Full Motion Vampire
Early Full Motion Video (FMV) takes a lot of heat from gamers today, and rightfully so. The tiny windows where the footage is displayed, accompanied by grainy and compressed video, look just plain ugly when compared to the 1080p gameplay that’s today’s standard. However, when I fired up my first FMV game on my Sega CD Christmas of 92′, my whole family stared at our tube TV in shock and awe. Was this a video game or a friggin’ movie? Prize Fighter took center stage and consumed the whole holiday break as the local neighborhood kids stopped over to see the latest and greatest entertainment that Sega had to offer. This was truly “next gen”!
It was around this time that my teenage self also took a liking to horror movies, primarily the old Hammer Horror movies that revolved classic monsters such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, and last but not least, Dracula. I’ve always had a fascination with the count, and Castlevania had a heavy rotation in my NES. My imagination went wild thinking of a FMV Castlevania game and how that would play out, but thank the gods that never happened. During a trip to the local Blockbuster Video I completed my rounds of the horror aisle and, as most gamers at that time did, I headed to check out what new video game titles had been released. Dracula Unleashed caught my eye immediately! What could be better than watching B movie actors on shabby sets trying to scare players with grainy, compressed video?! I snatched up the box behind the game case (that’s how you knew the game/movie was in stock back then, kids) and headed up to the counter.
Having never played games like 7th Guest, the point-and-click adventure genre was something that was completely new to me. Without any instruction booklet to at least guide me in the right direction I had absolutely no idea what to do. Throughout my 2-day rental I did manage to see a few sequences, but overall I felt unsatisfied and disappointed. After a handful of deaths and not much progress, my rental period was up and that was the last I saw of Dracula Unleashed. Somehow, after all these years, the game’s amazing atmosphere did manage to stick with me. Now, here I am almost a quarter century later, still thinking about the title and wishing I had completed it. That’s a pretty amazing feat considering I’ve graduated high school, dropped out of college, gotten married, and had two kids since then.
The story of Dracula Unleashed starts off in the year 1899, which is 10 years after Count Dracula was killed at the end of Bram Stoker’s novel. Quincy Morris’s brother, Alexander, has traveled to London, England to learn more about the mysterious death surrounding Quincy. Alexander quickly learns that Quincy was involved with the group called the “Hades Club” which was responsible for the Death of Dracula. Oddly enough, during Alexander’s investigation a few dead bodies turn up with their heads decapitated, completely drained of all blood. Is this a copycat murderer? A new vampire, perhaps? Or has Dracula somehow returned again to seek revenge on his killers? Alexander has now found himself in the middle of these gruesome murders and has taken it upon himself to find out who’s committing these crimes, and also find out what really happened to Quincy.
The atmosphere created by ICOM Simulations is one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a FMV game. The music is very menacing, and even though it only plays while you’re on the streets deciding what to do next, it sticks with you. It definitely gave me a feeling of dread and foreboding, making me wonder if a vampire was lurking in the shadows, watching my every move. When not in a FMV sequence, you’re probably going to be in the street in one of the many locations that get added to Alexander Morris’ address book. The still frames here only give you two options: enter a location or get into a stagecoach to travel to another locale, but the simple artwork adds to the game’s great atmosphere. Street lamps give off a subtle glow and cobblestone roads accompany brick facades of the 19th century homes. It’s a very simple design that stands out due to the dreary music always playing in the background.
The FMV sequences are actually pretty well acted considering the game is completely cast with B-movie actors. Alexander Morris, who is from Texas, has a believable southern drawl that isn’t too overdone or overacted. Set pieces are also well made, with the graveyard and asylum being the most elaborate of the bunch. One particular nightmare scene that Alexander has is pretty creepy, even by today’s standards. His fiancé, Annisette, appears with her back turned to Alexander, but as she turns, blood begins oozing from her mouth. It’s a very haunting scene. The vampires themselves don’t’ turn up very often, but when they do it’s always memorable. If women in white dresses with very large fangs give you the creeps, you’re going to be sleeping with the lights on. But thankfully some scenes offer a bit of much needed camp and humor in an otherwise grim game. Saucy Jacks, the in-game pub, is full with drunk locals that tell of grisly tales of London’s past all while laughing and playing it up for the camera. It’s evident that the actors were having lots of fun when filming these scenes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if they really got drunk before filming.
Gameplay wise, Dracula Unleashed is pretty standard fare if you’re familiar with point-and-click adventure games. Throughout Alexander’s travels he will obtain certain items from characters and also be informed of certain times and locations where story-driving scenes will occur. It’s up to the player to get to important locations within the correct time frame while possessing the correct item. It’s okay to miss certain story points, but if you were to miss an important plot point it’s going to be game over. All in all, the game boils down to time management and the in-game clock will be your main enemy. Everything in the game makes the clock tick away, and it seems it’s there just to give the player major headaches. Traveling from destination to destination may only take 10 minutes of game time, but a quick talk to a newspaper salesman may take over an hour. It’s hard to identify which action will take up the most time, and you will often end up missing important scenes due to the time passing by too quickly. Thankfully, the game grants you 8 save slots, and I recommend saving after each and every FMV scene.
I attempted to play Dracula Unleashed without a walkthrough or guidebook, but I found out after two stressful nights that’s it’s near impossible. There just isn’t enough information that’s given to Alexander to figure out where he needs to be and at what time he needs to be there. Even with a walkthrough, I still managed to miss scenes due to the game’s clock being so erratic, and had to load up old saves quite often. It’s a good thing the game’s story is so enjoyable; otherwise I would have given up on the game after my 4th attempt at a particular night cycle.
If you really enjoy Full Motion Video games I’d say give Dracula Unleashed a go. It has its downfalls and will need to be played alongside an open browser containing a walkthrough, but the story itself will keep you entertained.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: SEGA CD (Reviewed) Mac, DOS ; Publisher: Viacom New Media ; Developer: ICOM Simulations ; Players: 1 ; Released: 1993 ; ESRB: MA-13