“You have solved the riddle of the peacock eye column in less than 30 seconds,” one of the achievements in Dracula 5 triumphantly states. Wow, you may think, what an achievement! Until you realise, standing in the rubble of a drab and lifeless endgame, gazing back through the meagre 4 hours of gameplay, that 30 seconds is actually a fairly generous time frame considering you’ve walked through most of the game with barely a second glance.
As expected, Dracula 5: The Blood Legacy is simply the second half of a game that should have shipped as a complete Dracula 4. For anyone that’s played through its predecessor, The Shadow of the Dragon, there’s very little new here to read, let alone play. Picking up almost exactly where the previous game left off, players take on the role of Ellen Cross once again. If anyone was baffled by the end of Dracula 4, fear not, as the whole thing is glossed over pretty quickly, leaving you short-changed on the bizarre cliffhanger that finished the previous instalment.
This time around you’ll visit another three destinations: New York, Istanbul once again (with an old location re-used) and Chernobyl. The story builds on what was established last time: a piece of art, once thought lost, has resurfaced and purports to show the identity of Dracula. You start out in New York at Ellen’s offices; she’s travelled back from Istanbul to inspect the painting she unearthed earlier. You’ll spend the first section researching the painting to uncover the truth behind that mysterious cliffhanger. The painting has been vandalized over the course of its travels, meaning a lot of clearing up is needed. The early puzzles are inventory-based, requiring you to amass the items necessary to reveal the painting underneath. Unfortunately for Ellen, soon after discovering the true identity of Dracula, the painting is mysteriously stolen and she must chase after the culprit before she can finally confront the newly revealed vampire.
Control is handled in the same first-person style as in the previous game, with hotspots changing the shape of the cursor to be relevant to the action. You have full 360 rotation in all scenes, but no transition animations, simply a fade in and out between explorable nodes. Non-player characters appear within some scenes, but again feel disjointed and separate from the scenery; similarly, there’s still no lip sync for voices.
Puzzles are painfully obvious from the outset, with little to no challenge as you proceed. They’re a mix of inventory and Myst-style environmental puzzles, with a heavier emphasis on the latter. Infuriatingly, you’ll be able to second guess the plot before it’s even happened due to the interactive options available for these puzzles. For example, the theft of the painting comes as no surprise after the heavy-handed script bangs on about keeping it safe and locking it away, with the only other interactive thing in the room being a closed-circuit television cupboard. You’ll also notice codes and patterns on journal entries before the puzzles they relate to have even been found, leaving no challenge for when they eventually are.
The story moves at a strange pace – something I can only attribute to the lack of cutscenes – leading to a disjointed game with little flow to it. Characters such as Ellen’s boss just appear when necessary and Ellen moves around the globe seemingly instantaneously. Similarly, the secondary characters don’t act in ways you’d expect them to. For example, you’re easily able to distract a guard in Turkey with a simple ruse that wouldn’t fool anyone in the real world. This game is also lacking in any sense of trepidation about Ellen’s actions; the previous instalment managed a modicum of horror/thriller atmosphere – rooting around in graveyards for example – but this game just feels bare and cold with quite a few of the scenes taking place in fairly well-lit environments like a museum.
As you can tell, very little has changed or been tweaked since the last game, however one noticeable change is the medication mechanic this time around. Ellen is sick and as a consequence needs to take medication. In the previous game the emphasis was on mixing concoctions to keep her symptoms at bay. This time around the focus is more on making her meagre stash of pills last the length of the game. It’s still a fairly shallow mechanic with seemingly arbitrary points that cause Ellen’s health bar to drop, providing no real idea of what level is safe to keep it at (do you need to have it full or can it just waver above the red?). Ultimately it’s a system that if managed well will get you one extra achievement, but if not, won’t cause an endgame, just a small points penalty and a reset of the health bar (the game gives points when you solve puzzles, with an overall score given at the end).
One of the more impressive elements in the previous game was the cinematic opening; a significant amount of the budget seemed to have been earmarked for it and the results set the game apart from some of the cheaper indie adventures available. Sadly, this time around the backstory is only recapped with the previous game’s action in stills, offering little in the way of a final cinematic to make up for it. The game offers a couple of choices for how to finish, but the choices are shallow and the ensuing ending is extremely brief and ultimately quite confusing. You won’t feel any sort of closure to the story you’ve played, nor will you feel like you’ve affected the ending in any meaningful way (you can just reload and choose the other option if you want to see the alternate finale).
The musical score I enjoyed in the previous game makes a welcome reappearance this time, with a few additional pieces like a rather delightful guitar dirge that accompanies the New York scenes. Likewise, the fairly decent voice work is back; sadly the script isn’t any better, but at least it’s acted well.
For anyone who enjoyed Dracula 4, the final half of this two-part adventure is more of the same. The Blood Legacy won’t give you any sense of closure in its own right, but it will at least resolve the unsatisfactory cliffhanger from the previous instalment. For everyone else, this is merely a second incomplete Dracula game that can only be taken seriously when paired with its predecessor. If you take the two together, then it’s a fairly pedestrian but more satisfying adventure of a decent length. Taken on its own merits, however, Dracula 5 is as limp as the headline vamp’s latest victim.