By Ian McCabe
A Vampyre Story is a point and click adventure developed by Autumn Moon Entertainment and released for PC in late 2008. It’s a game in the true spirit of Halloween, with vampires, monsters, ghouls, goblins, bats, creepy old ladies and terrifying French accents. With the one night of the year where witches come out to play almost upon us, it just seemed right to give the game a look…
A Vampyre Story is a traditional point-and-click adventure with a mixture of 2D and 3D graphics. Upon close inspection of the credits, hardcore adventure fans might even recognise some old names from classic LucasArts titles such as The Curse of Monkey Island and The Dig.
The story is set during 1800’s Europe in a region called Draxsylvania. It follows Mona, a young Parisian opera singer who has been turned into a vampire and trapped in Castle Warg by the feeble and obsessed Shrowdy Von Kieffer. Along with her wise-cracking bat sidekick Froderick, Mona must attempt to find a way home to Paris and fulfil her dreams of becoming a famous Opera star, whilst getting used to her new condition.
A Vampyre Story embodies everything that makes Halloween fun and special, although with one big omission… it’s not scary, although it does have the odd spooky moment. No, this game is, more than anything, a comedy, or at least it tries to be. But that’s not to say that Halloween stories can’t be funny. Just look at Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Jim Carrey’s little known feature debut, Once Bitten. Instead of horror titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill , A Vampyre Story is more at home with Saturday morning cartoon shows and for the most part, it actually works.
The characters and locations in the game have an offbeat charm about them and some are even visually stunning and colourful. Mona is essentially an hour-glass figure, with her curves being exaggerated slightly. Froderick the bat has a giant pig-like nose with his eyes seemingly floating above his head. The graphics don’t push any boundaries, but they are quite fun and impressive to look at, with subtle little animations popping up throughout the various backgrounds, such as a bearskin rug that eyes you up as you move around the corridors of Castle Warg.
The art style is quite reminiscent of old German expressionist films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. In fact, the game borrows heavily from various old horror films and stories, with the title itself coming from the John William Polidori story, The Vampyre. There are even a few references to much-loved adventures games too, such as Monkey Island and Sam & Max (during one puzzle, the shape of Max’s head appears as part of a code).
The controls are basically point-and-click via the use of the mouse. Right clicking brings up the inventory and left clicking brings up a choice of four actions. Although they can vary throughout, they are more often than not ‘Fly To,’ ‘Speak To,’ ‘Use’ and ‘Pick Up/Grab.’ Mona can also interact with other characters and converse with them, with multiple lines of dialogue to choose from. She walks extremely slowly, which can be annoying as a lot of the puzzles require moving from one location to another numerous times, but thankfully the space bar can speed her up.
Because of said requirement however, I feel the game really missed the boat by not having a ‘Jump To’ feature allowing you to quickly navigate to other locations. This becomes almost excruciating when having to move through certain rooms multiple times throughout one puzzle and can make them feel rather tiresome. The use of items via the inventory is interesting though. If an item is too big, Mona will remember it and then quick jump (yeah, that ability could have been useful to use) to it later when it’s needed.
It’s interesting to see it done this way because traditionally adventure game protagonists manage to fit anything, no matter the size, into their pockets (think Guybrush Threepwood stuffing a dog into his trousers). This adds a dash of realism to the cartoon style world, although Mona still carries a number of items with her, even though it’s evident that her dress doesn’t have any pockets. Nevertheless, it’s a unique and refreshing take on a traditional mechanic.
Sadly, the puzzles themselves can actually be tedious in their own right, the majority involving the old-school technique of item interaction and combinations, with a few code breaking puzzles thrown in for good measure. The game doesn’t introduce anything new or original in this area, although some of the puzzle solving actually proves quite ingenious.
In fact some puzzles are a little too ingenious. Often, the only way to solve a problem is by mind-numbing trial and error (unless you’re a psychic). This takes the satisfaction and fun away from some puzzles and I think I can be forgiven for not instantly figuring out that crushing a pack of nuts would create lubricant to use on some rusty hinges… right? I mean, nut juice? Really? It’s hard to imagine the same guys behind Curse of Monkey Island thought that one up.
It must be pointed out that sometimes Mona shows the ability to turn into a bat and is able to fly. She also occasionally teleports to certain areas (the quick jump mentioned earlier) when she needs an item. Why we’re never given the ability to do this ourselves, or why Mona isn’t able to attain an object because she ‘can’t reach’ despite having the ability to fly, is a puzzle in itself. But I guess that would be too easy. Seriously, nut juice?
I wish I could say the story redeems the game despite the annoyances mentioned, but it sadly doesn’t. The narrative itself works and as a whole is interesting, especially the ballsy move to kill the main antagonist in the opening sequence and the surprising cliff-hanger ending. But it just moves too slowly and feels like it loses its direction sometimes. Certain elements are introduced but never really touched on again, even important characters such as the vampire hunters who pop up in the introduction and are never seen again.
The second half of the game picks up slightly which is in part helped by a change of scenery, but after almost six hours of play, I felt like I hadn’t learned as much as I should have about the situation or the characters. Mona is a likeable character and thankfully becomes tolerable as the game goes on, even if her ear-piercing French accent takes a long time to get used to. I’d say play the game with subtitles only, but some of the voice acting is top-notch, especially that of Froderick the bat, no matter how annoying he becomes.
The atmosphere is the best part of the game, the sound effects and the music create a comic yet ghoulish feel and the environments have a certain quirky charm about them. Some of the dialogue is witty and funny, but unfortunately the game pushes the puns and comedy lines a little too far. Simply, it tries too hard to be funny and there comes a point where the barrage of puns and cheesy clichés becomes too much.
To conclude, A Vampyre Story really isn’t as bad as I may have made it out to be. The story is interesting, although it feels like it’s missing something and it suffers due to the game’s pacing, mainly because of puzzles that are either laborious, unvaried or too difficult (nut juice!?) Some might actually enjoy this part of the game however, especially point-and-click adventure fans. It’s quirky and has quite a few laughs throughout, especially for fans of either old horror films or adventure games. Spotting Easter eggs is a fun task in itself. But there are a few elements that just make you scratch your head, Mona’s voice is akin to dragging your nails across a chalkboard and the game pushes the cheesy comedy so far to humour players that it often has the opposite effect.
Traditional point-and-click adventure fans should enjoy the game to an extent, especially those who like to play with objects and appreciate striking, colourful characters and settings. If you are going to play A Vampyre Story, then make sure to take a few breaks whilst doing so, or Mona may just send you bat-crazy (see, I can do it too!) Also, be aware that the game is only the first part of an overarching story and ends on a cliff-hanger, so there isn’t any real conclusion at the end. All in all, it’s a fun adventure game. The art style is attractive and the quirky atmosphere gives it a unique feel, but sadly, it’s not enough to save it from its flaws.
6 OUT OF 10