Dracula: The Last Sanctuary Review

Dracula: The Last Sanctuary is the sequel to Dreamcatcher's earlier title Dracula Resurrection -- the game was released as Dracula 2 in Europe but was renamed slightly for North American tastes. Unlike many sequels that bring a new interface or other major changes to the series, Dracula 2 is very similar to its predecessor, except for the addition of some substantially harder and more obscure puzzles.

Dracula 2 is set in 1904, after Jonathan Harker has rescued his wife Mina from Dracula's Transylvanian castle and brought her back to their home in London. However, Dracula has followed the couple to London, hoping to take both Mina and the source of his power, the Dragon Ring. In order to protect Mina, Jonathan must first battle Dracula in London and then chase him to his Last Sanctuary in Transylvania.

There are a few characters you'll talk to, but most of them say their few lines of dialogue and get out of your way. For the rest of the game, you'll be wandering around sewers, abandoned mansions, and cemetaries, where the only moving creatures are vampires for you to kill. (Yes, you do have to kill vampires, but the "action" is primarily puzzle-based, with just a few timed puzzles.)

Dracula 2's best feature is definitely the scenery. The background graphics are generally well-drawn, even if they tend to be dark in many places. The darkness is of course fitting, since most of the places you'll visit are fairly gloomy -- but it also would have been nice to visit a few more colorful places along the way, if only for some contrast. Background music or more sound effects also would have helped, as the interactive sections of the game are largely quiet.

There are cut-scenes along the way, and they're quite good, with nice animation and decent acting when there's any acting to be done. However, many of them just show the set-up or solution to a puzzle without doing much to advance the story. Those that are more related to the plot are just clips of Dracula showing up briefly to set up an obstacle for you and then leaving to give you a chance to escape, in stereotypical villain style. More plot-related cut-scenes certainly would have helped -- even now, I'm still scratching my head about the robotic Dracula that was chasing me early in the game.

And of course, there are the puzzles. Lots of them. While you might think this makes Dracula 2 a great game for the puzzle-lover, most of the puzzles are more tedious than enjoyable. Some of the puzzles are of the traditional inventory-based variety, and most of those use real-world objects like keys and tools in obvious ways. Sometimes, these puzzles offer a brief "challenge" in figuring out which item you can use at which time. For example, you might be able to shoot one particular lock if there's no key, but you have to find the key that goes with the next lock. A few of the item-based puzzles do leave you to find more creative uses for your items, however, so there is the occasional exercise in the "lateral thinking." There are also a fair number of logic puzzles, requiring you to read notes you find along the way and use them to operate a device.

But most puzzles are basically pixel hunts -- either you need to find a well-hidden item, or more frequently, you need to find a specific place to use an item that's already in your inventory. Fortunately, your cursor does change to show you where you can use an item, even if you haven't selected anything from your inventory. Without this indication, you might have no idea where to look with your vampire-vision glasses or dig with your shovel, for example. On the other hand, looking for this cursor is often the only part of a puzzle, since you're otherwise given no clues as to what you're supposed to do.

The hot-spots also tend to be unnecessarily small. One especially annoying sequence requires you to click on a arbitrarily tiny section of the screen to surface while you're underwater. If you don't find this hot-spot in time (and just clicking toward the top of the screen isn't good enough), you die. None of the other small hot-spots are accompanied by timed puzzles, but those hot-spots are still problematic without time limits. Why, for example, do you have to put on the glasses that give you a vampire's supernatural vision after finding the invisible hot-spot, instead of just putting on the glasses first and looking around to see what they show you?

The interface makes these pixel hunts more difficult. Like many traditional point-and-click adventures, you rotate across a 360-degree background. In Dracula 2, however, your cursor stays in the middle of the screen and the background rotates behind it. The effect can be disorienting, particularly when you have to resort to pixel-hunting across multiple screens -- the mouse-look style of navigation may work for a first-person shooter but not in an adventure game with so many pixel hunts. You'll be quite glad when you get to the occasional non-rotating screens, used in close-ups of important items.

While the pixel hunts can get boring and the story isn't the world's most compelling, Dracula 2 is still a competent adventure game that's very nice to watch. If you're looking for some logic to go with your difficult puzzles, then you may want to look elsewhere, however.

-- Jason Strautman