CRL's Dracula is a masses-of-hard-to-read text adventure with some graphics, which owes its reputation largely to the 15 Certificate plonked on it by the British Board of Film censors.
Being the only horror officianado on SU I was intrigued to know what the censors found so appalling. I was, however, soon to learn that the 15 suits the content of a game which at times puts up ghoulishly digitised pictures of death and atmospheric descriptive passage - some of which could have been pulled straight from a Shaun - see last month's fantasy page - Hutson book.
The game is in three parts, all of which can be played independently, and it reads very like a book. There's three complete game Loads here so it's big. The first part, called The First Night, takes place at the Transylvanian inn where Jonathan Harker spent his last night before his trip to Count Dracula's castle. It's designed as a gentle introduction to new adventurers and as a scene setter for more advanced players. All you need to do is pay the coachman, sign the inn's register, pick up your keys and have dinner to regain your strength. After that it's up to your room for some sleep. Do go up to bed. There's a nifty dream sequence with gore plenty for horror fans. Make sure that you close the window or the nightmarish visitation which you see as a dream image will chase you into reality and kill you.
If you die in Part 1 you're treated to one of the digitised death pictures, in this case a cowled skull, neatly illustrated in red and blue.
The Arrival, the second part, is a different story altogether. You'll find it fiendishly difficult to escape from the coach which takes you most of the way to Castle Dracula. A very strange and shady lady occupies the carriage with you and, if you stare at her long enough she'll give you some indication of the future - particularly of three ladies who are very long in the teeth. If you're lucky you'll escape from the Castle with only your sanity out of gear, get back home to England and be able to prepare for Part 3: The Hunt.
I managed to solve The First Night in 20 minutes, which did not bode well for the rest of the game. The language parser takes only the first few words of each command into account, so you can't string several commands together as it'll only obey the first one. In some cases, however, the language is necessarily dense. For instance, when you type Look you'll get the reply 'I see nothing of consequence'. You've got to specify the object of your desires and in some cases - particularly in Parts 2 and 3.
So far you've mainly taken the role of Johnathan Harker, who's devil's own task is to deliver the deeds of Carrfax Hall into the hands of the Count. He moves into the Hall, near Whitby in Yorkshire, and you take on the guise of John Seward, physician and diary keeper. He's a resident of the village in which Dracula stalks at night.
Some places are off limits in this part of the game, until you progress beyond a certain point. For instance, when you leave your house the directions to Carfax Hall are given but, when you try to go there, the program says 'I don't want to do that at this time'.
You'll also have to revisit some locations more than once to pick up objects which you didn't know were there unless you took advantage of the unhelpful Look command to see in all the nooks and crannies. For instance, you can visit the village store but can't buy an all important newspaper - unless you've picked up the money at an earlier point.
Despite those admittedly nit-picking criticisms and reservations Dracula is great fun. Some sequences may disturb Mary Whitehouse but I can't see anyone else being affected. There's nothing in the game which is utterly grotesque and there are no stomach-lurching scenes.
Author: Rod Pike
Reviewer: John Gilbert
The gothic character set and digitised pictures just make you want to die. Great ghoulish fun in three full Loads.