Bram Stoker's Dracula is based on the 1992 film of the same name. The player controls a young lawyer named Jonathan Harker, who must free himself from Dracula's capture, follow him to London, and end his reign of terror.
Unlike the several side-scrolling adaptions of the movie for console systems, this one is a first-person action game. Each level follows the same basic formula: Harker has to explore maze-like dungeons like a cemetery and shut off all coffins with holy water, followed by a boss fight against Dracula. Those coffins also serve as unlimited monster generators as long as they are active. Obviously those monsters are not on friendly terms with Harker and so he has to get rid of them by using his gun or knife. Additional bullets and health supplies are spread out over the levels ready to be picked up.
To reach all coffins and holy water flasks, Harker also has to solve basic puzzles which boil down to finding keys and using levers. Movement is not fluent but tile-based; similar to most first-person role-playing games of the time.
Bram Stoker's Dracula is no Doom. I thought I should get that out of the way right off the bat. It is, however, a decent shooter with a few nice twists to keep the game interesting. Unfortunately it has a couple of fairly major drawbacks as well.
The story behind the game (what little there is) is that you had been imprisoned by the evil Dracula but have escaped and now you are on your way to kill the man-beast in a fit of revenge. That's it. Nothing very compelling to be sure, but the early shooters rarely had a compelling story. I guess you need to infer that there is a tie in with the movie of the same name and get your story line from that experience. Good enough I guess.
So, as the game begins you will find yourself at the gates of a sinister looking castle. As you pass the gate you will discover a cemetery full of the undead minions of the dark one. To add a little more to the grizzly effect, you are surrounded by dense, dead timber and the impaled bodies of countless numbers of Dracula's victims. The objective is to fight your way through three stages/levels of these creatures in order to face Dracula and kill him.
Each of the three stages ends with the player having to kill Dracula in one of his three forms. The first stage is the cemetery. The second is an abbey. The third stage is the castle of Dracula himself. The three encounters that end each stage are with Vlad the Impaler, Dracula the Victorian Gentleman and Dracula the Vampire (in the traditional vampire sense).
The weaponry used in the game is very simple; a little too simple. You will start the game with a knife and a pistol and you will end the game with a knife and a pistol. You won't even have the fun of obtaining a wooden stake and a mallet. The only weapons left to your own devices are the bullets needed for the pistol. You will rarely, if ever, want for ammo. It is everywhere to be found and picked up. A little too easy.
Being that the player loses health if they let the monsters get close enough to engage them, there must be a way to replenish health. No, it isn't medipacs or steroids or any other kind of traditional power up. Food. We must eat food. And, as strange as it may sound, there is also food lying around everywhere. Not just any food either. I'm talking fruit, bread, meat, cheese and wine. All of the basic food groups needed to keep us healthy. Unless you are a terrible shot and take a lot of damage you will never want for food either. A little too easy.
My final complaint about this game is that the monsters simply have zero AI. No intelligence whatsoever. They walk directly at you and, for the most part, move very slowly. In stage two and three some of the monsters have weapons but they don't use them until they are almost upon you. There are a couple of instances in the game where the sheer numbers of monsters can be a little tough to overcome but that was the exception and not the rule. A little too stupid.
Ok, so what is the catch? Is the game really this easy to beat? Not exactly and here is why. For every monster you kill another spawns to take its place. Dracula's premises are riddled with defiled graves filled with Transylvanian dirt. These graves serve as portals between our world and the world of the undead. Each grave can support one monster and as soon as that monster perishes another rises from the grave to take its place. The only way to stop this never ending sequence of monster spawning is to neutralize the soil of the grave by throwing a holy wafer on it. When you do, the soil will turn from red to black indicating that the grave portal is now closed. The trick is in finding the graves and getting close enough to them to throw in the wafer. Another challenge is that the holy wafers, which are also found lying around on the ground, are not nearly as plentiful. I spent a good part of the first stage fighting off monsters without any way to stop them from spawning because I could not find any wafers anywhere.
That leads me to the part of the game that I enjoyed the most; the strategy element. There are many keys, traps, switches, buttons, doors and trip plates to encounter. When you attempt to open a door that needs a key the game will tell you what key is needed. They are not always found nearby. When you find a button or switch it is not immediately obvious what the device is useful for. That makes for some interesting puzzles to be solved. Puzzle solving, while monsters are breathing down your neck, can indeed be fun. Many doors can be closed as well as opened (but only by you) which makes for some interesting possibilities in creating barriers between you and the monsters. Finally, the trip plates are especially hazardous because they will either transport you to another area of the level or will spin you around so that it is difficult to keep your bearings on what direction you are going and where you have been. It is very easy to get lost in Dracula's castle.
In summary, I would recommend this game for anyone that prefers action, suspense and just a little gore where the emphasis is on strategy and puzzle solving and less on gibs and pools of blood. The monsters are more of a nuisance than a challenge. The three encounters with Dracula are not even that difficult. The strength of Bram Stoker's Dracula is in the required puzzle solving and navigation. The graphics aren't up to today's standards but if you can get by that you will notice the game's redeeming features. I want to give this game a 3.5 but can't. A 3 might be cheating it a little because the levels are designed fairly well. Four might be too generous because the weaponry aspect of the game is missing and the monster AI is awful. I'll be generous and go with a 4 on the strength of the level design. I don't like to penalize a game for graphics unless they are clearly inferior to other games published around the same time. Doom was released the same year as this game and the Doom engine was not widely available until a couple years later. Compared to the other pre-Doom shooters I think Bram Stoker's Dracula holds up pretty well. You be the judge.
The engine that the game is built upon can create a little frustration occasionally. The graphics in some areas are rough and in other areas appear to be much smoother. At times you will appear to be obstructed by thin air as you try to make a hasty retreat. Also, the game designers could have used a few more textures to give the game a little more variety. Even the different stages bear a strong resemblance to each other. Another hindrance is that it is difficult to pick things up from the ground. The item to be picked up has to be positioned precisely under the arm/weapon which is annoying when you are in a hurry. You will have the option of using the mouse or keyboard for moving forward, backward or changing direction. Since the mouse is the only option for aiming and firing weapons I found it easiest to use the keyboard for moving and the mouse for weaponry (see manual). You may have to experiment. Playing this game may require both hands. In order to strafe (side step without turning) you must use the keyboard. When the game is started you will be given a choice of sound cards. Both Adlib and Sound Blaster are supported. There are five save game slots which can be accessed by pressing ESCAPE during game play. The sound does a nice job of creating the necessary creepy atmosphere.
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