, a vast repository of thoughtful challenges, moral dilemmas yielding different outcomes, and impressive art and architecture will produce a winner irrespective of the format. Clocking in at well over six hours with the CE extension, this game has both style and substance, and is worth playing at least a couple of times for all fans of vampires and/or casual adventure games.


This is an original review written by me and owned by Adventure Gamers®. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without written consent from Jack Allin, Editor-In-Chief, AG.

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