A grief-stricken doctor returns to the town of Hill Lock to investigate a mysterious epidemic
The Vampire Saga series is a strange one. Though called a “saga”, it more or less ignores the narrative continuity implied by the term. The latest in the series, Vampire Saga: Break Out, though meant as a prequel, provides little in the way of insight, but offers a more streamlined experience than the Vampire Saga game that preceded it.
It starts with a doctor on a train, heading for the once-idyllic village of Hill Lock. As he reads a letter, we discover he’s mourning the loss of his young daughter who died from somewhat mysterious causes. Despite his grief, the good doctor has been called to Hill Lock (…or is it called back to Hill Lock? The doc’s riding a train to Hill Lock although he’s a resident of the town and the reasons for it are a little vague) to investigate a series of unusual deaths and—the townspeople hope—to get to the bottom of them. He gets to town only to find it seemingly abandoned. The vision of a strange little girl strongly resembling his deceased daughter suddenly appears, and leads him toward the town hospital. From then on, it’s a game of cat and mouse with this heart-wrenching, spectral vision.
As the doctor combs through the hospital, the town and his own house, he starts to realize something sinister is at work and has transformed the town’s inhabitants. The only survivor (or at least, the only person still hanging around) is the sheriff, who periodically turns up to engage in some bizarre conversation. By the by, the dialog here is really handled poorly. At one point the dialog options included both the sheriff’s lines and yours, which was truly confusing. Anyway, aside from a few familiar (read “re-used”) environments, the sheriff’s one of the few threads of continuity between this game and the one before it, Vampire Saga: Welcome to Hell Lock.
Though there are some really annoying aspect to Break Out, one good thing is that where Hell Lock didn’t really deliver on its vampire theme, Break Out does. Sort of. As mentioned, the story revolves around the townspeople turning into vampires, and one of the main things you’re asked to do during the game is collect blood samples, theoretically to verify the cause of the transformations. Unfortunately nothing ever comes of this potentially interesting mechanic. There I was with my Dexter-like box of blood slides and then…nothing. After one instance of blood analysis in the middle of the game, nothing else like it ever happened again. (Yeah, it’s a spoiler, but I figure you’re better off being disappointed now than later).
The idea of a doctor investigating an epidemic could have borne some really interesting gameplay fruit, but was basically tossed aside early on. Half an hour in, the hero once again became simply an average joe, investigating a bunch of empty buildings. It’s sad because when you consider how the doctor/medical analysis theme could have been threaded throughout the whole story and made it more unique, the omission seems like a missed opportunity.
As minor consolation, there are occasional instances of creativity elsewhere in the game, regarding where you find items and how you use them. Often I’m annoyed in hidden object games when I have something in my inventory that would technically work, (say, I have a knife but in order to cut something I need a razor) but the game disallows it. The designers of this game realized that in real life, sometimes you have to improvise and use a coin rather than a screwdriver to take the screws out of something. Taking that kind of thing into consideration when devising their solutions injected a little bit of much-needed freshness here. Those are the key words here though – “a little”. Other than this, there’s nothing that differentiates Break Out from any other game in the genre, and the result is that it feels like a re-tread.
That isn’t to say it’s a bad game. It improves on Hell Lock by making puzzles and the items you need to solve them more convenient, and minimizes the back-tracking. On top of that, the overall flow keeps pulling you forward and your objectives are much clearer than before. Puzzles too are clear and not too difficult, and you never feel lost or tricked by a solution. The problem with Break Out is that it’s just not memorable. In fact, the only thing about it that I imagine sticking with me (because it bothered me so much) is its bizarre use of an old-timey black and white silent movie effect during the cutscenes. Since the events of the game take place in the present day, this approach makes zero sense and adds nothing of consequence to the story or look of the game. I can only guess that the reason the developers chose to do it was to relieve themselves of the burden of sound designing those areas.
In the end, Vampire Saga: Break Out isn’t terrible; it just feels lazily-conceived. With little connection to the Vampire Saga games before it, a potentially unique game mechanic left by the wayside, and a tendency to fall back on well-worn hidden object gameplay ideas, it offers little in the way of creativity or continuity. As a stand-alone title however, it functions alright and casual hidden object players will probably enjoy it. Gamers more conversant with the series and the genre however, could be disappointed once they realize they’ve basically played it all before.