Dracula: Origin Review (PC)

However you want to look at it, the point-and-click genre has hardly made huge leaps forward over the last few years. In terms of gameplay we know exactly what we're getting with each new title – item collection, item combination, puzzles and conversations. Dracula: Origin sticks firmly to this formula and, although it does a lot of things well, it's also plagued by the same old point-and-click problems.

Like Stoker's creation, Origin's Dracula is a strange mix of nobility and savagery.
Van Helsing seems unimpressed by The Count's sex dungeon. Jamie Theakston not pictured.

Frogware has based Dracula: Origin in Bram Stoker's world of vampire lore, with the player taking control of vampire-hunter extraordinaire, Professor Van Helsing. Having recently learned of his friend Jonathan Harker's strange internment at Dracula's castle in Transylvania, Van Helsing fears for the safety of Harker's wife Mina. Dracula, it would seem, has become a little obsessed with Harker's missus on the basis that she looks very much like his long-dead love, Irina. Cue Mina's disappearance and Van Helsing's quest to rescue her.

The developer has seen fit to use a little artistic license in creating the storyline and has grafted some Egyptology, mysterious cults and demonic texts to Stoker's classic tale with mixed results. Dracula seeks an ancient book the Demonomicon (Evil Dead anyone?) with which he can resurrect Irina, using Mina as a vessel. Thus Van Helsing must follow the Count to London, Egypt and Vienna and eventually Transylvania in order to stop him.

Origin comes with the kind of slick presentation we've come to expect from an Adventure Company title. It's visually quite impressive, with some nice textures and animations at work and the cinematic cut-scenes add some depth to the story.  Despite an odd choice of word here and there, and the occasional typo, the storyline is pretty well acted if a little hammy at times. It's hard not to become irritated by Van Helsing's voice, however, as he insists on saying “useless” every time you unsuccessfully try to combine an item with an environmental hotspot. And there's a lot of that.

Unsurprisingly, the game follows the classic point-and-click formula to a tee. Frogware has made some efforts to eliminate the annoyances inherent in the genre – for example, holding the space bar will highlight all interactable objects on the screen meaning there's no need for pixel scanning. Also, the game will prevent you from leaving an area if you haven't collected or inspected everything you need. It might annoy the genre purists and shatter the immersion a little, but it's a welcome addition.

Van Helsing's friend Seward finally loses patience.
A Health and Safety nightmare.

However, Frogware has not managed to address some of the major issues that plague point-and-click games. For instance, there are times when the puzzles become a little ambiguous and you feel that logic has left the building. Some of the item combinations are little short of bizarre and, as a result, you'll spend a lot of time going through your inventory trying items with each other. Whilst this may have been a staple of the point-and-click genre ever since its inception, it has never been fun. The same applies to the dialogue in Dracula: Origin which simply involves exhausting all the conversational options until you're allowed to move on.

It's not all bad news, however, and the strength of Dracula: Origin lies in the first-person perspective puzzles. These offer some genuine challenge and are by no means easy.  Whilst some of them may initially seem a little lacking in logic (good luck with the demonic wolf conundrum in the English graveyard), Frogware generally provides the player with hints that accompany the task. These are sometimes explicit, but occasionally the vital piece of information may lie in a document you've collected or a conversation you've had. Thankfully Origin's helpful inventory system means that all documents and dialogues are stored and can be viewed at any time. It's genuinely satisfying to beat these tasks and although you may occasionally fluke one, the vast majority require brainpower.

However, the positives are almost overshadowed by some cheap game design. It seems as if, by making the concessions to user-friendliness mentioned earlier, the game became a lot shorter. As a result Frogware have spread Origin a little thin in order to extend the game-time. For example there will be a number of occasions when Van Helsing will be tasked with collecting a list of items, only to be given another list as soon as he delivers them. It's perhaps unwise to elongate a game when it comes at the expense of the gamer's sanity.

Grave-digging was a painstaking task in the days before the spade.
The museum stage in Egypt: hope you like collecting things.

Dracula: Origin is a great example of what is good and bad about the adventure genre. It's well presented, incorporates some intriguing puzzles and actually involves a good deal of thinking. It's also repetitive, obtuse, and frustrating with game mechanics that seem a little dated. However, Frogware has ensured that the good just about outweighs the bad and Dracula: Origin would be a welcome addition to any point-and-click fan's collection.

Top Gaming Moment: Beating the eight-pointed star logic puzzle