The concept of an opera-singing vampire, desperate to be a star on the Paris stage, is fantastic adventure game fodder, both for its originality and for the many puzzle-design possibilities in the traditional vampire weaknesses. Every room is a thing of beauty; a glorious mix of Tim Burton and Monkey Island that doesn’t need advanced technology to impress. The music is excellent. No surprise as the hand of ex-LucasArts staff is very much at work here, especially the art of project lead Bill Tiller.
Sadly, that’s where the praise ends. Outside of the story, the fun characters and entertaining script can’t hide the fact that it’s a very flabby game, with the opening areas especially demanding so much retreading of ground that you practically carve a groove in the floor. Puzzles are bloated and long-winded – while there’s a reasonable internal logic to many of them, it’s usually poorly conveyed to those of us without a complete copy of the design notes already lodged in our heads. Some nasty bugs don’t help matters here, especially the perfume bottle that you can only empty once – even if you accidentally refill it before the puzzle it’s needed for. Or the weirdness that can happen when skipping through dialogue and the very, very laborious incidental animations that accompany most of the inventory puzzles.
Things start to open up a bit when you finally escape from the evil castle you start the game in, and the style switches to a good old Four Map Pieces-style quest out in the fresh air. The puzzles don’t improve by much, but having several objectives to work on at once offers some much needed flexibility. If there was more to see and less padding in what we actually got, it might even have earned the game a pass. That’s how good Mona’s world is, and why it’s extra disappointing to be robbed of the glorious Tiller version of Paris the plot never gets round to letting us sink our fangs into. Boo! Hiss! Growl!
A Vampyre Story isn’t just not as good as the old LucasArts classics – it’s half the game they were. Literally. Imagine Grim Fandango ending as Manny drove out of the opening city, or Monkey Island ending on a cliffhanger as Guybrush Threepwood set sail in search of its famous Secret. This barely scratches the surface of the contemptuous way A Vampyre Story leaves you hanging. Even Runaway 2 served up a better ending, and that finale consisted entirely of characters boasting that you’d achieved nothing. At least it could pinky-swear that it was just bad storytelling and not, say, its second half being chopped off in the name of a sequel. Whether that’s actually what happened to Mona’s story or not, it’s damn well what it feels like.
A Vampyre Story has been in development for so long and through a development process so torturous that being mean to it feels like kicking a puppy to death with a blunt stiletto heel. It’s not a lazy game: there’s love dripping from damn near every pixel. We had high hopes that the result would finally bring back that LucasArts magic, indeed, we desperately hoped so when first putting the disc in the drive. But hope wasn’t enough. This is one story that lost more than its soul in the telling.
Dec 12, 2008