So it's October, that most magical of months, where a young gamer's thoughts turn to vampires and murder, hidden objects and point-and-clicks. No use denying it, we have statistics here that most certainly were not made up. Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box fulfills all of the above requirements, as it starts off a new series. You receive a frantic phone call late one night from your grandfather, panicked, ranting about a woman... a woman he says he shot. But that's crazy! He'd never actually hurt anyone... would he? You'll soon discover that the past has come back to haunt your family, and will find yourself investigating a strange ship at sea. Where has the crew of the Pandora gone? And more importantly, what's in those crates?
You'll explore the game by navigating with your mouse. A magnifying glass icon when you move it over an area means you can click for a closer look, and a winking light means you can interact with something. Move the cursor towards the bottom of the screen to bring up your inventory, and you can click on an item, then on a place on the screen to use it. Most importantly, you'll be watching for areas that shine with a strange, rippling purple light; clicking on one of those will activate a hidden-object search.
For the most part, the hidden object scenes are done well. Something of a relief, since you'll be seeing most of them more than once. Items blend in well, though not unfairly, and there were only one instance of what felt like a case of "lost in translation", where a "dolly" turning out to be a pile of rolled up towels. If you say so, Vampire Saga. Then again, this is the late eighteenth century, so one can always assume children back then were forced to make do with whatever was available. Don't imagine Mattel was around then.
If you're looking for a brain teaser, Pandora's Box probably isn't for you, since most of the puzzles are simply based around using items in the right places. And, happily, they're pretty logical, if some are made a little more complicated than they need necessarily be. If you're stuck, you can click on the hint button in the lower right when the time has refilled, and your inventory will glow to show you which item you should be using.
Fortunately, most of the game is lovely to look at. A lot of effort has gone into painting the often gloomy environs, from the way dust motes dance in a beam of light, to the shadows cast by a flickering light. It's an odd blend of hand-drawn art and computer rendered visuals, but for the most part it works. Well, all except for the people, who make you wish they'd gone with more of the actual art instead of stiff-looking rendered models with thousand-yard stares.
Analysis: Okay, so vampires don't exactly strike terror into anyone's heart anymore. You can point a lot of fingers to assign blame, but whatever the source the fact remains that these days vampires are more typically revered as icons of tragic romance than, oh, say, monstrous creatures of the night more interested in blood and fear than poetry. As it happens, Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box winds up sort of straddling the middle ground, decidedly more Bram Stoker than Anne Rice, although admittedly a little more ham-handed in the execution of dialogue than either.
For the first half of the game, that story is told at a decent pace through your grandfather's memories. In the beginning, the game does a very good job at establishing atmosphere, both with moody visuals and, in particular, audio; the sound of distant footsteps, the soft creaking of a ship, faint whispers you can't... quite... make out. There are some genuinely eerie scenes, and it goes to great lengths to foster a sense of dread as you investigate your surroundings.
So it's a bit unfortunate that the latter half of Pandora's Box feels like it's been padded for length by too much back-and-forth. Why should you have to hunt down six individual bullets instead of simply finding a handful of them in a single scene? Sure it would have been "easier", but it also would have been less tedious. It breaks up the narrative when all you want to do is find out what happens next.
While hidden-object enthusiasts may find it a little short, around the four-to-five hour mark, Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box sets the stage for an interesting new series judging by the cliff hanger it ends on. If vampires are sacred ground and serious business to you, Pandora's Box may not be your cuppa. But for those of us who know the bloodthirsty undead are best enjoyed with a big heaping helping of cheese, Pandora's Box is an easy but enjoyable game to help kickstart the holiday season. Who needs pumpkins and black cats to feel festive when you've got fangs and murder at sea?