Dracula must have sucked a lot of blood to put this much heart into his game!
Just because the name “Dracula” is in the title, don’t discount Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon as some hokey vampire game. Created by Microids, a studio with an impressive pedigree of adventure games under its belt like Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon and the Syberia series, this is an adventure for true adventure fans, complete with a well-told story and fantastic puzzles.
Far out in the ocean, a storm tosses a cargo ship to and fro. The captain slowly makes his way to the helm to attempt to steer it to safety, but before he reaches the door, a gigantic wave crashes into the ship. The freighter was carrying Professor Vambery’s paintings bound for the Metropolitan Museum. The entire collection was thought to be lost until a few months later when one of the masterpieces resurfaces in Hungary. Lucky break! You play as Ellen Cross, an investigator and art restoration specialist who is sent to Budapest to find this missing painting and verify its authenticity. Little does she know she’s about to discover a dark and sinister mystery that has haunted Europe for generations.
Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon controls like your usual point and click adventure game. Use the mouse to activate points of interest, most of which are indicated by on-screen icons. Click to examine, pick up, converse, or otherwise manipulate objects in the environment. You can click and drag your viewpoint around, allowing you to see everything around Ellen as if you were really there. It’s great for immersion, and extremely useful when playing art detective.
The inventory is tucked neatly away in the bottom corner of the screen. From there you can use and combine items, check a history of conversations, and look at your to-do list which points you in the right direction if you ever feel lost. Ellen also has a health and status screen stocked with food and medicine, both of which must be monitored from time to time to make sure she stays in optimal health.
Puzzles in Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon will throw you for a loop: the good kind of loop where you’re stumped in a pleasantly perplexed sort of way. Clues are given out in small intervals and often make no sense until a key location comes into play. There are riddles, incomplete codes, inventory puzzles, and a host of unique and challenging mini-games. Keeping a notebook handy to jot down possible solutions isn’t a bad idea. You know, a real, physical notebook on your desk.
Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon is an old-school adventure game sprinkled with many modern conveniences, but it’s not going to hold your hand and walk you through each and every puzzle. There’s no hint button to guide you if you’re stuck; you just have to pay attention and explore every nook and cranny of the environment. Mini-games can be skipped after a few moments if you’re having trouble with them. If you’re interested in a more traditional adventure game experience, Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon lets you switch between “adventure” and “casual” modes at any time. Perfect for when you want a good stout puzzle challenge.
The story and setting in Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon are phenomenal. The presentation is professional and polished with a haunting soundtrack that keys up the mystery at just the right moments. The voice actors are well cast and play their parts perfectly. Ellen Cross is a wonderful main character: likeable but flawed, intelligent and witty, but not inaccessibly so. She has her own personal demons she’s dealing with, including an illness that threatens to cut her life short. She’s a character you honestly want to succeed, which is a good thing seeing as how you play as her in the game!
Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon isn’t a fast-paced action-oriented game, but it’s filled with enough mystery and intrigue to rivet you to the screen from the beginning. The emotional ride the story takes you on won’t soon be forgotten. Combined with stellar puzzles and a player-friendly interface, Dracula 4: The Shadow of the Dragon sits at the top of the adventure game shelf and won’t soon give up its place.