Friday, January 9, 2009

A Vampyre Story

This game has, first and foremost, the same problem as "Al Emmo," which I don't own and never plan to: the protagonist's voice is incredibly grating. A faux French accent, which drops out randomly, delivered in a high pitch. Yargh.

A Vampyre Story is the first new game by Autumn Moon Games, a company founded by ex-LucasArtsies, with Bill Tiller at the Helm. And I mean "first" -- the story ends halfway through and indicates I should wait for AVS2. Given the track record of games with cliffhangers that are never resolved, I don't hold high hopes, but I'm willing to be surprised.

It'll have to be a more positive surprise than AVS1, however, which was pretty mediocre for the most part. It starts out with a few good puzzles, then bogs down in the mid-game with a gigantic try-and-retry potion mixing puzzle (at which point I started using a walkthrough), then descends, as the second halves of adventures so often do, into nonsensical puzzles.

You play as Mona, a French opera singer who's been turned into a vampire by Baron Von Shroudy, whose love for her she rejects. So he locks her into his castle until she changes her mind, with only a smartass bat for company. Mona, however, refuses to acknowledge that she is, in fact, a vampire, finding ever more bizarre explanations for her behavior, or (like any good politician) simply ignoring reality. Naturally, Froderick, her bat companion, comments on these fugues as much as on anything else in the game; fortunately, the voice actor is vastly superior to Mona's, or the game would become entirely unplayable.

The hallmark of LucasArts games was humor, and while Telltale nailed Sam & Max, AVS never really gets off the ground. The jokes are either juvenile (probably to appeal to a younger audience), dark (and often, but not often enough, funny, but not for kids), or most often simply fall flat spectacularlylamely.

The major new mechanic in AVS is having "ideas" in your inventory -- Mona's not going to drag this shovel around all game, but she knows where it is, and if you want to use it, she'll automatically go grab it, bring it back to the current location, and use it. Unfortunately, this is done via multiple cutscenes, which are randomly either skippable or not, and even when they're skippable one has to hit the space bar an excruciating 5 or 6 times. Every time. At one point, you have to click an object to get its idea first, then click the idea on something in the same room, which you can't even leave at that point, which generates another idea, which you can then use on yet another object in the same room. That is, maybe, a bit too much.

On the positive side, the locations are beautifully drawn and have useful shortcuts, mostly avoiding that other staple of second halves of adventure games: running across the entire game world multiple times to do boring fetch quests. Even better: the right mouse button skips directly to a new location if you click it on an arrow. Less good: the right mouse button also brings up your inventory, so you have to make sure you're NOT on an arrow if you want that.

As it is, I can't really recommend AVS if you want side-splitting comedy and an actual ending. I'm hoping, though, that this first excursion by Autumn Moon will teach the company the dos and don'ts of adventure gaming (though, shouldn't they already know?) and that the second part will be more interesting.

If it ever turns up.

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