The Vampire Diaries
Before the successful Nancy Drew series of games, Her Interactive ventured forth with Elena Gilbert, a teen-something prom queen type freshly returned from Europe and trying to stop a mysterious evil from attacking the good folk of Fells Church. Like Nancy, Elena first saw light as a short series of best-selling books, and given the mission statement of Her Interactive it is not hard to see why they brought The Vampire Diaries to CD ROM.
It's also not hard to see the genesis of the Nancy Drew games in Vampire Diaries. Even though this is full motion video, my daughter Emily came home and found me playing, and accused me of sneakily trying to play a new Nancy Drew game behind her back. When I explained it was a different game from the same company, she commented that it looked and sounded like a Nancy game. Which, allowing for the full motion video, it surely does.
If you have played any of the Nancy Drew games, you will be at home here. The screen set up is almost the same, the game world itself occupying about the top two thirds of the screen, the dialogue and inventory taking up the rest, with the whole lot framed by a suitable set of pillared gargoyles. It's played in the first person, and choosing dialogue, using inventory items, and saving and loading games is pretty much the same. The ability to call friends for help is not present, but there is a second chance option should something fatal befall Elena. And as far as I was concerned, Elena sounded a lot like Nancy.
The full motion video is clearly different (at least from all the Nancy Drew games I have played) and as I have mentioned in other reviews, I like this presentation in games. There is a fair amount of pixellation, and it's a bit blotchy, but you expect a bit of that in games of this type and vintage. I didn't expect, however, each character to briefly disappear and reappear each time he or she answered a bit of dialogue in a conversation. This was obviously a component of loading the right bit of video in order for the character to give the appropriate response, but I don't recall it in other similar games. But it is fleeting each time and didn't put me off.
Nor did the fact that the story lurched about a bit, Elena occasionally coming up with some amazing leaps in intuition with respect to putting pieces of information and objects together. The game is rather forgiving in its progression, which is a good thing, but this also adds to the lurching about. The biggest example of this was my attempt to enter a particular room, which had so far been beyond me. Thinking I might have more luck at night, I returned and triggered an event which, given what was said and took place, should have only occurred during the day. However that event was necessary to trigger the hotspot needed to enter the room, which I was then able to do. So whilst the event was completely out of place, it enabled me to move on, rather than continuing to leave me stuck.
This forgiveness is also present in the dialogue trees. Certain questions or responses are needed to elicit necessary information, and in retrospect, there is clearly a direct path through most conversations. However a wrong response will only rarely terminate a conversation, and you can usually take another conversational route to find out what you need to know. If all else fails, you can start the conversation again. You will also likely find redundant dialogue from time to time.
Speaking of time, it passes in this game, and doing things at night or in the day is important. Again, however, the game gives you plenty of room to manoeuvre. I did not strike a single dead end, and never was I not able to move the game forward from whatever point I was up to, so it is not like games such as Dracula Unleashed where time is fatally critical. In fact I took 5 game days to complete the game, whereas a walkthrough indicated only four are needed. My tardiness, however. did not count against me.
Nor too did it matter that I found things in a different order. Whilst some objects are the key to obtaining others, many can be found in any order you happen to uncover them.
The change from night to day and back again is well utilised and represented. The outdoor settings are suitably gloomy at night, indoor settings need light (unless you are breaking in!) and a nightwatchman may well stop you entering a building you can access during the day. You won't find everyone in the same place (or pretty much at all) at night, and some of them also move around during the day. Without the fear of missing something, it was a nice touch of reality.
Elena's adventure is quite good, revolving (not surprisingly) around vampires, ancient artifacts and druidic learning and legend. Plus love, in some surprising ways.
The puzzles all fit quite nicely within the bounds of the tale, and consist predominantly of acquiring and using the right items. You will need to read some books and take some notes, and there are a few sequences where previous attention to detail is important, but there is only one puzzle where you need to work out its logic from first principles. On the whole, they are no harder than moderate, my stuckness generally being caused by not yet having the right item to advance.
There is a though, in my opinion, an extremely clunky and unnecessary segment leading up to the endgame. It did no more than make the game last longer, and did not advance the plot in any way. Plus it was all the more artificial given what I thought was a particularly good denouement shortly after.
Whether the story follows the books at all I can't say, but certainly many of the characters in the books are present here. They are fairly good on the whole, although Stefan was way too drippy, and Caroline a bit over the top bitchy. I understand Elena is fairly self-centred and (dare I say) stuck up in the novels, something which wasn't present here.
As for the rest of the game mechanics, you can choose to have all the dialogue subtitled, and you can tweak a number of the other settings in the main menu. The game is on 3 CDs and there is a lot of disc swapping. You also have to start from CD 3. There are only 7 save slots but this was plenty. You can die, both at the end and during the game, but a second chance option will return you to a point prior to the fatality if you haven't recently saved.
You move around Fells Church by utilising a picturesque shot of the town, and you can advance time by going to bed. A grandfather clock may also enable you to fiddle with time, but the manual made no mention of this and I didn't experiment. I generally leave time alone in these sorts of games.
The manual did, however, contain a few pages from Elena's diary in the time leading up to the point at which the game starts, and I thought these were worth reading for background.
The music is well used and adds to the atmosphere rather than just being background accompaniment. There is not a lot of ambient noise but it is again well used. The thunderstorm is particularly good. You can pan 360 degrees in almost every scene by moving the curser to the edge of the screen and then holding down the mouse button, as well as minimally up and down, and a small but distinct range of cursors will indicate direction and something with which you can interact.
The Vampire Diaries is not an easy game to get hold of, but unlike some much sought after games it's good entertainment. True to Her Interactive objectives, I suspect Elena will appeal to many female players, but anyone can enjoy this game. I certainly enjoyed myself, and would particularly like to see Elena continue where she left off.
Screenshots courtesy of Slydos at Adventure-Archiv.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98, Pentium 60 (90 recommended), 12 MB Ram (16 recommended), 2x CD ROM (4x recommended), 20 MB disc space (62 MB recommended), PCI video card, DirectX compatible. Stereo soundcard, Sound Blaster Pro or better.