Reviewed: December 29, 2008
Released: December 2, 2008
Set in the fictional European region of Draxsylvania in 1895, A Vampyre Story is a humorously gothic—and surprisingly solid—adventure title developed by Autumn Moon Entertainment. Certainly, Vampyre’s visual flair isn’t such a surprise, considering that Autumn Moon Entertainment was founded by former LucasArts adventure game artist and Arena.net lead artist Bill Tiller. Tiller has a very respectable resume when it comes to his work on games (including The Curse of Monkey Island, The Dig, Rebel Assault, and Guild Wars), and if this first installation of A Vampyre Story is any indication, his Autumn Moon team could be what the ailing adventure genre needs to get back on its feet.
Vampyre’s protagonist is one Mona De Lafitte—a rising young opera star turned into an unwilling undead bloodsucker by the evil and socially challenged vampire Baron Shrowdy von Kiefer—whose greatest wish is to escape her castle prison in Draxsylvania and return to a promising musical career in Paris. Luckily, Shrowdy fails to return from one of his nightly excursions, and Mona and her wisecracking bat sidekick Froderick are able to make a break for it.
Gameplay is pleasantly simple and straightforward, following a very familiar point-and-click mouse interface formula that many adventure games use. Holding down the left mouse button on interactive hotspots will bring up a little menu that allows four different actions (generally, examining, speaking to, touching, or flying to an object), and the right mouse button opens up Mona’s inventory.
The interactive items and areas in every location are also painless to find, since holding down the tab key points them out for you. It’s also nice that that the menu buttons and other interface objects only come up when you click, since that de-clutters the display and allows for a full-screen movie-like experience.
By bypassing complex controls, Vampyre is able to focus on entertaining players with creative puzzles and witty, often amusingly anachronistic dialogue (though beware if you hate cheesy puns and pop culture references) that impressively manages to remain pretty kid-safe even through risqué topics and insult-flinging.
The puzzles are mostly not very difficult, though like with any other good adventure game, there will probably still be times that you’ll get a bit stuck and have to try random item combinations to get through a tricky spot. Most solutions are generously hinted at if you bother to look around, though, so getting stuck doesn’t happen often.
Also, again, I have to give the developers props for streamlining the interface: though Mona walks pretty slowly (probably because of that slinky black vampire dress), players can skip past her agonizing shuffle by simply pressing the spacebar, allowing for teleport-like movement that thankfully removes any potential frustration from moving around the environment to collect objects and solve puzzles. Most animations can be skipped this way, so it’s not too bad if you have to do something over for any reason.
Pretty much the only issue I noticed is that there are a few unfortunate bugs, including one that causes the cutscene video to sometimes skip oddly or loop inappropriately and another that mishandles a multiple monitor setup. One other bug fixed by the patch can actually break the game, and if you’ve already passed that point in the game before installing the patch, you’ll have to manually edit your newest save to fix it—but other than that, the problems are all minor. If you’re thinking of getting this game, just make sure to install that patch before you play, and you’ll be set to go.
If you’ve got a gaming computer, Vampyre’s not likely to strain your graphics card, but it has beautiful visuals that employ a highly stylized, darkly whimsical art style that brings to mind Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. Vampyre layers 3D CG-rendered characters with gorgeously hand-painted 2D environments, producing the organic look of a vividly illustrated storybook. The character animations are pretty decent too, and though the Bink Video cut scenes aren’t as high resolution as the in-game graphics, they still do a nice job of providing a film-like experience during critical moments in the plot. Overall, the excellent, expressive art makes for a distinctive and engaging graphical experience.
Every piece of dialogue in the game is performed by a consistent cast of voice actors in a variety of cartoonish, colloquial accents, and the equally comic sound effects are spot-on. What really takes the cake, though, is the unexpectedly brilliant soundtrack by Portuguese composer Pedro Macedo Camacho, a name I hadn’t heard of before this game. Given that this game is a relatively small production, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the musical score, but this one’s a gem containing many memorable tracks.
For its entertainment value, A Vampyre Story is easily worth its $29.99 retail price. The game runs longer than many more recent adventure games (it took me a handful of evenings to complete, playing a few hours per night) and kept me amused the entire time with witty dialogue (and awful puns). Vampyre’s replay value isn’t very high because of the game’s linear nature, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable adventure title, especially if you’ve already played all the classics.
If you enjoy adventure games and have been disappointed by recent offerings (or wouldn’t mind playing another good title), try giving A Vampyre Story a shot; just make sure to patch your copy before playing. It’s great fun, showcases some hilarious dialogue, and is paired with an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. I’m definitely looking forward to the second chapter.