Dracula 3: The Path
of the Dragon
Dracula. While the character may need no introduction, it's appropriate to at least warm you up for what's in store in Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon. The war-torn streets of Vladoviste populating this long-form point-and-click adventure aren't a place for idle speculation, and you'll find the game will bury you deep in the legend of Dracula.
While the literary character is but two centuries old, there is something about Dracula that has allowed the story to spread throughout Western culture as though he were much older. Count Dracula is a litany of dichotomies analogous to our own human natures. At once he is romantic and noble, both through title and occasionally through motivation, and yet he is vile, evil. The creature he represents, the vampire, offers an interesting compromise of nightmare and desire: immortal, and yet cursed, powerful beyond the dreams of mortal men, and yet feeble in the face of such harmless everyday things as sunlight and garlic.
Dracula lures both romantics and those obsessed with the macabre, and as such it's little wonder we would find so many different re-tellings of his story in books, film, television, and of course, games. I admit, all of this is quite a long introduction for a character who needs no introduction, but it's important to understand the background of the legend. Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon exists within that journey from the reality of Vlad the Impaler, the madman the Count was based upon, to the myth of the best-known vampire, Dracula.
Upon the death of one Martha Calugarul, you, Father Arno Moriani, are tasked by the Vatican to research Martha's life, uncover the facts of the miracle worker from Transylvania, and decide if she's worthy of canonization. Her ministrations to the wounded during the Great War would seem to make her a viable candidate for sainthood, and her fate as such rests in your hands.
Yet, upon reaching the little ruin of a village, you happen upon the traces of a darker narrative just beneath the surface of her good works. There is an evil at work, one that Martha had discovered and sought to track down and do battle with herself, ultimately dying in her quest.
As this darkness seeps up all around you, you find yourself obliged to see it through to the end, to rediscover this mighty evil and finish the work Martha started. But such a task will not be easy, not even as easy as the arduous tasks set forth by novelist Bram Stoker. No, to find the vampire, you must set out on the journey to be a vampire. You must walk the Path of the Dragon.
Analsyis: The key to enjoying Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon is understanding exactly what you're in for. You will be disappointed if you go into it thinking this will be another scary point-and-click adventure game with lots of gotcha moments and item-based puzzles. The game's basic structure is conventional enough, though, and falls into the first person adventure category quite nicely. In most settings you are granted near-full movement, though there are a few instances where this is quite stylishly not the case, and you move from scene to scene along pre-determined paths. Hover your cursor over a hotspot and it will change to a context-sensitive action, another convention that streamlines the playing experience but somewhat limits your freedom of exploration. It's tough to wring information out of an environment when you can only do what the game wants you to do.
Dracula 3 is a text-heavy game, and its puzzles involve multiple steps, items, and research, forcing you to pay very careful attention to every conversation you have. The readings you are supplied with are not merely supplemental but vital to the way the story is told. To give you an idea, there are full, unabridged versions of both the Bible and Bram Stoker's Dracula available to you early-on. Yes, if you've never read the original Dracula, here's your chance. The game unfolds with a steady sort of deliberateness tempered with subtlety. It isn't scary so much as it's pleasantly eerie, and it takes its time to unfold methodically, steadily, deliberately, and subtly. If you're one of those players who skims through in-game texts, you'll miss most of what Dracula 3 has to offer.
Even with the strong emphasis on text, Dracula 3 doesn't come up short in the ear and eye candy departments. The settings are remarkably well-rendered and lit to provide just the right level of uneasiness. Vladoviste, the village where you'll spend most of your time, is exceptionally well-done with war-torn buildings providing a marvelously creepy backdrop. The sky seems to perpetually dangle upon the dark precipice of twilight while wisps of silvery fog creep through the alleyways. Perhaps the one drawback to the settings is that the passage of time isn't marked. Vladoviste is always on the night-end of twilight, while the outskirts leading to the castle are late afternoon. It's a little disconcerting if you pay too much attention.
Filling out the aesthetic qualities are rendered characters and voice acting, both of which are very well done. The people you meet may not necessarily look photo realistic, but they at least feel organic and are brought to life by the actors. The only flaw I noticed was an apparent inconsistency with accents from one character to the next. Should a rustic old Transylvanian grave digger have a standard American accent?
The sights, the sounds, and the volumes of text in Dracula 3 come together to create a brilliant game whose soul is not unlike the text it's based upon. The apprehension of meeting Dracula is slowly built as you stitch together clues and read bits and pieces of information from the sources you meet. The final effect is a game where the tension slowly mounts, slowly grabs at you, and sucks you in. And, every once in a great while, you might be presented with a jump-out-of-your-seat moment.